Blended learning. Much more than digital!

By By Ulrike Sievers, Martyn Rawson, April 2023, May 2023

The European Commission's working group on schools recently published an important policy paper on blended learning.

While at the beginning of the work over a year ago it was assumed that blended learning was primarily about using digital media in the classroom, the context has broadened.

Martyn Rawson, who participated in the working group as an educational consultant in his capacity as a delegate of the European Council for Steiner Waldorf Education (ECSWE), was able to contribute to broadening this narrow definition: blended learning is now defined as the integration of three types of experiences: first, direct sensory experiences and practical contact with the world (often outside in nature, in the school garden or in the community); second, experiencing the world through living narratives; and third, encountering the world through media such as pictures, films, texts, etc. In all three types of experience, the teacher plays a central role as a facilitator.

Even immediate experiences, our own actions or direct experience, have to be reconstructed, verbalised, clarified, named and put into context in the school setting in order to be comprehensible. Interpreting experiences is therefore an important part of the learning process. An experience created through narration needs less processing because the narrative form has already been structured coherently by the teacher in advance. Nevertheless, the retelling of the story or the reconstruction of a historical narrative by the pupils is an important act of self-directed learning and thus part of the learning process. The understanding of texts and images needs to be ensured by recalling, discussing and analysing them again and again. Knowledge and understanding grow when we connect ideas and skills grow when we continually practise what we have learned.

In addition, learners of all ages must have the opportunity to translate their experiences and happenings in a way that is meaningful and relevant. Learners need to be alert to and notice what is important, and they need to be given the opportunity to build a relationship with the phenomena if these experiences are to become evidential experiences. Blended learning therefore also means that experiences, whether direct or indirect, have to go through a process of being worked on so that they can be integrated and assimilated into our view of the world.

This extension of the concept of blended learning - which is in line with the media concept of Waldorf education - is significant in that it exercises an important influence on European education policy and can thus ultimately also offer Waldorf schools a way of continuing to shape Waldorf education in line with legal and education policy requirements, which in many countries intervene much more strongly in Waldorf school practice than in Germany.

If we transfer the idea of blended learning to the question of how parents learn about Waldorf education, we can see that here too there are three complementary paths. Parents experience the education directly through their children and attend school festivals and performances. They go to parents' evenings and hear teachers tell about Waldorf education. And in the best case scenario they also read Erziehungskunst, books about Waldorf education, visit websites, listen to podcasts or watch YouTube videos.

Other countries have similar journals like Erziehungskunst, which convey knowledge about Waldorf education and experiences from school life in text and pictures, thus complementing what parents have experienced elsewhere. While these journals were originally written by and for teachers and were a very important aspect of professional development, there was gradually a growing need to also give parents more insight into the education to which they entrust their children.

What is sometimes missing in the parents' learning process is a structured process of meaningful dialogue that leads to an understanding of Waldorf education. When the conversation between parents (as novices) and teachers (as experts) is experienced as being asymmetrical, this can become an obstacle to understanding. Or teachers experience parents as being too critical and this makes them defensive. Forms of blended learning could play a facilitating role here.

Perhaps it is helpful for parents to get to know teachers who do not teach their own children and who may even work at other schools. Here spaces like the #waldorflernt online dialogue can open up a possibility to bring people from different schools together in moderated discussions about educational issues. Especially in the case of topics and questions that are new or involve innovative practice, such nationwide offerings for discussion are a promising opportunity for encounter on the basis of which something can begin to move.

In education today there are many issues where neither teachers nor parents are experts, such as updating and decolonising the curriculum, promoting intercultural and intersectional skills, broadening cultural diversity in our schools, innovative methods of pupil assessment and feedback, media education, sustainability, or violence prevention - an opportunity to enter into conversation and break new ground together. We look forward to this exciting dialogue!

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