05 Sep 2012
September 5, 2012

What is Blended Learning?

Blog, Main 0 Comment

With reduced funding, funding deferrals, and increased pressure to meet various accountability measures, school administrators face seemingly interminable challenges. It’s in the face of these challenges that school administrators are turning to technology-driven innovations like blended learning to improve organizational efficiency and student achievement.

Blended learning combines the most effective classroom-based teaching practices with the most effective virtual learning teaching practices. In other words, well-designed blended models fully integrate the best face-to-face pedagogical methods with highly engaging computer-based activities. Moreover, effective models are data driven and student centered. This means educators make decisions about individual student instructional needs based on regular analysis of student data through the use of technology. Analysis enables teachers to personalize curriculum and instruction and prescribe remediation, while blended learning technology makes the process of collecting, organizing, and analyzing student data more effective.

Although the benefits of implementing blended learning programs may vary depending on a variety of factors, recent research conducted by the Fordham Institute shows that the cost of operating a thoughtfully designed blended learning model is “significantly lower than the $10,000 national average for traditional brick-and-mortar schools.” (Hassel, et al., 2012). For this reason, many school administrators are considering the possibility of implementing some sort of blended learning model at their schools. However, the thought of transitioning a comprehensive, traditionally structured school to a fully integrated blended learning program is daunting to say the least.

For this reason, it is important that we consider (1) the types of blended learning models, (2) the elements of effective models, (3) the steps administrators and teachers should take to implement an effective model, and (4) the challenges school administrators and faculty face when implementing such programs. In this post, we will take a look at the types of blended learning models. The other three topics will be addressed in future posts.

Four categories of blended learningAccording to a recent study by Innosight (Horn and Staker, 2012), there are generally four classifications of blended learning models–Rotation Model, Flex Model, Self-Blend Model, and Enriched Virtual Model.

According to Innosight, the Rotation Model involves “a program in which a given course or subject, students rotate on fixed schedules or at the teacher’s discretion between learning modalities, at least one of which is online learning.”  (Horn and Staker, 2012) This model seems to hold a lot of promise because it tends to maintain many of the core elements of traditional instruction. Because of its similarity to the traditional learning model, it tends to be the easiest of the four models to implement and for teachers to embrace. The primary focus of the Station Rotation Model is differentiating instruction by utilizing various pedagogical modalities through computer-mediated instruction.

The Flex Model involves the “content and instruction [being] delivered primarily through the Internet, students move on an individually customized, fluid schedule among learning modalities, and the teacher of record is on site.”  (Horn and Staker, 2012) The primary focus of the flex model is maximizing efficiency and instructional consistency through the use of virtual learning curriculum and instruction, while providing various face-to-face learning opportunities that facilitate and enhance the student’s learning experience.

The Self-Blend Model is perhaps the most common in school’s today. In this model, students are given the opportunity to chose self-paced, online courses that fit their learning plan. Self-Blending is often times utilized by schools to enhance learning, expand course offerings, provide Advanced Placement offerings, or provide individualized remediation for struggling students. The Self-Blend Model is usual not a comprehensive or fully integrated blended model. Perhaps this is why it is often the most common option for traditional brick and mortar schools.

Finally, the Enhanced Virtual Model provides a “whole-school experience in which within each course students divide their time between attending a brick and mortar school and learning remotely using online delivery of content and instruction.”  (Horn and Staker, 2012) The Enriched Virtual Model grew out of the independent study learning model where a teacher of record managed a student’s course load in a distance learning format. What makes the Enriched Virtual Model appealing to middle school and high school educators is that it provides an important level of oversight and accountability found lacking in a traditional distance learning model. Through the use of technology a teacher of record can closely manage and facilitate the learning experience of particular students. Moreover, this approach can enhance the virtual learning experience by providing an important face-to-face component often sought by students and parents.

As administrators and teachers look to blended learning as a way to improve organization efficiency and student achievement, there are important steps that should be taken both in the planning and implementation phases to ensure program success.  By following specific design principles, educators can take steps to ensure the new blended learning program improves student achievement by meeting the individual learning needs of students but is also financially sustainable.

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter!

Leave a Reply