The benefits of blended learning for teachers and students, including real life case studies on the impact of this learning model

2020 Ultimate Guide to Blended Learning

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2020 Ultimate Guide To Blended Learning

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Blended Learning Definition

The term ‘blended learning’ describes a teaching style that employs a combination of technology and online educational exercises to assist in the classroom, whilst students also reap the benefits of ‘traditional’ hands-on and in-person lessons.

Blended learning consists of a teacher physically in the classroom with students, with the student holding the power to direct the place, time, path and pace of their own learning. 

The Basics of Blended Learning

Blended learning uses technology to combine in-class and out-of-class teaching, maximising the educational impact for students. 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 plays 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.

What is Blended Learning?

Blended learning has become the latest educational programme to make an impact in classrooms today. 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 students and staff?

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 and technology has many benefits for students and teachers alike.

Benefits of Blended Learning for Teachers

As the value of tech in teaching becomes increasingly recognised, teaching roles have evolved from the more traditional activities into blended education, which carries many benefits for teachers:

  • Teachers are able to save lesson prep and tweak easily for different classes
  • Reports and lesson analytics are often available when technology used, which gives further insight into classroom pace and learning success
  • Student engagement remains high due to the variation of lesson activities
  • The teacher can focus their efforts on facilitation to guide the student learning experience
  • Less pressure on the teacher to present
  • Students can customise lessons in the same room as other students based on their needs
  • Marking and grading work is more automated in many cases, saving the teacher’s time
  • Less printing is involved, making the lesson more environmentally-friendly

Rachael Hartley believes that blended learning is essential to success. 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.”

Benefits of Blended Learning for Students

Students also experience considerable benefits from the blended learning model.

Advantages of Blended Learning

Combining the use of face-to-face and digital instruction means students are able to work individually, freeing up the teacher’s time so they can circulate their attention to those who require more one-to-one support. The use of interactive technologies has been a proven success in terms of improving student attitudes towards education. 

Blended learning can also lower an institution’s costs, allowing them to host course materials and reading resources online, which students and teachers can then access via electronic devices, scrapping the need for pricey textbooks. Blended learning software often includes automatic data capture to measure students’ academic progress, allowing teachers to present detailed learning 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, meaning students can work to their own pace. A learning environment that has successfully implemented blended learning should naturally encourage students to demonstrate independent learning, self-development and regulation. 

Disadvantages of Blended Learning

The first critical issue with blended learning is to do with IT Literacy – especially for students attempting to gain access to course materials with a poor internet connection or outdated device. Another challenge of blended learning is the difficulty of group work, largely due to the difficulties of managing such tasks via an online environment. 

From an educator’s perspective, 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, compared 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. With the internet becoming more pervasive, thousands of more disadvantaged students still struggle to access the internet – some even in education settings. Learning centres and computer hubs must be built to address this issue, providing strong WiFi and network connections.

1) Station Rotation Blended Learning

Station rotation blended learning as a teaching model tackles a specific subject or academic course such as physics, media studies, or accounting. Students follow a fixed learning calendar which rotates them through different learning environments. 

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. 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 student groups 
  • It accommodates project-based lessons
  • Operationally, teachers can use this method in most classroom sizes or set-ups
  • Maintains student attention with regular changes topics and scenery
  • Online learning can generate grades automatically, saving teachers’ time

Challenges of Station Rotation Blended Learning

  • Educators need confidence in creating small group learning 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 inform face-to-face teaching
  • The online learning system used needs to generate in-depth reports that are easy to action

2) Lab Rotation Blended Learning

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

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

Benefits of Lab Rotation Blended Learning

  • Flexible scheduling arrangements for teachers and students
  • Enables schools to make use of computer labs
  • The physical class space does not need much altering to set up 
  • The institution can save on budget due to a some of the instruction being delivered online
  • 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 students having less teacher direction
  • Lots of planning is needed to set up the computer labs so students can study at their unique speed
  • Lesson plans must be built in such a way that students can steer their own learning with little teacher support

3) Flipped Classroom Blended Learning

The flipped classroom blended learning model uses a mix of teacher-guided practice and face-to-face learning relating to one given subject, such as physics, followed by a learning module on the same subject which can be completed remotely.

Benefits of Flipped Classroom Blended Learning

  • No need to adjust the classroom to suit the learning model
  • Students who generally struggle with homework find it easier to learn since they can ask their teacher for help with their remote learning aspect while in school
  • Students can watch lessons on-demand, on repeat
  • Class time is freed up for more support and discussion-based activities

Challenges of Flipped Classroom Blended Learning

  • Money is needed to supply all students with the right tech, or the digital divide may affect students’ ability to participate in learning activities 
  • Students require adequate WiFi connection at home to participate
  • Teachers alter their job duties considerably when switching to a flipped classroom style
  • Teachers need tech training to troubleshoot with pupils

4) Mastery-based Blended Learning

This type of learning looks at individual student progression through the understanding of content without the time pressure, allowing them to work at their own set pace. This method uses 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.

Benefits of Mastery-based Blended Learning for students

  • Being able to show development and demonstration at an individual pace
  • Showing comprehensive knowledge/skill in a subject area
  • Personalised learning based on individual capabilities
  • Offers the right balance of teaching support without affecting 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 must feel confident using tools that collect student 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 can hinder a teacher’s performance due to a lack of confidence or understanding
  • Traditional grading systems could be affected or become incomplete
  • Students’ ability to move at their own pace may be restricted by traditional grade boundaries

5) Supplemental Blended Learning

The supplemental blended learning model maximises online course content to enhance the face-to-face classroom experience. In this method, 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.

Benefits of Supplemental Blended Learning

  • Enriches interaction: permits online collaboration to deepen class-time activity
  • Time management: uses online components to demonstrate topic material, allowing for better time management
  • Flexibility: ability to review learning and resources before the lesson starts
  • On-demand content: provides students with material to cover complex subjects that can be reviewed online pre- and post-classroom session

Challenges of Supplemental Blended Learning

  • As this model doesn’t reduce class time, a student’s overall workload can increase, thus impacting their personal progression
  • Teachers will need to manage and plan ahead to provide students with additional resources that can be accessed any time – especially for a complex topic 

6) Outside-in Blended Learning

The outside-in approach defines the classroom as the ‘finishing point’. Here, the 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 allows the classroom to be the final ‘platform’ to share, collaborate, create and review feedback to improve student progression.

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
  • Enables students to work at an individual pace and utilise all resources available 
  • 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 the costs or availability if hiring tech
  • Teaching time isn’t necessarily reduced 
  • Students who require extra support and tuition or who struggle to work independently may fall behind 

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 student’s 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.

Benefits of Self-Directed Blended Learning

  • Students get to choose how and what they learn
  • There are no module evaluations or assessments with self-directed blended learning
  • Teachers can prioritise their time towards students 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
  • Teachers must be able to support and direct their class without de-authenticating the model 
  • Training needs to teach lecturers how to assess and evaluate an individual’s progression, ensuring they’re meeting academic goals and 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.  

Benefits of Individual Rotation Blended Learning

  • Student learning schedules can be customised
  • Students can work at their own pace
  • Variety of modules means that students who prefer online learning can do mostly that, whilst students who prefer face-to-face can follow that route, thus increasing student engagement
  • A fixed schedule is more flexible for students who need to get a part-time job, for example
  • All students develop and learn at the same pace, making it 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
  • Preparation is needed to provide multiple lesson types for just one module
  • A lot of change is needed to manage the classroom and set up for all lessons 

Blended Learning Examples

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 the University of the West of England (UWE)

Manuel Frutos-Perez is head of digital learning at 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 the 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 will help you set up your blended learning strategies with ease and success

GOAL SETTING

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

TEAM

Engage the right stakeholders within your team

STUDENT MOTIVATION

Employ a variety of techniques to keep students engaged

TEACHER ELEVATION

Keep the teacher at the heart of the blended learning model, using data to empower them to optimise learning and save them time assessing students

TECH

Implement an easy to use platform that compliments the teacher's 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

Drive a positive impact and culture through teacher and student reactions

OPTIMISE

Review and tweak your model based on student results

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