2020 Ultimate Guide To Blended Learning

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2020 Ultimate Guide To Blended Learning

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The Basics of Blended Learning

How blended learning is making an impact inside and outside the classroom

Blended learning uses technology to combine in-class and out-of-class learning, maximising the educational impact for students as a result. As Rachael Hartley, senior client account director for education at technology consultancy Cognizant, defines: “While retaining the traditional student-teacher format, it breaks the ‘one-size-fits-all’ model by taking education beyond the physical classroom and allowing students to learn anytime, anywhere.”

Commenting further on the role that blended learning can play within classrooms, Rachael adds: “It redefines the role of the teacher, offering them more flexible delivery options, depending on the content, subject, and capabilities of the students. This trend means educators can focus on student understanding, rather than the delivery method itself.”

Although learning outside of the classroom is something that students have always been encouraged to do, the recent explosion in digital technology has meant that teaching can now be far more engaging. Exploring how blended learning is being used inside and outside of today’s classrooms, Jeff Rubenstein, VP product – learning and collaboration at video solutions company Kaltura adds: “Generally speaking in schools, more and more of the content delivery is being done via rich media and often on personal devices. In universities, students are contributing more content of their own, both for collaborating with each other, for doing projects, and for assessment purposes.

“As so much of modern work is now digital, it’s increasingly important that students learn how to be digital creators.”

Blended Learning Definition

The definition of blended learning is used in education to describe a teaching style that allows students to learn using a combination of technology and online educational exercises or materials to assist in the classroom, whilst having a ‘traditional’ hands-on and in-person lesson.

Blended learning consists of a teacher physically in the classroom holding a lesson with students who are also in the classroom. The teacher directs the lesson and has full control on the place/time/path/pace of the lesson. Technology (usually computers or tablets) are used in the lesson as a way to introduce more interaction in the class. A full  blended learning definition

Whilst the definition of blended learning remains the same, it can also be referred to as ‘hybrid learning’, ‘technology mediated instruction’, ‘web enhanced instruction’ and ‘mixed mode instruction’.

What Is Blended Learning

Blended learning has become the latest educational programme to make an impact in today’s classrooms. From schools to universities, it’s being used to bring the digital world and in-class teaching together – but what exactly is blended learning, and what are the benefits for staff and students? As we discuss the different blended learning models we asses how it can work alongside traditional teaching methods.

There probably isn’t one teacher post covid that asks the question ‘what is blended learning?’ due to the immediate transition for all educational institutions to cope with safeguarding their pupils whilst educating or at least preventing backwards steps for students since schools were closed, but blended learning had in fact been around for many years and first reared it’s head in the 1960’s as pioneers of education began to experiment away from the traditional classroom methods. But it wasn’t until the 1990’s that the new blended learning definition took off, and pioneers have been trying to study, test and share the impact of using a blended learning approach to teaching to improve and move education into the 21st century.

When we discuss blended learning we refer to our ability to use a variety of learning environments to engage and interact with pupils. These learning environments include:

    • Face-to-face teaching
    • Discussion groups
    • Lectures
    • Group break outs in and around the classroom
    • Supervised online learning
    • In classroom computer lessons
    • Remote learning

Benefits Of Blended Learning

Using a mix of traditional hands on teaching with the use of technology has many important benefits for students and teachers alike.

Benefits Of Blended Learning For Teachers

As edtech has blown up and the use of technology in teaching has become more recognised, teaching roles has evolved from the more traditional activities into blended education, and it carries many benefits for teacher:

  • Teachers are able to save lesson prep on technology and tweak easily for different classes
  • Reports and lesson statistics are often available with technology used, which gives further insight into classroom pace and learning success rates
  • Student engagement remains high due to more variation of activities during lessons
  • Teacher can focus their efforts on facilitation to guide the learning experience for the students
  • Less direct pressure on the teacher to present
  • Teachers are able to empower students by giving them the skills to use the online material and supervise whilst they complete activities. This allows students to go at different paces in the same class
  • Students can have bespoke customised lessons in the same room as other students based on their level
  • Marking and grading work is more automated in many cases which save much time for teachers
  • There is considerable level of sustainability for using technology for teaching, where less printing is involved

Rachael Hartley believes that blended learning is essential to success and should involve a combination of traditional teaching and technology should be used to meet the preferred learning style of students, as well as supporting teachers. As she comments: “Technology can provide teachers with information on the progress and requirements of students, which maximises face-to-face contact and helps staff to design courses that allow more flexible delivery.

“Ultimately, technology works best when it supports the true essence of education and aids teachers in helping students assimilate skills.”

Taking this idea further, Jesse Lozano, CEO and Co-Founder of education technology company pi-top, believes that technology has the power to truly enhance learning environments for the benefit of students – as long as teachers choose to adopt it. He says: “Flipped classrooms, where students watch short video lectures before attending class, offer one example of a blended learning tactic that could be more widely adopted.

“True blended learning requires highly relational active and inquiry-oriented programmes, both online and offline, as well as using digital tools to empower students.”

Benefits Of Blended Learning For Students

Students experience considerable benefits to blended learning too.

Advantages of Blended Learning

The first advantage of blended learning, is it has become more relevant and effective than purely face-to-face teaching, with methods proving higher levels of student achievement. Combining the use of face-to-face and digital instruction, students are able to work individually, freeing up teacher time to circulate their attention to those who require more one-to-one support. The use of interactive technologies has been a proven success with improving student attitudes towards education. Incorporating information and communication technology into the classroom, students are able to better communicate with lecturers their understanding of course material through online assessment modules that are qualitative and quantitative.

Another advantage of blended learning, shows it has the potential to reduce an institution’s expenses. It can lower costs by hosting course materials and reading resources online, accessible by electronic devices which students personally bring to lectures, or available at any computer lab on campus, this scraps the need for pricey textbooks. Blended learning software often includes automatic data capture measuring their students’ academic progress, allowing teachers to provide in-depth detailed data to parents. Online tests are automatically scored, providing instant feedback. Both of these benefits minimise teaching time spent on marking and writing feedback.

Education institutions that have implemented blended learning often choose to reallocate resources to improve student achievement. Students who need additional support, have special talents or other interests can use education technology to further their skills and work beyond grade restrictions. This is because blended learning allows education to be personalised, introducing a model that covers the teachers time stood in front of the class and allows students to work to their own pace. A learning environment that has successfully implemented blended learning, should naturally encourage students to demonstrate independent learning, and self-development and regulation. Before introducing blended learning strategies to students, teachers should form an initial program that allows students to orientate themselves and build confidence in navigating the learning strategy.

Disadvantages of Blended Learning

Without successful implementation and execution of blended learning, there can be disadvantages from a technical aspect, this is because it relies heavily on resources and tools that allow blended learning to be planned and delivered. The resources need to be dependent, modern and easy to implement in order to successfully deliver this learning experience.

The first critical issue is IT Literacy, especially for students attempting to gain access to course materials, one of the examples as to why the availability of high-quality technical support is a necessity. Another challenge of blended learning can be group work, this is due to the difficulties of managing such tasks via an online environment. According to a student study performed at four top universities, lecture recording technology is another disadvantage as it leads to students failing to receive or gain access to materials. In this study, it was found that 40% of students admit to watching several weeks’ worth of lecture recordings in one sitting, with only 50% of students saying they watch the videos on a regular basis as they’re released. This creates implications for the educator, as to decide in what quantity and how often online resources are presented to the students, whilst ensuring it is covering all stages of student capability.

Most recently, from the perspective of an educator, it has become apparent that having to provide clear and concise feedback can be more time-consuming when the use of electronic media is involved, comparing to the traditional approach of written work. E-learning platforms also incur new, higher costs as some providers and services charge a usage fee.

Another significant barrier is access to high quality tech infrastructure. Whilst the digital-divide continues to narrow, with the rise of the internet being more pervasive, thousands of students still struggle for ubiquitous access to the internet, even in education settings. An attempt to implement blended learning methods into an education institutions innovation teaching strategy needs to acknowledge this. Learning centres and computer hubs are built to address this issue, providing good wifi and network connections.

1) Station Rotation Blended Learning

Station rotation blended learning as a teaching model takes the specific subject or academic course such as physics, media studies, or accounting.

The students follow a fixed learning calendar which rotates them through different learning environments. Sometimes the teacher also does rotation based on their discretion when they feel it is appropriate.


The learning environments include face to face classroom lessons, online modular learning (often with tests or quizzes to qualify you), 1-2-1 tutoring, written homework assignments, group class discussions or small break out group discussions.


Station rotation blended learning is very common in secondary schools (otherwise referred to as high school or elementary school depending on your global location). It can differ from individual rotation in that students will rotate through the entire series of learning activities, instead of just the ones on their personalised schedule.

Benefits Of Station Rotation Blended Learning

  • Educators can work with small groups which can have an impact and helps combat environments with high student to teacher ratios
  • It accommodates project based lessons since you can have many different topics in a course addressed with focused areas
  • Makes dealing with large student numbers easier
  • Operationally, teachers can use this method in most classroom sizes or set ups
  • Keeps student attention with changes in topics and scenery regularly
  • The online learning can generate grades automatically for the student saving the teacher time

Challenges Of Station Rotation Blended Learning

  • Educators need confidence in creating small group learning and assignments
  • Takes time to plan multiple stations
  • The online learning aspect needs to be well tested and built since the students will be operating them on their own with no supervision
  • Teachers need to interpret the online learning data to form the face to face teaching
  • The online learning system used need to generate in depth reports that are easy to action for teachers to implement
  • The system must be easy to use for teachers to assign students into different learning modules

2) Lab Rotation Blended Learning

The Lab rotation blended learning model refers to the education being active in 1 location. It deep dives into one topic or subject, such as English, and rotates students on the campus using a pre planned fixed schedule to different work stations.

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One of these stations will be for online learning, and other learning areas will feature other in person teaching methods.

Benefits Of Lab Rotation Blended Learning

  • Flexible scheduling arrangements for teachers
  • Enables schools to make use of computer labs
  • The physical class space does not need much altering to set up with exception of needing a computer lab for the online aspect of teaching
  • The institution can save budget to use for other education due to a part of the teaching arrangement being through computers and only requiring supervision as opposed to face to face teaching
  • Teachers receive reports to assist with grading students and learning gaps in the lesson plan

Challenges Of Lab Rotation Blended Learning

  • The online learning aspect needs to be easy to follow due to student shaving less direction from teachers
  • There is a lot of planning to set up the computer labs to enable students to study at their unique speed, and deliver the right content
  • Lesson plans need to be built in a way that little questions are needed to complete tasks for the online learning

3) Flipped Classroom Blended Learning

The flipped classroom blended learning model uses a blend of teacher guided practice and face to face learning in the classroom relating to one given subject such as Physics. Followed by a home learning module on the same subject that can be completed remotely, for example at home or in a library.

The majority of the content created for these lessons is online either interactively set up or individually, instead of the online tasks being considered as homework.

The teacher can record video lessons with workbooks for students to take remotely and use the class time to review, discuss and feedback using guided support and debating or group work

Benefits Of Flipped Classroom Blended Learning

  • No need to adjust the classroom to suit the learning model
  • Students that generally struggle with homework at home find it easier to learn since they can ask their teacher at school to help with their remote learning aspect
  • Students can watch lessons on demand on repeat
  • Students can watch lessons at home to take their time learning
  • Class time is freed up for more support and discussion based activity to help support students and engage back and forth as opposed to one way communication

