What are blended learning environments?



Blended Learning Defined

Blended learning can be defined as instruction that has between 30% and 79% of the content delivered online (Allen, Seaman, & Garrett, 2007). As a broader and practical definition, a blended learning course is a course that uses a combination of face to face and online learning. Sometimes blended learning is referred to as hybrid, flipped, or inverted. However, instructors cannot simply use the online part of blended learning for low level of activities; otherwise, it may become an electronic text-book (Shibley, 2014). In fact, there are different approaches for designing a blended learning environment. Moreover, unlike the general definition of blended learning, flipped learning is a pedagogical approach specifically aimed to create an environment for student centered activities and active participation of students during class time by exposing students to content outside of normal class time.

Featured Video What is blended learning? by Dr. Jay Caulfield, Marquette University Associate Dean of Graduate Programs

Featured Video What is the Flipped Classroom? from UT Austin CTL

Examples of Blended Learning

Blended learning can be offered to your students in different formats and for different purposes. Here are some examples to give you an idea about how blended learning can be used.

Content Delivery

Traditional classrooms are often packed with content. At times, it is difficult for students to focus on the content and master the content during the course. In this sense, blended learning can be used to manage content delivery issues. As an example, the lecture content can be recorded as voiceover PowerPoint presentations and class time can be spent on activities focusing on higher level engagement with content and group discussion. Spending more time on activities during class rather than instruction will allow instructors to use formative assessment more often than objective summative tests and quizzes. Instructors will also have more time to monitor and evaluate students' progress.

Group Discussion

Delivering content in a short period of time is a difficult job for instructors. At the same time, expecting students to analyze and reflect on it in a short period of time is difficult too. However, blended learning environments are great venues for both students and teachers to engage in pre-course discussion about the content before they become part of higher level activities in the face to face section of the leaning. As an example, especially in large groups, the instructor can divide the course into small groups, create discussion forums for each and post questions regarding the content of the week and expect students to discuss and contribute to the forum based on what they have learned from their readings. In the face to face section of the course, the students can spend their time on reflecting on the topic and synthesis of their thoughts. This strategy can help instructors save considerable amount of time in your course.

Private Journal Space

One of the problems of online learning, however, is that some students wait until the last minute to post in the discussion group and repeat what others say, especially in large groups. Blended learning can offer students private journal spaces that the instructor can view but classmates cannot see. Instructors can make comments on each student's post and prepare them for in-class activities such as face-to-face discussion.

Ways You Can Apply Blended Learning to Your Course

Making a decision towards changing your existing course to a blended learning environment requires more than converting the content to electronic format. Ideally, you need clear learning objectives, activities designed for active participation and determine which activities are best delivered face-to-face and online.

According to the recommendations mentioned in an article by Rob Kelly (2014), an instructor should:

  • start with learning goals and identify learning objectives suitable for face-to-face, online, or combination
  • make decision on the strengths and weaknesses of each modality (face-to-face and online)
  • provide opportunities for online and face-to-face interaction of students
  • be active in both face-to-face and online teaching
  • make connection between face to face and online activities and explicitly refer to one in the other

Four Models of Blended Learning

Source: Staker, H., & Horn, M. B. (2012). Classifying K-12 Blended Learning. Innosight Institute

1. Rotation Model

The rotation model is a design in which students rotate on a fixed schedule or on the instructors' choice between face-to-face and online learning. There are four types of sub- categories of the rotation model: Station Rotation, Lab Rotation, Flipped Classroom, and Individual Rotation

2. Flex Model

The flex model is a design in which content and instructions are delivered primarily online and the instructor provides need-based support as students are engaged in classroom activities.

3. Self-Blend Model

The self-blended model is a design in which students take one or a group of courses fully online to support their traditional course(s). This model is popular in high schools where students want to take additional advanced courses in addition to the courses in their subject areas.

4. Enriched Virtual Model

The enriched virtual model is a design in which a campus primarily uses online learning complemented with face to face instruction on as-needed basis (e. g., full-time online school offering face-to-face supplementation to students, if they prefer).

Source: Staker, H., & Horn, M. B. (2012). Classifying K-12 Blended Learning. Innosight Institute.

Tools and Resources

  • Blended Learning Infographic from KNEWTON offers a brief explanation of blended learning by combining images and text in a creative format.
  • Building Blocks for College Completion: Blended Learning from EDUCAUSE provides information about blended learning and its implications from a nonprofit organization perspective.
  • Blended learning: Uncovering its transformative potential in higher education by Garrison & Kanuka (2004) is an article discussing the transformative potential of blended learning in the context of the challenges facing higher education.
  • Blended Learning Toolkit from University of Central Florida offers guidance, examples, professional development, and other resources to help you prepare your own blended learning courses and programs.
  • Blended Learning Model Definitions from Christensen Institute provides a brief definition of the four blended learning models.
  • Shibley, I. (2014). Putting the learning in blended learning. Blended and flipped exploring new models for effective teaching & learning, Magna Publication.
  • Kelly, R. (2014). Recommendations for blended learning. Blended and flipped exploring new models for effective teaching & learning, Magna Publication.
  • Allen, I. E., Seaman, J., & Garrett, R. (2007). Blending in: The Extent and Promise of Blended Education in the United States. Sloan Consortium, Newburyport: MA.