What does "any pace" truly mean?

person holding white mini bell alarm clock

The close of a semester is tough in any high school. It is particularly taxing in programs that are wrestling with what it means to have “any pace” learning. Students should have the ability to maximize on their strengths and to spend more time where needed. Do we all, however, have a common understanding of what “any pace” really means?

In theory, this all makes sense. Students should be able to complete courses at their own pace. It’s a part of the online and blended learning world — any time, pace, path, or place. If a student needs more time on math, for example, we should embrace this and provide systems that support this flexibility.

I welcome you to travel into the last two weeks of a term in any online or blended program. Students are confronted with a final deadline, parents are concerned and worried about final grades, and teachers are flooded with questions and seemingly endless amounts of grading. This final crunch and cram of learning is out of alignment with the intended purpose of “any pace” learning. I would argue that little content is absorbed by students during this period of time. What actually may happen, which is more concerning, is that students and teachers feel enough stress and anxiety to undo the advantages the flexible and personalized learning environment afforded for the previous weeks.

A few online programs have found ways to almost eliminate terms, and students complete courses as they are able to, understanding that their pace only impacts their timeline for graduation. In some blended programs, however, “any pace” comes in direct conflict with the face-to-face time or even the end of their grading term. The amount of conflict may be directly related to the degree of online versus face-to-face work expected of students.

As our blended program grows, we are making a few changes next semester to hope to guide all of our learners in the right direction. “Any pace” in our blended environment means that students have more independent learning time, which can be spent as needed to learn and retain the content. Students, however, are expected to be able to participate in meaningful face-to-face experiences that the teachers have designed for them. Students are then ready for on-campus activities such as their in-class discussion, Science lab, English activity, or Math coaching.

For next semester, we will try to be very clear about the connections between our online and face-to-face work. It is the connections between these two modalities that makes a difference in the model. Our students will have week-by-week visuals of what they are studying, what is expected of them in their learning management system, and what activities they will be participating in during their on-campus time. It is our hope that “any pace” becomes less of an end-of-semester cram and more of the flexible learning structure we all desire it to be.