Blended learning models have been around for years, used especially in corporate environments as a new approach to employee training that they've used with success. But what is blended learning (also known as hybrid learning), a term that many educators find hard to pin down? Are there different types of blended learning models? How do they differ?
Corporate professionals, university professors, and K-12 educators find themselves faced with similar challenges—and opportunities for growth—during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, a blended learning environment is undoubtedly in all of our futures.
The following information is meant for educational purposes only. It is neither legal nor medical advice. For medical advice, please speak with your physician.
What Is Blended Learning?
- Blended learning occurs in education and career training.
- It combines digital content delivery with traditional, in-person classroom settings though there is no fixed ratio between the two.
- Neither form of learning functions as a supplement to the other. They work together on the same material without redundancy.
- A student is given control over the pace and even the learning path.
- Some research suggests that blended learning models are more effective than solely in-person classes or online learning.
- Other interchangeably used terms include "technology-mediated instruction," "mixed-mode instruction," "hybrid learning," and "web-enhanced instruction."
- It has been in use since the 1990s.
As its name suggests, blended learning combines in-person and digital curriculum, offering a true "blend" of the two. In contrast with traditional education that uses digital resources, like a smartboard or digital homework assignments, hybrid models offer students more control over their education. It does not abandon the traditional classroom, however, as online learning does.
What May Additional "Control" Mean for the Student?
In a digital segment of a course, a student may only be able to pause, rewind or fast-forward a portion of a course. By contrast, blended learning models may allow a student to take different paths to learn a topic, in addition to allowing them to study and review at their own pace (and preferred time of the day).
The student may also have autonomy on whether they learn a topic in or outside of the classroom. Remember: part of a blended learning environment includes in-person learning. It isn't 100% digital like online learning.
In-Person and Digital Segments Work Together
It's called "blended" for a reason: segments taught in and outside of the classroom must work in tandem to educate students. This does not mean taking an English class in person but learning math at home, for example. It should be one subject matter covered in and outside of the classroom.
It also shouldn't be repetitive. A student should not be learning material outside of the class only to have it repeated by a teacher in a more formal brick-and-mortar classroom.
Keep in mind that there is no fixed ratio of face-to-face instruction and digital education. This means that courses that are 70% and 30% online, respectively, may both be considered hybrid learning.
How Do Online and Blended Learning Models Differ?
Online courses are just that: online. Blended learning combines online education with in-person teaching. Digital courses have become increasingly popular for educational institutions and career development services. Before the coronavirus pandemic, over 34% of students enrolled in an online course, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
6 Blended Learning Models
Researchers and educators disagree on whether there are distinct models or these are also, in fact, blended. However, some have put forth the following 6 models, ranging from online-dominant to more traditional:
- Online Driver Model: Students work primarily remotely with optional face-to-face interactions with teachers. Most person-to-person interactions occur within the platform.
- Self-Blend Model: Students, particularly high school students, may take courses not offered at their school, often remotely.
- Online Lab Model: Typically offered by schools hoping to offer coursework not available to them, especially due to budget cuts. These courses are supervised but not necessarily by a teacher.
- Flex Model: Students learn through online coursework with teachers present, often used in non-traditional learning environments.
- Rotation Model: As its name would suggest, this type of education rotates students between digital and face-to-face interactions. It is common in California elementary schools.
- Face-to-Face Driver Model: Not all students in a class complete blended learning curriculum. It is ideal for students completing coursework associated with a different grade level, such as students who are learning English at a lower grade level, for example.
What Does the Research Say on Blended Learning Models?
- Material and medium both matter in education.
- What is blended learning? It can be challenging to define.
- Some research suggests that hybrid education may be more effective or as effective as face-to-face courses.
For starters, it's important to know that some educators have a difficult time defining blended learning. This means that hybrid models' efficacy is also hard to measure conclusively.
To make matters more variable, blended learning models are highly dependent on the technology available at the time. An analysis of distance education's effectiveness stresses that, though the term "distance learning" has been around since the mid-19th century, and steadily more popular in the last 50 years, the technology available has progressed by leaps and bounds. This undoubtedly impacts blended learning models and their success rates.
Looking at data from 37 independent studies, the same meta-analysis found that blended learning models may be more effective than traditional face to face education and courses that are taught 100% online.
Do the Benefits of Blended Learning Apply for All Age Groups?
The same meta-analysis found that hybrid models are more effective for adult professionals than graduate students. It is also important to note that most studies have been conducted on college students and professionals. In other words, we would benefit from more research on how blended learning models work for younger learners.
The amount of planning and integration between the two modes of education also seemed to matter.
Online Education and COVID-19: What We've Learned
- During the pandemic, the majority of students fell behind the course curriculum.
- Online education especially widened the gap between lower and higher-income students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Its impacts were especially negative on Black and Latinx students, the equivalent of 10 and 9 months of losses, respectively, according to research put forth by McKinsey.
With coronavirus stay at home orders, students and teachers were forced to make a rapid change to online learning, often with serious consequences. According to research put forth in the New York Times, economic and racial divides in education deepened during the pandemic. This may be due to a variety of factors, especially a lack of access to good technology (computers and fast wifi) and the work environment at home.
Specifically, students' progress in math decreased by approximately half in lower-income zip codes and not at all in higher-income zip codes, according to an analysis of 800,000 students conducted by Harvard and Brown Universities.
Blended Learning Best Practices in 2020
Online learning may leave students, especially from lower-income households, without the support or tools they need to keep up with the curriculum, a problem widely experienced during the Spring semester due to the pandemic.
As a result, many are pushing for a combination of face-to-face and online learning, also known as blended learning, as schools and businesses reopen. In addition to maintaining consistency between online and in-person segments, this means ensuring that educators and students have access to the supplies they need to keep their students safe--and focused on learning.