Challenges Of Flipped Classroom Blended Learning

  • Money is needed for technology for all students
  • The digital divide gap for students may affect their ability to participate in all learning activities unless the school is able to fund the technology
  • Students require adequate wifi connection at home to participate
  • Teachers alter their job duties considerably when switching to a flipped classroom style of educating
  • Costs are increased since technology and systems are needed to be in place for all students
  • Teachers need tech training to troubleshoot with pupils
  • Potential new costs for IT suppliers and support are needed to support teachers and students

4) Mastery-Based Blended Learning

A critical element of blended learning is mastery-based, it’s the need for personalised support. This type of learning looks at individual student progression through the understanding of content without the time pressure, allowing them to work at an individual pace. This method is an instructional approach, with students demonstrating a higher level of understanding for the specific topic or subject area. Essentially, a student needs more than just the ability to solve a calculation, with mastery-based learning they have to be able to clarify and understand their workings out, demonstrating they can solve word related problems with context.

Mastery-based learning surrounds the idea that students are able to take different paths in order to understand and complete a topic, with different students requiring more or less time dependent on the subject matter. Eliminating the pause in learning for some students who are able to complete the work or a section of at a faster pace. In an age-based classroom this will enable personalised teaching and support based on the individual progression of a student, offering help to those who struggle to keep up with the overall class learning pace.

Benefits of Mastery-Based Blended Learning for students

  • Being able to show development and demonstration at an individual pace
  • Mastering tasks based on knowledge over time pressures
  • Showing comprehensive knowledge/skill in a subject area
  • Personalised learning experience based on individual abilities
  • Offers the right balance of teaching support without effecting the overall class learning

Challenges of Mastery-Based Blended Learning

  • Educators need up-to-date student learning data, as well as ways to visualise it
  • Lecturers needs to feel confident using tools that collect student data
  • There is debate about how educators will use dashboards to develop learning methods based on the collected data
  • A decision needs to be made on how the solutions will be integrated, using standalone systems or integration systems that combine learning with data
  • Transitional issues with adaption to blended learning can hinder a teacher’s performance due to confidence or understanding
  • Another transition is to consider how the traditional grading systems could be affected or become incomplete
  • Student ability to move at their own pace can be met be restraints of the traditional grade boundaries

5) Supplemental Blended Learning

The supplemental blended learning model maximises online course content to enhance the face-to-face classroom experience. Using this method means there is typically no major reduction from classroom learning time, with additional online components provided to enrich in-class activities and encourage extended learning outside of class-time. The supplemental model can be utilised in many ways and is able to serve multiple instructions and education goals.

Benefits of Supplemental Blended Learning

  • Enriches interaction: Permit online collaboration to deepen class-time activity
  • Time management: Use online components to demonstrate topic material allowing better use of time management in the classroom.
  • Flexibility: Able to review learning and resources before class starts
  • On-demand content: Provide students with material to cover complex subjects that can be reviewed online pre and post class schedules.

Challenges of Supplemental Blended Learning

  • As this model doesn’t reduce class time, it can be referred to as the challenge ‘course and a half’. with class time not being affected and online materials making additional content, a student’s overall workload can increase. In result, impacting their personal progression.
  • Teachers will need to manage and plan ahead in order to provide students with additional resources that can be accessed any time, especially for a complex topic area.

6) Outside-in Blended Learning

The Outside-in approach defines the classroom as the ‘finishing point’. A learning journey starts in a non-academic environment using digital devices that students access on a daily basis, and finishes with class time. It takes traditional teaching and learning, and simply allows the classroom to be the final ‘platform’ to share, collaborate, create and review feedback to improve student progression.

 

Each area of Outside-in plays to the strengths of implementing blended learning in the classroom and transforms a student’s education experience. Unlike the remote models of blended learning, teachers are still required to offer face-to-face support, teaching and guidance on a frequent basis.

