Blended Learning Data: A Day at the Golf Course

Blended Learning Data: A Day at the Golf Course

In high school, I once had a friend treat me to a game of golf on a $200/round professional course.  The result?  We lost every single one of the golf balls we brought by about the fifth hole, so we gave up and returned the clubhouse to plead for our money back.

If you’ve never graduated from mini-golf and tried walking around for miles with a bag of clubs and a goal of hitting a tiny ball into a tiny hole in the ground hundreds of yards away, you might not respect the extreme amount of concentration and consistency the sport of golf demands.  It also has a surprising amount of similarities to the challenges our students face in blended or virtual learning: a high level of skill, different “courses” of varying degrees of difficulty, unique tools and techniques you must master to succeed, and complete ownership of your performance.  When you look at the full statistics of Tiger Woods (a professional golfer) during a week of playing, you also get an exhausting amount of data that you can analyze: anything from the distance and trajectory of each shot to the number of putts on each hole and the number of strokes to get out of a sand trap.  But what really matters?  Overall improvement.

We take a similar approach to our use of data from online content providers.  It will always be debatable if mastery of a standard in a program really means mastery, but the aggregate of a student’s work and trends of progress are unequivocally meaningful.  Within the first few days of the introduction of any program, we immediately see students “spread out” in the software like a pack of golfers; each one seems to find their place at the front, middle, or back of the pack even though everyone is working completely independently.  That’s when the data gets interesting.  These new streams of formative data are fantastic early flags for identifying students that might have academic skill gaps, learning disabilities, or simply limited experience working on a computer.  The beauty of blended learning is how each student is completely in control of his/her progress, and what you can discover about your scholars just by enabling that.

Four actionable data trends:

  • Golf: You play Cherry Hills Golf Course multiple times and your score continually improves.  The routine you have of instruction and practice with your coach is obviously working, so you continue to fine tune and reinforce good habits.
  • Graph: The student overcame the initial learning curve and is making positive progress at a constant pace.
  • Action: Reinforce the great effort being done and continue to let the learner progress.

  • Golf: You repeatedly play the local, easy 9-hole course that has straight fairways and few hazards.  It’s a suitable challenge at first, but you’re a fast learner and quickly find yourself scoring well below par on every hole (that’s a good thing).  It’s time for you to move to a more challenging golf course to continue to grow your game.
  • Graph: The student overcame the initial learning curve and is progressing exceptionally quickly through the content.
  • Action: Adjust the content to a higher level of difficulty or consider moving the student to a more challenging online content provider.

  • Golf: You’ve been playing regularly and improving well, but the last three weeks your score has stayed the same.  It’s time for a deep dive to figure out what’s preventing your progress.  Is it emotional?  Lack of focus?  Perhaps your tee shots are excellent but you have a skill gap at putting that’s holding you back?  You and your coach work together to analyze what’s wrong and have a focused intervention to fix it.
  • Graph: The student was progressing well through the content but the rate of progression has reduced significantly.
  • Action: Investigate what has caused the stagnation and support the student to overcome it.

  • Golf: This is me on the $200/round golf course.  It was a level that was incredibly too high for my skill level, so I disengaged from it completely out of frustration from failure.  I switched to playing significantly easier (and cheaper) golf courses that were appropriate for my skill level and could enable me to start learning.
  • Graph: The student is continually struggling and failing to be successful in the online content.
  • Action: Change the online content provider or remove the student from virtual learning until proper supports have been put into place to assure success.

It’s not as easy as it looks:

If we could login to each program and see these types of clean graphs and indicators, we could do our jobs better.  But we cannot.  There are points and percentages and adequate progress and bar graphs and endless other noise that we have to fight through just to get to what we care about.  It’d be great if every online curriculum provider could take a course on RTI (response to intervention) or special education to learn the systems used in education for personalized learning progress monitoring.  Until then, we’ll continue to wade through the waters of data and ignore the hollow animated graphs along the way.

What can education learn from golf?  Let the kids play through.

In golf, there’s a course etiquette known as “playing through” (as referenced humorously in the picture above).  If you notice the group behind you is constantly waiting on you to finish your shots, it’s clear they are moving at a faster rate than you.  To be polite, on the next hole you let them “play through” by hitting first – thus you’re now behind them and no longer a bottleneck to their progress.  For the novices, it saves you tons of embarrassment because it prevents an expert group of golfers from continually watching you hit golf balls into the weeds and ponds.  You can take 8 shots to get out of the sand trap and not feel like too less of a human being.  For the experts, it prevents the frustration of getting stuck behind someone that’s just learning how to play and having a three hour game of golf turn into five hours.  It’s a simple system that lets everyone advance at his/her preferred pace.  Remove it, and golf courses would probably lose a large part of their serenity.  Why not instill some of that serenity into our students’ educational experience?

Written by Chris Liang-Vergara

Chris Liang-Vergara

Director of Instructional Technology for Personalized Learning for FirstLine Schools in New Orleans, LA. Chris guides school leaders and teachers through the process of designing and continuously improving their blended learning models and selection of tools and digital curricula. He also helps prepare facilities and IT to be ready to support new models of instruction in the future.

One comment

  1. As an avid golfer I quite like your analogy. Golf provides a number of great metaphors for learning and for life.

    The one thing that concerns me though is the focus on the number. Unless you’re a professional golfer, score is only one way to assess. I’ve been playing golf for 35+ years and for about the last 10 my game has plateaued in terms of score but my enjoyment has gone way up. If I examine why that is, it includes a number of factors.
    1. I understand better my limitations. I make fewer dumb mistakes and also rarely get upset when things don’t go well. I realize I’m not a professional, never will be and don’t look at that as a failure.
    2. I appreciate the opportunity more. As our world moves faster, a few hours in relatively quiet and peaceful surroundings is pure joy.
    3. I relish the company. I play about 40 times a year. Occasionally I’ll play by myself but most times I play with good friends and also get to make new friends as well.
    4. The game within the game. Often we play games that aren’t focused solely on score, just fun ways to engage and allow all levels of golfers to compete.

    I think the bottom line here is we need to take a similar approach to learning and recognize that it’s not all about a number or score. Yes, we all want to improve and help our students improve but learning, like golf entails much more than data or a score. While we intuitively know that, we often fail to make that clear. It’s way there are certain people I won’t play with. They’re so fixated on a number they forget that there are many ways to assess their day and time on the course. Since I’ve discovered this, I’ve never had a bad day on the golf course.

    Thanks for sharing this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *