Due to the COVID-19 crisis, blended learning is no longer optional for schools. After our schools shut down unexpectedly in the spring, many school leaders were forced to rapidly adopt virtual learning platforms and instructional strategies to prevent further lapses in instruction. Now it is time to take a step back and develop an evidence-based blended learning strategy for your school.
What is Blended Learning?
In their 2011 report “The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning”, Horn and Staker offer a broad definition of blended learning from the perspective of a student:
“Blended learning is any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace.”
Blended learning is not a one-size-fits-all instructional method. Blended Learning Universe notes that “[b]lended learning can be implemented in many unique ways, generally using a combination” of platforms and instructional strategies. No matter which approaches your school chooses to incorporate, the following criteria must be met in a blended learning plan:
- With the support of online technology, students have some control over their learning.
- Students spend at least some time learning in a physical location away from their homes.
- Technology is used to enhance collaborative learning between students and teachers and between students and their peers.
Collaboration Through Blended Learning
Blended learning requires more than simply distributing tablets or laptops to students. Seasoned educational expert Eileen Buckley Murphy explains in Language Magazine that, “The technology can’t just be for the students to learn from alone in isolation. It has to be technology that teachers can use to teach and that students can use to collaborate with together.”
School leaders and teachers need professional development to understand how technology should foster collaboration through:
- One-on-one meetings between teachers and students
- Students in small groups
- Students in the whole class
Learn how your school can provide evidence-based, targeted professional development about blended learning.
Blended Learning Instructional Models
An effective blended learning strategy incorporates a combination of instructional strategies, which may include:
- Direct instruction — The teacher leads students through well-planned lessons that clearly explain concepts and skills.
- Student-led learning — Students are given autonomy to choose specific activities they will complete to master a unit of study. This approach to student led learning may also be more inquiry-based.
- Station rotation — Individually and/or through small groups, students rotate through different activities that deepen their understanding of the unit of study with a variety of perspectives and approaches to the material. At least one of these stations should include a digital component.
- Flipped classroom — Students independently review instructional materials (such as a reading assignment or a lecture video) at home. Time in the virtual or physical classroom is used for collaborative, hands-on activities.
- Other models — Blended Learning Universe outlines seven common models of blended learning on their website.
In their 2005 analysis on distance education, Zhao et al. draw important conclusions about the benefits of using a combination of instructional methods in blended learning:
- The combination of synchronous (e.g., traditional whole-class instruction in the classroom, live Zoom group meetings, etc.) and asynchronous communication (e.g., message boards, email, etc.) is more effective than just one of these types of communication.
- Incorporating face-to-face communication is more effective than using online-only instruction.
- Personal communication and guidance from instructors are more effective than using only standardized, “canned” instructional methods.
Schedule a free call with the Center for Student Achievement Solutions to learn how we can help your school leaders develop a custom strategy for your unique student body.
Evidence That Blended Learning Promotes Student Achievement and Educational Equity
A rising tide lifts all boats. If your school or district aspires to improve student achievement, start with the low-hanging fruit: Promote educational equity for traditionally underserved students. When school leaders support underserved student populations with evidence-based instructional practices and resources, the improved test scores from these student groups will raise your entire student body’s average test scores.
Traditionally underserved student populations include:
- Students of color; especially Black and Brown students
- Students with special needs and IEPs
- ESL and ELL students
- Students from low-income households
Here are just three examples of how blended learning promotes student achievement and educational equity:
1. Blended learning supports differentiated instruction.
Teachers can use blended learning technology to focus on student mastery instead of having all students work through the curriculum at the same pace. Horn and Staker (2011) point out that these tools measure student progress and mastery of each unit of study in real-time. Teachers can use this instantaneous feedback to make decisions about how to differentiate instruction for each individual student. They can decide whether a student needs reteaching, extra practice, or more intensive interventions at any point during each unit of study.
2. Blended learning supports individualized learning.
Some virtual learning tools offer the ability for teachers to provide individualized instruction through dynamic content. When a student completes a virtual learning activity (such as a quiz or reflection exercise), the platform generates the next learning activity based on their responses and performance. Automatic, dynamic content allows for more individualized instruction than a traditional classroom setting can offer.
3. Evidence suggests that blended learning supports underserved student populations.
For example, a 2017 literature review by Prescott et al. finds that English Language Learners (ELLs) in particular can benefit from blended learning technology as they learn to read, write, and speak English. The researchers state, “[S]tudents who are ELs in classrooms with interactive whiteboard technologies outperformed students who are ELs in traditional classrooms on state reading and mathematics tests. It was also found that students who are ELs in technology-rich classrooms started to close the learning gap with their peers who are not ELs.”
Start Planning Your Blended Learning Strategy
The Center for Student Achievement Solutions can work alongside your school or district leaders to develop a blended learning plan that supports your students’ specific needs. We understand that every school faces unique challenges, and we look forward to learning more about your students. Schedule a free call with one of our expert educational consultants to start planning an evidence-based strategy for your school.
Additionally, here are some other articles about blended learning best practices:
- Differentiation Strategies for Hybrid and Virtual Learning
- How to Measure Student Mastery of Virtual Content
- 6 Tips for Planning Virtual Lessons for Students in Special Education
We know that reading articles can only get you so far. Schedule a free call with one of our expert educational consultants to start planning an evidence-based blended learning strategy for your school.