How to Utilize the Combination Learning Model

Misty Hance
Misty Hance
Assistant elementary school principal; Ed.D. in School Leadership, Carson-Newman University, TN
Classroom full of high school students with raised hands.

Educators have often been taught that there are various learning styles. Students within a single classroom learn differently and should be taught accordingly for instruction to be most effective. Some students learn best by seeing the material in front of them, some need to hear the information presented, while others need a chance to touch and manipulate items. We also know that some students prefer working independently while other desire group interactions. The best strategy to reach the needs of each student is through a combination learning model.

What is the Combination Learning Model?

The Combination Learning Model is based on the idea that students learn best when presented instruction through a flexible combination of two or more learning components. It is a process-based theory rather than a focus on subject content or standards. In other words, the emphasis is on how students learn and allows the teacher and students to collaborate and personalize their learning path on a given topic.

The Combination Learning Model is similar to the Montessori method of education where learning is self-directed by students, and the teacher guides the process. It can be a simple task or a complex project, depending on the anticipated learning outcome.

How Many Learning Components are There?

Combination Learning focuses on the purposes behind learning. Each of these 10 components can be combined with others to determine the purpose and drive the learning process. Each component also provides guidance for the activity so that students can stay focused on the intent of the task.

Audience – Students are cognizant of who needs to know the information being obtained.

Role – Students must determine whose point of view is being studied. Possible ideas include a historian, a designer, an activist, an artist, etc.

Purpose – Students utilize the purpose of the content and understand why they are learning the material. Does it help inform, design, restore, or explore?

Media Channel – In our current world, there are so many avenues to explore when researching or learning about a topic. Students learn to utilize various information sources for seeking the best avenue to gather reliable data, facts, and reports.

Apps – Just as students may use various media channels, they also learn what apps are appropriate for gathering various types of information and which ones are reliable sources.

Cognitive Action – Students are able to use various strategies for thinking through the process of learning. In turn, they become proficient in analyzing, creating, explaining, and comparing, as well as other cognitive actions that best help them learn.

Learning Strategy – Since students are in charge of their learning process, they are encouraged to use a variety of strategies for planning. Learning strategies include, but are not limited to, project-based, inquiry-based, and scenario-based learning.

Question – Just as questioning is an important component in a teacher lesson plan, it is also crucial for students using Combination Learning to develop essential questions to drive their process. Higher-order questions are utilized to deepen student understanding. When students learn to ask important questions, they deepen their understanding.

Problem/Challenge – Current events and hot topics such as cyberbullying, mental health, distracted driving, and such are often explored so that students learn to better understand the world in which they live and contribute.

Collaborators – Students learn to reach outside the classroom for answers and support by calling on local business owners, neighbors, families, and community stakeholders for support in learning about their topic.

When Should I Use Combination Learning?

Combination Learning was designed to meet the needs of any age and curriculum area. However, it will take more guidance and training for younger students to use it effectively. Mature upper elementary students can easily adapt to the self-directed learning environment, but it will take time and modeling. Middle and high school students who are more versed in technology and research strategies will do best with the Combination Learning Model. Although Combination Learning can be adapted to standards-based curriculum, it appears to be best used in the subjects of social-sciences, social studies, and composition type classes. This method of learning would be ideal for either in-person, online, or a hybrid approach to learning.

What are the Benefits of Combination Learning?

One obvious benefit of this model is the idea that when students are in charge of their learning process, they are often more likely to complete the activity with full effort and engagement. Students also learn to reflect on their learning process, determine what worked and what to avoid in the next activity. Differentiation is key in education and this model allows students to work at their own pace and level, and therefore differentiation is easily accomplished.

Another perk includes students learning to “adult.” Often, we prepare students with book-smarts but we don’t teach them to analyze world events, scrutinize news media, or question what they are told about hot topics effectively. Without these skills, students may stay naive about what others tell them. The Combination Learning Model helps them to develop their own understanding, seek information, and research facts rather than relying on opinions in the real world.

Ways to Use Combined Learning in the Classroom

In order to successfully use Combined Learning in the classroom, teachers will need to combine two or three of the components to provide students with guidance on how to organize and collect their information. For example, a combination might include a learning strategy (project-based learning), a problem or challenge (cyber-bullying), and a cognitive action (explain the significance). Students would then work as a small group to create a 90 second commercial to explain the significance of cyber-bullying. Students would be in charge of gathering their own information and creating a commercial that is accurate and attention-getting.

A comp class might utilize media channels (locate a poem) and combine that with a role (musician) in order for students to turn the poem into a song by focusing on its rhythm, repetition, and rhyme.

By selecting a few components, teachers can create simple or complex learning experiences for students to become actively engaged in their own learning.

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