In my current teaching context, all teachers use an online classroom by Brightspace called Desire 2 Learn.  This year, many of the teachers are setting up classrooms for this first time, and all are using this tool as a way to communicate grades/work completion to parents and students. Ultimately, this is resulting in many teachers taking the blended learning approach to their teaching. Staker & Horn (2012), k-12 blended learning environment researchers, define blended learning as a “formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online delivery of content and instruction with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace and at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home.” As a result, when combining an online element into teaching practice, regardless of the degree of digital integration, we must be aware of the distance learner’s characteristics.

Identifying the cultural, social, and economic backgrounds as well as the educational expectations of the learner in a blended or distance education model is important to design success at these characteristics influence the quality of the learning experience (Simonson et al., 2012). Simonson et al. identify several learner characteristics that K-12 design architects should look at (2012):

  • student age
  • cultural background
  • interests and educational levels
  • level of familiarity with chosen instructional methods
  • student application of knowledge gained

K-12 learners have unique characteristics that also need to be considered when designing online education courses. K-12 learners are well experienced in using the Internet to acquire knowledge. While this skill enables the learner to transition into online situations effortlessly, they are also less likely to be patient with instructional settings where they are not motivated or engaged (Simonson et al., 2012). Thus, as educators, we must avoid treating our online classrooms like an information dissemination center – the content must be engaging!

As well, when designing content, it is important to consider the digital divide, which is apparent in K-12 learners, but becoming less of an issue as most students now have access to technology and the internet (Simonson et al., 2012). However, we must be cognizant of the software being used in these environments as, just because teachers have the program, it does not mean our students do. Here are some suggestions on how to limit this barrier:

  • Google Apps for Education
  • Adobe PDF versions of file so students can download
  • YouTube video clips
  • Using online quizzes, discussion boards and drop boxes

Finally, because of their age, access to resources outside of school buildings may be an issue and need to be integrated into course design (Simonson et al., 2012). As classroom teachers of K-12 students, we need to remember that our students do not always have control over their access to technology or their after school schedules. Consequently, parent involvement is key.

Online learning and blended learning have a great place in 21st century classrooms. However, as K-12 educators, we need to ensure our approach considers the unique characteristics of our learners!


Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of Distance Education, (5th Ed.). Columbus, OH: Pearson.

Staker, H., & Horn, M. B. (2012). Classifying K-12 Blended Learning. Innosight Institute.


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