What Is Blended Learning?

young student going to school from home using blended learning approach

New teaching models and classroom organization techniques are common research topics. Educators are always striving to determine the best way to reach and teach students. While some pedagogical theories and models have persisted for many years, others have been introduced more recently. The terms for these models can be confusing, especially when they describe practices that seem quite similar. What is blended learning? What is personalized learning? What is online learning?

Blended learning grew out of online learning. Therefore, blended learning relies on technology while also including personalized learning. Technology can help instructors adapt coursework to meet student needs. These features of blended learning and many more make it an exciting new model in the 21st-century classroom.

What Is a Blended Learning Approach?

A blended learning approach is adaptable to materials, student needs, location, technology access and many other features. Three features make a teaching model blended. Without some combination of these three aspects, a model cannot be considered blended learning:

1. Technology That Allows Some Student Control

In all blended learning models, students complete some of their learning using technology and the internet. The technology in blended learning employs web-based content and instruction rather than tools such as a calculator or search engine. Blended learning technology gives students some control over their learning in terms of time, place, order and pace. This shift in control from teacher-centered to student-controlled is a hallmark of blended learning.

2. In-Person Time With a Teacher or Instructor

Blended learning is not at-home learning. Students in blended learning models meet, at least part of the time, in-person with a teacher, instructor or guide. In many cases, local school buildings are the locations of these in-person meetings, with students attending schools full-time, in-person while completing other work at home. Schools designed around a blended model may also meet in computer labs or public workspaces.

3. Content Integration Across Both Modalities

The “blended” part of blended learning means that the content students learn in each modality (in person and with technology) is complementary and integrated. Blended learning does not mean that students read about a topic online and then sit through a lecture at school on the same topic. Rather, the reading, learning activities and assessments completed using technology should be supported by in-person work, perhaps through discussion, small group work or labs.

Blended Learning Models

The three features of blended learning can work together in multiple ways to allow students to make progress with their learning. The multiple models of blended learning are sometimes used in the classroom at different times, with some models being more useful than others for certain grades and subjects:

1. Station Rotation

The station rotation model is designed to have students rotate through stations following a specific schedule. At least one of the stations includes online learning. This model is closest to what traditional classrooms call “centers” but must include that online component. A station rotation may also include teacher-led small group stations and in-person activities or reading that is not online. Typically, all stations occur within the same classroom.

Due to teachers’ and students’ familiarity with this structure, station rotation is one of the most used blended models in elementary and middle school. Teachers using stations report that it gives them a sense of control and order over the blended learning environment.1

2. Lab Rotation

A lab rotation model is similar to station rotation, but it happens in a computer lab. In this model, students move to a computer lab to complete their online learning. While the online learning station is set in the computer lab, possibly under the direction of a paraprofessional, direct instruction likely occurs in the classroom with a teacher. This allows schools to maximize teachers’ time and allocate resources in the best ways possible.

3. Individual Rotation

Students working in an individual rotation blended model have a flexible schedule. They work from a playlist of assigned stations or activities. Their schedule is not fixed, so they can decide when they are ready to move on to the next activity. These playlists might be set by a teacher or by a software algorithm. In both cases, the idea is to use data to determine where students need extra help or enrichment and schedule them into activities that meet their needs.

Teachers who adopt this model like that it maximizes their instructional time for interventions and small groups. This ensures that students receive what they need while teachers can spend their time helping students because they know that each student has a personalized set of activities to complete.

4. Flipped Classroom

The flipped classroom receives a great deal of attention. This blended learning model flips the work done inside and outside of the classroom. In the traditional classroom, homework is usually time for students to practice and apply what they have learned in class. In a flipped model, however, this application and project work is completed in class, while students watch videos of lectures or read course materials independently on their own time. This allows teachers to spend their time in the classroom actively supporting students as they practice new skills rather than lecturing.

5. Flex

The flex model allows students to develop their own schedules and learning activities based on their needs. The online learning component is central to the flex model, while teachers provide support and small group instruction as needed. A flex model might include the following:

  • Rooms for small group work
  • Science lab space
  • A computer lab
  • A break room
  • Intervention groups
  • Breakout rooms

This model is most often used in high schools because it prepares students for university environments.* The flex model keeps the focus on close student–teacher relationships without imposing the top-down authority of the traditional school.

