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 ​​​Towards greater personalization in music education.


What is Blended Learning and how can it expand opportunities for students?

The term Blended Learning has been around for several years and is often defined as a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through the instruction of content via digital and online media with some element of student control over time, place, path, or pace. Face-to-face classroom methods are combined with computer-assisted activities.  


There is little consensus regarding the actual definition due to the fact that there are many models that are being explored in the classroom.  The degree to which technology is integrated into the learning process determines the type of blend in many cases.


  • Online Blend/Flex Blend Students complete an entire course through an online platform with the teacher serving to help develop transferable learning habits in a self-directed environment. The teacher is available for face-to-face instructional support when needed.

  • Augmented Blend the teacher drives the instruction in a more traditional format and augments with digital tools.

  • Self- Blend  - Students choose to augment their traditional learning with online course work. I.e, Khan Academy


Our current lingo:


The LEVEL BLEND -  This form of the blend is a bit of a misnomer.  It will refer to a trend in education where a classroom is comprised of multiple levels of ability studying the same subject in the same room at the same time.  I.e., French 2 and 3 students in the same room following different levels of the curriculum.  The Level Blend is gaining traction due to the fact that many states are moving to proficiency-based learning practice where time becomes the variable and learning becomes constant.  Students that need more time on a proficiency can get it while others can move forward giving them control over time, path, and pace.  Peer to peer mentoring is enhanced in this format as well as greater flexibility for scheduling.  It is considered a blend due to the fact that the teacher is the designer of educational experiences and functions less as the deliverer of knowledge requiring alternative means to share content information. 


The HETEROGENEOUS BLEND -  This is a complex name for a simple practice. It is an Online Blend that is held in a classroom where each student has personalized pathways through unique content. Many different subjects in the same room at the same time.

The teacher is a specialist of all content and is the primary designer of project based work for students.  The teacher functions as a researcher, a learner, an assessor, and an assistant for the development of the transferable skills required to function in a self-directed learning environment.  The scheduling benefits of this model and the power of the personalized pathways are quite remarkable.


Our work has been guided by several key principles:

  • Learning experiences adapt to the child, rather than the child having to adapt to the school

  • Learning should be the constant, time should be the variable

  • The teacher is the designer instead of the deliverer

  • Teach students HOW to learn, using WHAT is studied as the tool to do so.

  • Teacher as a learning specialist

  • Leverage technology to create flexibility through student-centered experiences.

  • Use formative assessment tools to help guide students to a degree of mastery 

  • Learning expectations are clear and specific while maintaining a degree of choice in how to apply learning


HBL Tools  

To create a Heterogeneous Blended Learning environment, the instructor will need to create systems to share content, store student work, and collect/assess student work.

Each Box is a Link

Below is an article that I wrote outlining how I came to work in the heterogeneous blend.  Getting to this point has been a process of discovery and revision which continues to this day.  



MUSIC STUDIO COURSES: Using the  Heterogeneous Blended Learning Environment.


Like many high school music programs, we offer large performing ensembles for vocal and instrumental music during the school day.  For years, we complimented these ensemble offerings with academic courses like Music Theory, History, Music Technology and Applied Music.  These courses have been great enrichment for students and have offered opportunities for the non-performer to experience music in school.  Like many electives, the institution’s financial commitment for the offerings was directly tied to enrollment.  While there might be great interest in a specific music elective, too often scheduling constraints prevented student participation.  If there were not enough enrollments, the course would not be offered.  Could we find a way to alleviate this challenge and improve upon our curriculum so that our courses would have a value that rivaled any core subject in the school?  Our solution evolved to become what we call the Heterogeneous Blended Learning Environment.


Our first steps were to improve upon our instructional practice and content delivery. We began to post our lesson resources online and scripted better pathways through our units of study in hopes of offering new modes of instruction to students in our classes. We began blending our instruction through a combination of face-to-face learning supported by digital resources before the word, blended learning, had ever been known.  As the technological resources in our classroom began to expand, we also found that the learning styles of our students were changing as well.  The teacher was no longer the sole provider of information and the student's attention span for lecture and presentation was rapidly decreasing.  We expanded our web presence for our courses and added more interactive content.  Much of our class time became focused on independent work guided by the tools we had created.  We were now less teacher-centered and more student-centered in our instructional practice. 


By leveraging technology, students could experience course content from a variety of different formats.   We created projects that allowed students a degree of choice over content and pace; which gave them a sense of ownership of their studies.  As we shifted our instructional practice to provide the content knowledge from multiple sources, we quickly noticed that we needed to teach self-regulation.  We became more emphatic about the self-directed nature of our courses and added metacognitive exercises throughout our units of study.  We wrapped our assignments in self-reflective practice before, during and after content study, and began to assess self-regulation as part of our grading process.  In addition to our course content, we wanted to help students learn self-control, critical self-assessment skills, and develop techniques for overcoming the fear of failure, distractions and procrastination in pursuit of creative excellence.  We were  teaching students HOW to learn, leaving the WHAT to the digital tools we created. As a result, we found that content knowledge and retention was improving.


Experiencing the success of this blended learning approach, we engaged in studies focused on self-directed learning with the goal of differentiating our classes to an even greater extent.  We wanted students to be able to move through content independently, at a pace that matched their learning style.  This meant that we would no longer keep the entire class at the same point within the content study.  Students that mastered a concept could move forward, students that needed more time could get more assistance.  For one year, we piloted a type of self-directed learning environment where students received the majority of content from the online tools that we created.  We allowed students to move at their own pace and utilize their peers or the instructor when questions arise.  It worked.  We then asked the question, “Why couldn’t we offer other subjects at the same time in the same classroom?”


