Blended Learning: Primum non Nocere

 “First, do no harm.”  This cautioning phrase is most often associated with doctors, but educators and other professionals who serve the public good are implicitly bound by this rule.  As teachers consider implementing any new pedagogical approach, they need to examine not only its potential benefit, but also the potential for harm.  Blended learning is no exception.

The US Department of Education has tentatively concluded that blended learning is more effective than either face-to-face or online learning alone.  So, while the benefits are emerging through research, the question needs to be asked, “have the risks been assessed?”.  In today’s world of seemingly ubiquitous mobile devices it can be hard to remember that there is still a digital divide in this country.  While the Gates Foundation and others have helped libraries make huge strides in getting broadband access to the public, the reality (documented by Pew, download the full report here: is that many of those who have traditionally had less—still have less.  And if you don’t own a smartphone, or have a computer in your home, you are also more likely to have obstacles keeping you from using library computers (reduced library hours, shortage of computers, transportation issues, working multiple jobs, language challenges, etc.).

So, while I personally find the idea of flipped classrooms and other possibilities of blended learning extremely exciting, there is still a voice in the back of my head asking what harm we might be doing to those already underserved.  And then I wonder how we can use the blended classroom idea to get those students a leg up into the future the rest of us are already enjoying.

In July 2019, Meighan Maloney joined our extended network of alumni.