6. A La Carte

Students who seek a learning option that is not provided by the school can benefit from the a la carte blended model. In the a la carte model, students can complete an online course in the subject they wish to study while also taking in-person classes at school. This model gives students flexibility over their learning content and allows them to complete courses such as electives or Advanced Placement courses their schools might not otherwise offer. This model is most common in high schools where students accumulate credit for coursework.

7. Enriched Virtual

Some students in blended models complete most of their coursework online and go to school in-person for just one subject or course. For example, some high school students may be able to take all their academic courses online but attend school in-person twice a week to earn their physical education credits. The enriched virtual model may not require daily attendance for online work but does require minimal in-person attendance.

Benefits of Blended Learning

Practitioners have found benefits in just about every educational model, which explains why these models have persisted over time. Although a newer model, blended learning offers learners and providers its own set of benefits.

Benefits for learners include the following:

  • More control over how, what, and when they learn
  • Integration between concepts, which facilitates more comprehensive understanding
  • Flexible models that include a mix of independent work and social interaction
  • Increased time to apply learning and practice new skills
  • Just-in-time learning and differentiated content to meet students’ immediate needs

Benefits for education providers include the following:

  • Reduced costs for paper materials, copies, and other supplies
  • More efficient use of resources by allowing teachers and paraprofessionals to supervise different groups 
  • Varied methodologies, which can increase engagement and reduce behavioral or classroom management issues
  • Technology that keeps track of progress and develops learning paths, which means less administrative work for teachers
  • Safer and smaller groups of students learning in-person at one time

How to Implement Blended Learning

Blended learning models often require a schoolwide commitment to change. The school must invest in technology, software, teacher training, paraprofessionals, and other aspects of the new model. Some newer schools develop as blended learning sites from the beginning, so these features are built into their operations. Existing public schools, however, may have a more difficult time making the shift.

Teachers who work in schools where blended learning is not a schoolwide initiative can still implement some blended models. Here are some steps they can take to get started:

1. Assess Technology

Technology is a required component of blended learning. If a teacher has a few desktop computers in the classroom, they may be able to run station rotations or a flipped model, but they would not be able to implement lab rotations or the flex model. A teacher in a 1:1 technology environment has many more options for blended learning models. Additionally, teachers must consider the type of software they plan to adopt in their chosen blended learning model. This software should include teaching and practice and allow students some choice.

2. Start Small

Teachers interested in creating a blended learning environment can ease into the new model by adding a technology component to the centers or stations they already use. For example, an elementary school teacher could try a flipped lesson model by filming a lesson on equivalent fractions for students to watch for homework. Students would then participate in relevant activities and practice opportunities during math class the next day. Meanwhile, a middle school or high school teacher could assign a reading on a historical topic for homework and then have students engage in a Socratic seminar-style discussion on the topic during the following class period.

3. Incorporate Choice

Like technology, choice is a key component in blended learning approaches. Teachers who build choice into their curricula may find it easier to adopt a full blended learning model later. To begin, teachers can consider ways to offer students choices in how, what, or where they learn and in how they demonstrate their learning. For example, students might choose from the following learning options:

  • Listening to a small group lecture
  • Watching a video
  • Reading a text
  • Practicing with an online program
  • Working on a team project

Later, the assessment might be a project of choice or a test with a choice of which items to complete.

4. Communicate With Families

Before parents begin emailing with the “What is blended learning?” question, teachers should proactively explain the new model and methods they are incorporating in and out of the classroom. Families may be confused by the choice and the amount of technology their students are using because it is not a model with which they are familiar. By sharing about the benefits of blended learning early and often, however, teachers can educate families on new learning methods.

5. Recruit Other Teachers

Teaching can be an isolating job, especially when an instructor tries a new program or model that is not a schoolwide initiative. However, teachers who want to implement a blended learning approach can team up with other teachers who are interested. Such collaboration can cut the workload in half. For example, by dividing the work of creating videos for flipped learning or of researching software programs to use during stations.

6. Document Results

Teaching is a data-driven profession. Teachers who implement blended learning modes should regularly collect data on student progress to prove the efficacy of their approaches. They can then present this data to their administrators to obtain additional tools, resources and support.

If blended learning piques your interest, consider expanding your online teaching skills with the Graduate-Level Distance Learning Certificate from Grand Canyon University. In this program, you will learn to facilitate impactful remote educational sessions that can be used in blended learning models. 

 

*Retrieved from Blended Learning Universe, Blended-Learning Trend Watch: Models on the Rise in October 2021.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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