We then made a bold step.  We created a single course entitled "Music Studio" to describe times during the school day where students could study ANY musical subject offered by the instructors.   During Music Studio one student may choose to take Theory while another one History.  Courses were no longer bound to the schedule. 


Our classrooms became Heterogeneous Blended Learning Environments, and the benefits have been numerous:


  • We can offer a wider range of courses in a single block

  • Students are not locked out of courses based on scheduling constraints

  • Students can progress at their own pace with specific targeted goals set by the instructor

  • Students that need remedial assistance get more one on one instruction

  • Students learn HOW to learn more effectively through a gradual release model of instruction

  • Project based learning enhances creative freedom

  • Enrollment is no longer a major concern.

  • Students develop greater self-regulation for lifelong learning

  • The Heterogeneous Blended approach spread to other areas of the school I.e., Animation and Robotics, and Homogeneous Blended Learning is now becoming commonplace in other departments.

  • With increased course offerings, our department has become a magnet for student enrollment.

  • We are leveraging the best use of technology in the classroom

  • Interdisciplinary connections are enhanced

  • We are receiving greater feedback from students

  • As school budget tighten, we were able to add more offerings and reach more students for little cost.

  • Our assessment practices have improved



Because we have gone to a Heterogeneous Blended Learning Model, we have expanded our course offerings to include:  


  • Music Theory

  • Music Composition

  • Song Writing - Lyrics and Form

  • Film Scoring

  • Applied Instrumental Music

  • Applied Vocal Music

  • Advanced Applied Music

  • Evolution of Music History

  • 20th c. Music History and Beyond

  • Electronic Music

  • Audio Production

  • Digital DJ

  • Advanced Topics in Electronic Music

  • Jazz Workshop

  • Capturing Sound for Film/Foley – Under construction


By offering any course during a give block of the day, we have ensured enrollment and have created an opportunity for students to gain valuable educational skills that will last a lifetime. Most importantly, we have been able to expand our course offerings to include a wider range of topics based on student interest.  This process has been quite interesting. A year into this project a music student approached me interested in composing music for film.  We had some experience but it was minimal.  We began to research the topic together and generated an outline of the key components that could be used to develop a curriculum for the subject.  Over the summer, we found resources that would support our outline and began to craft a course into units.  When the semester began, the student engaged in the study using the tools we had crafted for her.  We were able to sequence the overall structure of the course, create projects for her to experience her learning, and serve as a research assistant throughout the semester when interesting questions came up.  we were her professional learning coach.  She took the course in a classroom with students studying Audio Production, Digital DJ, and Music Theory that term.  The course was a success and her projects were amazing.  The following year, another student had a similar interest.  The course was built and ready to go.  We expanded our offerings together.


When we built this course and others, we knew that the success or failure of the offering was truly dependent on how well the digital content can engage the student.  The curriculum needs to be experienced using a wide variety of tools ranging from videos, interactive trainers, articles, research projects, instructor presentation/assistance, peer instruction, formative assessments and self-reflective practice through the use of ePortfolios.  The goal is to teach students how to self-regulate in pursuit of mastering content for the purpose of enhancing their creativity.  To achieve this, we need to model best practice, embrace learning for learning sake, and slowly release students into a learning practice that is inspired by their sense of ownership for their learning.  


In the early iterations of our courses we discovered that students were not familiar with this type of autonomy and often seemed unwilling to think for themselves.  “Just tell me what to do.”  They wanted to check things off a list and move on to the next assignment.  As instructors, we needed to find better ways to inspire our students to manage their learning.   We altered our delivery so that students are gradually given more and more autonomy to guide their creative study.  In the earlier units, much of the work was"modeled" and scripted for the student with an emphasis on the process of how one learns and manipulates new material. The overall concepts of each unit are sequenced logically and are meant to create a path for the student.  This path is just that, a path. It is up to the student to look up and see through the trees.  We encourage deeper research and learning, pushing them to go beyond the content and assignments presented.  We want them to learn how to learn, how to explore and find purpose for their studies. For every revision of our curriculum, we strive to address student motivation for learning as best as possible by embedding self–regulation assignments when appropriate.  We look to provide purpose for assignments, opportunity to demonstrate mastery, and the ability to be autonomous in their learning.  These three components, a desire for autonomy, the instinctive need for mastery and a purpose for study,  motivate our students to learn in this type of educational structure; a structure that will help them become lifelong learners.


It is unrealistic to assume that this type of learning environment would motivate every student to stay on task and thoughtfully explore the content.  We are often asked about the reluctant learner, or questioned as to how do we keep everyone on task during class.  In our experience, if the content presentation is well prepared and the units are well crafted, there should be little issue. There is never a time where there is not something to do in class.   If a student however struggles to manage their time and gets hung up on topics and falls behind, intervention is needed.  We have found this to be a very small percentage of our population and they are quickly identified within the first couple weeks of class.


For students that are challenged learning independently, we have developed a “Guided Learning Plan” to help them better manage their time and sequence their learning.  A small form is given to the students requiring them to determine what learning tasks can be completed within one class period.  The student and instructor review the content together and determine a small goal for the day.  At the end of class, they review what was accomplished and make plans for the next class.  The instructor will soon learn how to modify learning behavior for the individual student and help them find better strategies for studying independently.  Through this process, students learn how to become more self-regulated and in short order, they soon matriculate back into the self-directed model of learning.  This remediation has worked well for the few that have needed it.


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