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Everything You Need to Know About Blended Learning

Posted by Sam Cressman on 1/3/20 6:31 PM
Sam Cressman
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Adaptive learning. Personalized learning. Differentiated instruction. Online learning. Hybrid learning. The "flipped" classroom. Blended learning.

With both education instruction and technology changing so frequently, sometimes it can feel difficult to keep up with the trends and terminology.

Let's take a deep dive into blended learning, including:

What is blended learning?

How was blended learning developed?

What are the different types of blended learning?

What are the pros and cons of blended learning?

What is blended learning?

According to Blended Learning Universe, blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns part online, part away from home, and always along a learning path ("the modalities along a student's learning path are connected to provide an integrated learning experience").

Or, in other words, blended learning focuses on organized instruction that combines physical classroom learning materials with online learning materials. Terms frequently associated with blended learning include hybrid learning and mixed mode learning.

Blended learning can benefit students by helping to customize learning ("online learning offers individual data, timely feedback, and flexible pathways"), focus on competency ("control over pace means students advance based on mastery, not time"), and providing on-demand access ("technology opens up a world of opportunities and allows students to reach beyond the classroom"). 

Although many schools for many years have offered students access to computers and technology, blended learning focuses on a true "blend" between physical and online materials where both complement and supplement each other and both are necessary to help students reach the lesson's learning objective.

There is some debate around distinguishing blended learning and "technology-rich" learning. The distinction mainly focuses around technology, and

The technology used for the online learning must shift content and instruction to the control of the student in at least some way for it to qualify as blended learning from the student’s perspective, rather than just the use of digital tools from the classroom teacher’s perspective.

How was blended learning developed?

Blended learning originated in the early 1960s at the University of Illinois. As mini-computers and mainframes were emerging, the University developed PLATO, or Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations, as a tool to offer digital instructions on how to best utilize these new technologies. 

PLATO, which is still running today, is regarded as the first computer-assisted instruction system and a precursor to the modern internet. Furthermore, PLATO was instrumental towards many computing breakthroughs including online networking and touch screens.

In the 1970s and 1980s, as mainframe computing increased, TV-based technology to support training and education also increased. A common example is Stanford's Interactive TV network, which allowed professors to stream classes via satellite to multiple locations simultaneously.

Next, the rise of personal computers in the 1980s led to CD-based learning and training as well as Learning Management Systems (LMS). Learning Management Systems (an example would be Blackboard) were designed to help organizations track progress and performance of employees on CD-based trainings. Learning Management Systems are used in nearly every classroom today. 

These systems were aided by the launch of the internet to the masses in the late 1990s, which greatly promoted content creation and sharing. Today, internet use for education is second nature for most students, and the integration of blended learning into classrooms shows no signs of slowing down.

What are the different types of blended learning?

Traditionally, there are generally considered to be four types of blended learning: Rotation, Flex, A La Carte, and Enriched Virtual. However, as blended learning grows and adapts, different models and sub-models will continue to be created and adopted.

The Rotation model focuses on students switching between physical and digital modes of learning in a classroom. Examples include blending online learning with small group discussions and pen-and-paper assignments. There are four subtypes of Rotation blended learning:

  1. Station rotation: students rotate to different stations within one classroom or multiple classrooms.
  2. Lab rotation: students rotate between a classroom or classrooms and a computer lab.
  3. Flipped classroom: a flipped classroom "flips" the traditional model of students learning in class and working on homework outside of class. Instead, students use class time for homework and individual questions and learn mainly online outside of class time. 
  4. Individual rotation: teachers set rotations for individual students based on their needs (students do not necessarily rotate to each station).

In the Flex model, online learning is the main source of student learning and teachers provide physical instruction support on an as-needed basis. Depending on the objective, implementation, and students, teachers may provide a great amount of support or minimal support.

The A La Carte model is a course that students takes entirely online to complement and supplement another related classroom activity. In A La Carte learning, the course and teacher are entirely online.

Finally, the Enriched Virtual model requires students to meet with their teacher in-person (typically daily) but also allows students the flexibility to gain knowledge and complete coursework outside of teacher meetings. The Enriched Virtual model started as a full online school experience but adopted face-to-face meetings to provide students with at least some regular school and teacher interaction experiences.

What are the pros and cons of blended learning?

There are many different potential pros and cons of blended learning.

Pros of blended learning include:

Filling learning gaps: blended learning is not "one size fits all" learning. Blended learning utilizes technology to interact with students and meet them where and how they best learn, which ties in well with filling learning gaps.

"Best of both worlds" approach to education: being both both online and in person, when implemented properly, blended learning can represent a "best of both worlds" approach that helps prepare students for their future studies and/or careers (either of which will involve interacting with technology on a daily basis).

Focus: blended learning allows teachers to focus their time and efforts more on individualized instruction and support rather than on general lessons (similar in theory to one concept supporting the creation of the Common Core: teachers could spend less time on preparation and more time on focused instruction).

Convenience: students can learn from anywhere they have internet access and at anytime, and teachers can grade and prepare from anywhere at anytime as well.

Engaging content: many blended learning programs use gamification to create an interactive and engaging experience for students.

Data (and outcome) focused: given that blended learning began as an instructional tool, blended learning programs are focused on providing teachers with actionable data on student performance and progress.

Cons of blended learning include:

Heavy reliance on technology: blended learning relies on being online which can cause problems when technology does not work or is unavailable.

Implementation for both teachers and students: blended learning programs can take time to implement, learn, and routinize (if there is one thing teachers will never have enough of, it's time).

Can appear to favor more self-disciplined students: blended learning forces students to be self-disciplined while also forcing teachers to set clear goals and expectations.

Not all students have access to internet outside of their classroom: if a student does not have internet access outside of the classroom, how can they be expected to focus on the online components of blended learning?

Want to learn more about how Knowre Math can help teachers create strong blended learning experiences?Request A Live Demo

Topics: Classroom, Education Policy, Education Technology, Student Success, Math Instruction, Teachers