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Blended Learning Changes the Education Game

blended learning open graph

Blended learning is one of the fastest growing sectors of education. It is estimated that more than four million K-12 students participate in some kind of online schooling, such as taking an online class in their conventional public school, attending a blended learning program, or enrolling in a completely virtual charter school. Currently, some type of online learning opportunity is available to students in 48 of the 50 states plus Washington, D.C. In fact, research confirms blended learning is on the rise: More than half (54 percent) of low-income Americans say they would be more likely to send their child to a school that offered blended learning and nearly 70 percent of school districts now offer blended learning models in their schools. Read on to find out what this different type of schooling is, how it works, and some of the many blended learning models.

What Is Blended Learning?

blended learning info

Blended learning is a combination of face-to-face or live, in-person instruction and online learning. In blended learning environments, students meet for live sessions (either physically or via webinar technology) with the teacher and peers for instructional activities. In addition to this live component, blended learning incorporates an asynchronous online component, meaning students participate in learning activities at different times and locations.

A meta-analysis of more than 1,000 online learning studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Education compared traditional in-person instruction, pure online courses, and blended instruction. Studies that involved blended learning environments were found to have the greatest impact in improving student achievement.

This study and additional research shows blended learning has some notable benefits, including:

  • Students have access to the best of both worlds to support individual learning styles.
  • The combination of live, interactive, face-to-face instruction along with digital content and personalized learning strategies helps increase student learning.
  • Digital content can be more flexible and dynamic than traditional textbooks.
  • The ability to watch instruction multiple times, stop, pause and rewind is beneficial for many students.
  • Because students are not confined to a physical location, blended learning expands the walls of the classroom by allowing students to continue learning outside of school hours.

Learning management systems—the software online learning is delivered on—now have the tools available to personalize learning in ways that weren’t possible before. For example, students can get formative assessment results on their understanding in real time and be directed to resources that meet their learning styles, languages, and areas that need to be retaught automatically. Additionally, teachers can access real-time diagnostics on student understanding that can help them adjust and meet learning needs.

Different Types of Blended Learning

A variety of innovative blended learning models have emerged in recent years. These include:

Model #1: Traditional Brick-and-Mortar Blended Learning Model

In this model, students attend a traditional brick and mortar school five days a week. The instructor utilizes online instruction to add additional resources, assign and collect homework, and have asynchronous learning activities such as online discussion boards happen outside of class.

Model #2: Hybrid Learning Model

In this model, students occasionally meet for live events, either in the classroom or via live technologies such as webinars or chats, but also work outside of the classroom in virtual online environments. For example, students may be required to attend class on Mondays, and other days are optional. The teacher may be available to answer online chats or meet one-on-one with the students other days of the week during a designated time, but attendance is optional on these days and work is to be completed online.

Model #3: Flipped Learning Model

In flipped learning, instructors record their lectures or direct instruction. This is delivered online and students watch these before class. In class, students work on homework and learning activities. This model offers teachers more time to assist students with homework and work with individuals and small groups. This allows a shift in time and space so instructors have more time to facilitate learning activities and work with students on difficult areas. Many flipped instructors report they are able to cover more curriculum in a flipped model classroom than a traditional classroom learning model where all instruction is delivered in live, face-to-face sessions.

5 Common Misconceptions About Blended Learning

When implementing blended learning, stakeholders may have preconceived notions about this new model of learning. The following section outlines common myths about blended learning.

Myth #1: Students work in isolation

In order to be considered blended learning, students need opportunities to interact with peers and the instructor in live, real-time settings.

We live in a social age. Today's learners want to incorporate social and collaborative approaches in all aspects of their life including learning. Online courses with the best practices in online learning are socially constructed. Students in online courses designed this way frequently report they have more social interactions with their peers than they do in traditional, face-to-face courses. Because teachers are not tied up with direct instruction during physical classroom time, online learning options can serve as a means to increase interaction and personalized contact time between students and teachers.

Myth #2: In blended learning, students complete online content by working primarily asynchronously at school and at home

Some educators believe blended learning is when you put your entire course into a learning management system and students work on it 100 percent asynchronously. Students may physically come to class but they work individually on the online course during class time. This model ignores some of the positive benefits of face-to-face interactions that can occur in a classroom.

Myth #3: Blended, hybrid, and online learning are less work than traditional, face-to-face instruction

Many instructors, institutions, and students mistakenly believe online instruction is easy. In reality, blended learning can require more time and effort from all parties.

face-to-face classes vs online classes

Myth # 4: Blended learning is a linear process

When done correctly, online learning is not a linear process. Much of the learning is completed through a community of practice, and then knowledge and expertise is distributed among the group. So a participant may post to a discussion and log in several days later to see additional posts that broaden the discussion or cause the learner to consider things in new ways. This may then cause the learner to grapple with new ideas or work to defend their original thoughts. As such, it is definitely not a linear process.

In online learning, students often work at their own pace. A blended course may be competency based in which students are pre-assessed and can test out of sections of the course. If a course is outcome based, students may have choices in how they demonstrate proficiency and may take assessments or continually improve work until they meet specified outcomes. New tools in learning management systems allow instructors to create individual learning paths for students.

Another powerful benefit of technology is the ability to personalize learning experiences. For example, students at one reading level could view materials based only on their Lexile level. In these types of learning environments, the teacher role changes dramatically. The online course is not just a repository of resources that students need to view and read and then take assessments on. Instead, the teacher constantly checks for understanding and helps students meet learning targets.

Myth #5: Online learning is only for gifted students or credit recovery

While blended and online learning are often used as interventions and extensions for these two groups of students, the truth is all students benefit from blending learning models.

Myth #6: All blended learning classrooms are student centered

Just because a teacher uses online learning resources to supplement their teaching does not automatically translate to a student-centered learning environment. In both the face-to-face and online components, students need opportunities to express their voices and make decisions about their own learning in order to foster a student-centered learning environment.

before you work on blended learning.

Conclusion

Blended learning is becoming more common in schools across the nation. Research supports a blended approach because it gives the learner the best of both worlds. They receive live support and interaction with peers and teachers as well as online resources and activities that allow them to work at their own pace outside of the classroom.

It is important that all stakeholders understand that blended learning does not take less time than traditional instructional models. It also does not mean that students work in isolation or that learning is a linear process where one size fits all. When combined with research-based strategies, blended learning can provide new opportunities for students that meet a variety of different learning styles and change the learning landscape for the better.

Blended Learning

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