The J curve describes why the transition to blended teaching is hard

Earlier this week I presented at the Idaho School Administrators conference, and had a lively discussion about the ways in which, and reasons why, helping teachers transition from teaching in a traditional classroom to a blended learning environment can be so difficult. Some readers will be familiar with the transition being challenging because the effort is time-consuming and intensive, the time required exceeds typical professional development sessions which are often limited to a day or two, and PD offerings often focus on the tools instead of the pedagogy.

But there’s another reason as well, as explained by Dr. Christopher Pagliarulo, Director of Instruction & Assessment at the University of California Davis, in an interview with Phil Hill of e-Literate:

“It takes a lot of work to transform your instruction, and it’s also a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. When you change out of a habitual behavior, they call it the “J curve”. Immediately, your performance goes down, your attitude and affect goes down, and it takes somebody there to help you through both that process—and we need expertise, so there’s a major resource deficit that we have now.”

Dr. Pagliarulo is discussing instructional changes at the post-secondary level, but the same issues apply to K-12 teachers as well. Experienced teachers are comfortable with their current teaching methods. Changing to a new approach is not only going to require substantial effort, but it is also likely to result in an initial reduction in results and satisfaction—that’s the initial part of the “J”. Only after time, effort, and support does the teacher move through the initial downward part of the curve, and reach the upward portion, which results in improved student outcomes and, often, increased satisfaction among teachers.

In addition, in new blended learning programs, the school may also be addressing issues related to bandwidth, online content, student expectations, and so on. Therefore the teacher isn’t only experiencing her own individual frustrations, but also additional challenges that aren’t entirely in her control.

Reaching the upper part of the J curve eventually results in improved student outcomes.  But the initial steps aren’t easy, and anticipating the initial drop of the J curve will help teachers get through it.