What Is Blended Learning?
Modern education looks nothing like a one-room schoolhouse. These days, classrooms come equipped with computers, projectors, speakers and other technology that makes learning a comprehensive experience. In many classrooms, learning even happens outside of the classroom walls in places like a computer lab or students’ homes.
Ultimately, learning no longer limits itself to a classroom — students learn online using classroom computers, going to school computer labs and on their personal computers, smartphones and tablets. By combining online learning techniques with classroom instruction, students engage in blended learning, a new type of instruction that enhances knowledge building for students and creates efficiency for teachers and educators.
While not a new concept, educators have become increasingly aware of blended learning as online instruction has grown more commonplace in recent years. Keep reading to learn more about blended learning and its benefits for students and staff alike.
Blended Learning Defined
To put it simply, blended learning combines online and face-to-face learning. Sometimes called hybrid learning, blended learning has three unique characteristics:
- It uses online learning with some element of student control.
- It remains part of a supervised brick-and-mortar school.
- It integrates online and face-to-face components.
Blended Learning and Student Control
This type of learning allows the student to have some say over what and when they learn. With blended learning, the student retains a bit of control over their own education. In traditional classroom instruction, all students in the class do the same work at the same time and place. With tech-optimized instruction, computers may enhance instructional time, but students still use the same technology at the same time and place.
During the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic, some schools experimented with hybrid classrooms where teachers taught an in-person classroom and an online classroom by teaching lessons through live video to both cohorts. This type of learning isn’t a form of blended learning, as the online students were required to work at the same time as the classroom students. These arrangements more closely resemble tech-assisted distance learning.
Blended Learning and Brick-and-Mortar Schools
Note that blended learning remains part of a supervised brick-and-mortar school. With blended learning, the student still attends school in a classroom that’s outside the home with non-parental teachers or guides, at least for part of the instructional time. This school may look a little different from a traditional school or classroom setting, but it’s still an outside-the-home experience.
A fully online class isn’t an example of blended learning. In these cases, the student receives only the online component of education. Likewise, an educational hybrid where a student receives additional face-to-face instruction from a parent or private tutor isn’t an example of blended learning.
Blended Learning and Integration
This type of education connects a student’s online and face-to-face learning in an integrated, blended way. Neither component of blended learning is enrichment or superfluous, but both are integral to helping the student master the educational material.
Some classrooms may provide online components as a form of enrichment or a source of additional practice for students who need extra help. With such additional online work, the core instruction remains in the classroom. This variation isn’t an example of blended learning, because it doesn’t integrate online and classroom education.
Certain teachers may use blended learning to provide additional learning exercises to more advanced students, helping them gain a greater mastery of the material. Struggling students may receive differentiated instruction. In either case, the online material pertains directly to the classroom material being taught.
How Does Blended Learning Work?
With blended learning, teachers divide or distribute learning activities between in-class and online exercises. The exact methods differ among teachers, but teachers often prefer to present new information in the classroom. By presenting information during a face-to-face learning session, teachers can answer questions, check for understanding and resolve problems at the earliest step of the process.
Once students are given the information, they may work on additional assignments online at home. Those assignments might include some form of assessment or additional instructional material. Additionally, teachers may assign interactive instructional material, increasing student engagement, or use videos or multimedia materials to boost comprehension and cement understanding of key topics.
When the students meet again in class, teachers can review the results of the online work, correct any misunderstandings, conduct face-to-face tutoring, lead classroom discussions and expand the lesson.
Examples of Blended Learning
While students of all grade levels can benefit from blended learning, the techniques teachers use may differ depending on the subject matter and the age of the students.
Rotation Blended Learning
This version of blended learning may use a station rotation or a computer lab model.
With the station rotation model, students rotate through stations on a fixed schedule. Some of the stations may include educational activities like small group instruction, learning games or hands-on activities, but at least one station will include an online learning station. In this situation, students use the online learning station to do the online part of their blended learning assignment. With a lab rotation model, the entire class or part of the class rotates through a computer lab in a similar manner.
Generally, rotation blended learning may work well in learning environments where home internet access is limited, as students can access the online course components at school. Specifically, younger students may benefit from a rotation blended system, as they require greater supervision while accessing the web, and school computers may allow for more supervision than home computers.
Flex Blended Learning
With flex blended learning, students learn primarily at the brick-and-mortar campus, but they may combine that learning with offline community activities, online activities and other forms of instruction. This kind of learning might suit homeschoolers, organizations or education that requires more community or hands-on activities. For example, learning a skilled trade could be an example of flex blended learning, where classroom instruction, online learning and supervised apprenticeship work all combine to teach the student.
Flipped Classroom Blended Learning
This is a form of blended learning that places the online component first. In the classroom-first blended learning model, the teacher presents information in the classroom, cements that information with online material and then reviews the information in a classroom. With flipping, information is presented online, cemented in the classroom and then reviewed online.
With flipping, a teacher uses online media to provide lectures, notes and other course materials to the students. Instructors expect the student to review their course materials at home prior to the class date. This technique leaves class periods free for hands-on activities, classroom discussion and group projects.