Benefits of Outside-in Blended Learning

  • Allows traditional teaching methods to be consumed in external places
  • Teachers still get maximised time with students in class to discuss final outcomes
  • Educates students on time management and organisation, ensuring they come to the class room with final products of learnings
  • Enables students to work at an individual pace and utilise all resources available to complete work
  • Traditional grading and teaching systems are still in place to track progression

Challenges of Outside-in Blended Learning

  • Students need round the clock access to digital devices, some may struggle with this due to costs or availability if hiring tech
  • Teaching time isn’t necessarily reduced as they’re still required to provide class time, face-to-face support and online guidance
  • Students who require extra support and tuition or struggle to work independently, may fall behind and impact their overall progression

7) Self-Directed Blended Learning

Self-Directed blended learning focuses on student initiative. It uses a combined method of face-to-face learning with online content to; guide the students personalised education journey, help performance, achieve academic goals and interact with tutors in physical and digital formats. Self-directed learning encourages students to take responsibility of their education, monitor their progression, identify individual requirements and determine learning goals.

Implementing self-directed blended learning enriches a student’s education journey, building their self-confidence and teaching them perseverance, ability and initiative, it also encourages them to pursue their own interests and work independently or collaboratively. Lecturers will ascertain their class’ progression by ensuring individuals can demonstrate self-awareness. This means that whilst learning, they can understand their strengths and areas of ability in order to be able to adjust areas that need more work or support.  

Benefits of Self-Directed Blended Learning

  • Students get to choose how and what they learn. From any environment, working collaboratively or independently and using devices/resources best suited to them
  • Meaning they can develop their own style of learning, what resources that uses, how they consume content and what areas they’d like more support in.
  • There are no module evaluations or assessments with self-directed blended learning. Learning for enjoyment and interest develops a different experience to learning for the pressure of critical evaluations.
  • Teachers can prioritise their time to student’s who need more support

Challenges of Self-Directed Blended Learning

  • It’s a big responsibility for students to take their education into their own hands
  • Students must be organised and motivated, fully behind will have serious impact on their progression and ability to show self-directed learning
  • Teachers need to be able to support and direct their class without de-authenticating the model (may require training)
  • Training that is required will need to teach lecturers how to assess and evaluate an individual’s progression, ensuring they’re meeting academic goals and are able to demonstrate self-direction.

8) Individual Rotation Blended Learning

The individual rotation blended learning model enables teachers to individually rotate students based on their bespoke development plan, but on a fixed schedule for their one subject, working through the course modules. For example using online, intervention, teacher-led instruction, and group projects.

Often the teacher will provide multiple module learning types for the same lesson for example and online learning version as well as a classroom face to face version. This allows more flexibility for students.

At least one of the modules will involve online learning, and it differs from other blended learning modules in that each student may not go to every learning module because their plan is customised to suit them. This works particularly well in higher education where students degree disciplines are varied.

Benefits of Individual Rotation Blended Learning

  • Student learning schedules are customised to them
  • Students can work at their own pace
  • Variety of modules means that students who prefer online learning can do mostly that whilst students that prefer face to face can mostly choose that, so engagement increases
  • Having a fixed schedule is more flexible for students that need to for example get a part time job to support themselves
  • For teachers all students develop and learn at the same pace so it is easier to manage larger groups of students

Challenges of Individual Rotation Blended Learning

  • Some students learn at a faster rate than the schedule so it can hold them back
  • Much preparation is needed to provide multiple lesson types for 1 module
  • There is a lot of change to manage in the classroom to set up for all lessons alongside the other scheduled classes

Blended Learning Examples

Watch these blended learning examples, and read our blended learning case studies below. Case studies: use of blended learning in schools and colleges

Example 1: Blended Learning At Beacon Academy Trust

Sharp have been working with the Beacon Multi Academy Trust, providing them with the latest office technology (such as multifunctional printers and interactive flat panel displays) to make the use of devices in the classroom a relative norm.

Tina Jacobs teaches Maths at Beal High School, and is a keen proponent of using technology in the classroom. Commenting on the use of technology in her teaching, she says: “One of the joys is that I can use whatever software I want, when I want, however I want. I use it for every single lesson.