A flipped classroom system may require students to be self-motivated, as they often need to take the initiative to read and learn the material without assistance before the first class period. This method often finds use in classrooms with more mature students. However, it won’t work if the student population doesn’t have home internet access.
Individual Rotation Blended Learning
While similar to rotation blended learning, individual rotation blended learning doesn’t require every student to rotate to every station. Rather, a student’s rotational schedule is individually determined by their own agenda. This flexibility allows students to have a personalized learning plan that can adapt their education to their own individual needs.
This approach can provide a way to differentiate instruction in classrooms with vastly different learning styles or abilities. When classrooms have integrated students with wide variations in baseline ability or vast differences in learning style, individual rotation blended learning may help counteract some of the challenges of differentiated instruction.
Blended Learning Benefits
Ultimately, blended learning allows students to combine online and classroom instruction, which can increase the ability of teachers and students to engage in differentiated instruction. It can have numerous benefits for students, teachers and schools. Let’s take a look at the specific advantages:
The Benefits of Blended Learning for Students
This style of learning provides learners with flexibility and freedom to control at least some elements of their own learning journey. This responsibility may give students a greater feeling of autonomy, which can lead them to feel more emotionally invested in their education.
When it comes to comprehension, research suggests that blended learning may provide students with a more robust understanding of the course material. Because students are able to access learning materials in a range of formats, it may help enhance comprehension for students with different learning styles.
While some parents may be concerned about the social aspects of blended learning, research also suggests that students who engage in blended learning may be learning better social skills than other students. Children who engage in a blended learning model seem to have improved online participation. In a separate study, researchers found that online communication through blended learning improved the social lives of students.
The Benefits of Blended Learning for Teachers
For teachers, blended learning may help eliminate many of the headaches that stem from modern education. This type of learning can help teachers with grading, assessments and tracking student progress. With online tools, grade books and metrics, instructors can more readily identify struggling students, highlight problem areas and make recommendations to help their students succeed.
Enhanced Communication and Personalization
Thanks to blended learning, teachers can connect and engage with their students in the way students want to communicate. By unlocking email and digital communication, teachers and instructors can respond to student queries and problems in real-time, helping encourage and correct learners when they may be struggling.
A student-centric blended learning approach makes it easier for teachers to personalize education. Though differentiated education is a challenge for teachers, blended learning can allow them to adjust lessons to suit student need and ability, even in larger classes with a higher student-to-teacher ratio.
As the cost of curriculum continues to rise, blended learning may help create a reusable resource for teachers tailored to their individual classrooms and communities. It’s no secret that teachers frequently create customized content for their classrooms — they may build modules designed to strengthen a particular weakness they’ve discovered or design a lesson tailored to a unique cultural or community need. With blended learning, teachers can save and repurpose their materials, which helps decrease the time, money and energy teachers would otherwise spend on course preparation.
Better Student Engagement
Some blended learning tools use techniques such as interactive modules or gamification, which dramatically increase student engagement. As students are more engaged in their work, teaching becomes simpler for teachers. After all, the ultimate goal for teachers is to create lesson plans that educate the students in a way that helps them retain the information they’re learning.
It allows teachers to adjust the pace of certain elements of instruction to permit slower learners additional time without causing boredom among faster learners. With more customized pacing, blended learning helps to keep the entire classroom moving forward without losing any students to confusion or frustration.
By moving some instructional activities to a blended learning model, teachers may find more time in the classroom for creative or interesting classroom lessons. Exciting hands-on activities or classroom discussions they’d never find time for may become possible when part of the lesson is moved into an online component.
The Benefits of Blended Learning for Schools
The Fordham Institute found that virtual schools cost about 55-71% of the cost per student of brick-and-mortar schools. Between curriculum costs and facility expenses, blended learning could be a way to reduce overhead expenses for school administrators.
Because blended learning makes recordkeeping and communication easier, it may make it easier for teachers and schools to communicate with parents. As a result, blended learning can boost parental involvement in education and keep parents informed about their child’s academic progress.
Blended Learning Is Here to Stay
No single educational technique will work for every student, but online education and blended learning may offer the most flexibility for everyone. Many educators believe that online education can be the same or better than face-to-face education, and it costs less. Using a blended model is one of the best ways to achieve quality education while boosting efficiency and reducing costs.
While there are many ways to go about online learning, blended learning provides one option for students who benefit from a hybrid model. Some students appreciate having the opportunity to attend school in person to have a traditional classroom experience and learn directly from their teacher. Other students enjoy working online at their own pace, communicating over email and text and learning through reading and videos. For students who want the best of both worlds, blended learning helps to bridge the gap.
Because blended learning relies on the integration of classroom and online learning, it demands a strong online infrastructure and a tech-savvy, forward-thinking teacher. If students will access online resources at home, they’ll need technology and an internet connection they can rely on to do their assignments. If they’ll do their online work at school, they’ll need a computer lab capable of accessing their online resources to ensure their lessons continue without interruption.
Despite the potential challenges of adapting to a blended learning model, students and educators both benefit from having access to a robust set of online tools and techniques to help enhance their educational relationship.
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