“You can take things from a PDF and from the web and annotate on top of it. You don’t even need a pen – you can use your fingers. The clarity is excellent, the colour is sensational and the kids love it. It’s also bright enough to be used in full daylight.”

Example 2: Blended Learning At Leeds City College

Steven Hope is Technology Enhanced Learning Manager at Leeds City College. They have been using Google as part of their blended learning delivery, and he believes this has helped to increase students’ knowledge of the subject they are studying. He comments: “The blended approach gives college staff the ability to be able to create flipped activities which learners can complete pre- and post-lesson to gain understanding of topics. These are very beneficial as they allow the time in traditional classrooms to focus on extending the learners’ knowledge and to support them in reaching the higher levels of learning such as analysing and evaluating.”

Example 3: Blended Learning At University West of England (UWE)

Case studies: use of blended learning in universities

Manuel Frutos-Perez is Head of Digital Learning at University of the West of England (UWE), and has been involved in rolling out blended learning across a range of courses. Speaking of how the University uses the online environment to create a continuous learning experience and bring the campus, simulation environments and professional practice locations together, he comments:

“In our healthcare science course, learning takes place through a unique combination of study weeks, workplace training, and specifically tailored and interactive online learning resources and live remote lectures.

“Students enhance their work-based skills during on-the-job training, which is based on the appropriate professional competencies. The work-based training is augmented with blended learning to ensure understanding and to enable students to apply this knowledge in practice.”

Example 4: Blended Learning At Coventry University

Carl Perrin is Director of Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering (AME), an organisation that was set up as a collaboration between Coventry University and Unipart Manufacturing to inspire the next generation of engineers. Here, he describes how the students have benefited from using blended learning:

“Graduate engineers were just not industry-ready and that was causing a big issue for employers. The answer was a blended-learning approach whereby our graduates would do 30% theory in the classroom and using digital technology, with the rest of the time spent on applying the knowledge they were gaining direct on to practical situations.

“We believe that when AME students leave us they are one year ahead of their peers, despite studying for the same length of time.”

Example 5: Blended Learning At University Of Derby

Dan Williams is Lecturer and Acting Programme Leader for the Post-14 PGCE at University of Derby, and uses blended learning as part of his course. Discussing his experiences of using technology to benefit the learning outcomes of students, he comments:

“I modelled the blended approach to trainees by tasking them to work in pairs on an ‘applied’ activity, whereby they analysed a range of technologies to determine the potential effectiveness of each, in their own context. This involved the completion of a Google document, whereby each learner could critique peer examples and suggest ways in which the theory might be better applied to support learners.”

Blended Learning Strategies

The following steps in order will help to set up your blended learning strategies with ease and success

GOAL SETTING

Identify the problem you want to solve or goal you want to achieve

TEAM

Engage the right stakeholders into your team

STUDENT MOTIVATION

Engage the right stakeholders into your team

TEACHER ELEVATION

How the data feeds back must keep the teacher at the heart of the blended learning model used to empower them to optimise learning and save them time assessing students

TECH

Having an easy to use platform that compliments the teachers lesson plans

BLENDED LEARNING MODEL

Align your chosen model with the classroom design

CLASSROOM DESIGN

Re-arrange the classroom to adapt to blended learning models

CLASS CULTURE

Blended learning models can create a positive impact and culture through teachers and student reactions

OPTIMISE

Review and tweak your model based on student results

The Future Of Blended Learning

How do our experts see the concept of blended learning evolving in the future? Jesse Lozano thinks that students will be able to use technology as part of examinations, and says: “Imagine if we designed examination systems that allowed students to use their internet-connected devices – how would pedagogy change?”

Adding to this, Rachael Hartley believes that in the future, blended learning will utilise more technological advances. She comments: “The term blended learning has been around for some time, but it has yet to embrace the potential of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality.”

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