Blended learning is what happens when you combine online learning with classroom instruction.
And it just might be the future of K-12 education.
Teaching across the offline and online worlds can drive engagement, boost motivation, and open the door to powerful learning experiences that you can’t get in a classroom.
But it also comes with an overwhelming range of EdTech tools, models, and strategies to choose from.
We’ve broken all that down here, so you can get started with the blended learning approach that’s right for you and your students.
What is blended learning?
Blended learning is an instructional approach that blends face-to-face learning with online learning. It allows teachers and students to move between traditional classroom activities and the flexible learning opportunities offered by the internet.
Ten years ago, blended learning was reserved for specialist schools and higher education. Now, the growth of EdTech has made it achievable for any teacher who wants to deliver learning that’s more flexible, more relevant, and more engaging.
What blended learning is not
Blended learning is none of the following:
- putting students in front of screens for novelty engagement
- getting students to use a computer for an activity they could do on paper
- “ticking the technology box” with online activities that don’t make a difference to student learning.
In blended approaches, online activities are never an “add on”. They’re a consistent and vital part of the learning process.
Use the SAMR model as a guide. Blended learning sits at the highest levels of SAMR, where teachers use technology to modify or redefine regular classroom learning.
What are the benefits of blended learning?
Blended learning is flexible
Because blended learning isn’t confined to the classroom, it provides the flexibility you need to handle the disruptions that come with school life.
Last-minute assembly called smack bang in the middle of your lesson? No problem. Just upload the content to your LMS for students to access outside of class.
Student home sick? They won’t miss out. Link them to a recording of the lesson or even just a copy of the PowerPoint you went through with the rest of the class.
Blended learning is equitable
The classroom isn’t a perfect fit for every student, and blended learning provides an alternative. While everyone still gets the benefits of face-to-face instruction, some of your students will leap at the opportunity to take their learning online. Think of:
- students with physical disabilities or conditions that are difficult to accommodate in the classroom
- students with ASD who are sensitive to noise and distraction
- students with anxiety who find the classroom an overwhelming environment
- the introverts who’d rather die than put their hand up in a class discussion.
Blended learning gives all these students equal opportunities to succeed in an online environment that is generally quieter, safer, and more easily adapted to individual needs.
You might find your more “social” students get more done without classroom distractions, too!
Blended learning develops technological soft skills
Your students might be able to navigate YouTube with their eyes closed, but can they compose a formal email? Or keep track of several hundred Word documents without confusion?
Blended learning equips students with these technological soft skills — the ones they need to live and work in a digital world.
It’s not just employers who expect basic technological literacy, either. Even paying a phone bill requires some digital savvy in today’s age, making it all the more important for students to develop it now.
Blended learning is engaging
You can create engaging activities with traditional classroom materials, and you can also drive captivating learning with technological help.
Blended learning lets you do both.
The result? A classroom where learning takes an unlimited number of different forms, and the next exciting activity is always just around the corner.
Learn what the research says about technology and student engagement here.
Blended learning keeps classroom connections alive
Blended learning doesn’t replace the classroom with technology.
Students still have access to the peer relationships, face-to-face teaching, and sense of community provided by a physical learning environment.
At the same time, blended learning can leverage all the benefits of online teaching without the isolation and excess screen time. It gets the best of both worlds.
Blended learning tools
Teachers now have a huge variety of EdTech to make online learning a reality. Here are a few you can use as part of a blended approach:
Learning management systems (LMSs): the home bases for online learning.
Screencast software: useful for recording your on-screen demonstrations so you can broadcast them to students online.
Video technology: for recording lessons to post online. This doesn’t have to be fancy; a webcam or phone camera will do.
Gamified learning programs: these provide ongoing, curriculum-aligned learning students can access anywhere with an internet connection.
Class blogs: a space to showcase student work, communicate messages, and stage student discussion.
Cloud software: e.g. Google Docs or Microsoft OneNote. Uploading documents and resources to the cloud means they’re automatically updated when you or your students edit them, and multiple students can work on them at once.
Blended learning models
There is no single, “correct” approach to blended learning. Instead, it can take many forms depending on the unique needs of your class, school, and personal teaching style.
Here are the most common blended learning models for K-12 teachers.
Classroom-based blended learning
In classroom-based models, blended learning takes place within a conventional school day and learning environment. Students might rotate between online and offline activities during a single lesson (also known as a rotation station model) or move between the classroom and the computer lab (lab rotation) for different learning opportunities.
Classroom-based blended learning is the natural choice for most teachers because it doesn’t require drastic, whole-school changes: students still come to class each day as per normal. But it’s just as effective — check our post on how technology engages students in the classroom.
Project-based blended learning
Blended learning can also be incorporated into student projects. Students could engage with online learning during a project via:
The research phase: for example, students might investigate another country by communicating with real people from that country online.
The final product: students could record a podcast instead of giving a speech or create a short film to highlight their grasp of narrative writing. These could then be shared online to get feedback from a wider audience, including peers, family, and other teachers.
Bringing online learning into projects also gives your students the opportunity to create work that’s inspiring, authentic, and never short on the “wow factor”.
In a flipped classroom model, direct instruction is recorded as a video that students watch online before coming to class. As a result, you don’t have to spend the first twenty minutes of the lesson explaining a concept. You can dive straight into more engaging student-centered activities.
The benefits are twofold. With your instruction posted as an online video, students can pause, rewind, and review it as many times as they need for the subject to finally “click”. Try doing that in a live classroom!
With direct instruction already taken care of, you’ve also got a full period to fill with rich student-centered learning. You could run small group tutorials, work one-on-one with the students who need serious help, or set up that immersive activity you’ve never been able to squeeze into a regular lesson.
Flexible blended learning
In a flexible model, online teaching is the backbone of student learning. The classroom still exists, but it’s no longer the “home base” for learning five days a week.
For example, students might watch video lectures and complete online activities throughout the week, but head to school on a designated day for a tutorial group or in-person activity.
It might sound radical, but it’s no longer unfeasible. COVID-19 forced thousands of schools to migrate online and discover the surprising benefits of distance teaching. A flexible model has all of these, but with the added sense of community and facetime that only a classroom can provide.
Create your own
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Blended learning models are as varied as the classes and teachers who use them. Tailor one to your unique needs.
When you’re brainstorming a blended approach, keep the following in mind:
Your students: how technologically literate are they, and how much access to technology do they have? How capable are they of working independently?
Your school: what does the timetable look like? Does it accommodate learning outside of regular classroom hours? What policies surround the use of technology?
Your teaching style: what do you feel comfortable with? How much time do you have to develop a blended approach?
6 blended learning techniques to get you started
Blended learning starts with you. Become a blended teacher and blended learning will follow.
This means taking risks, experimenting, and seeing what works when you introduce technology into your classroom.
Here are few techniques you can use to get started:
- Shift your resources to soft copy so students can access them online.
- Give students the option of producing a tech-enhanced end product for an assessment (e.g. an animation, video, or podcast).
- Schedule an online class discussion via an LMS message board.
- Practice recording one of your lessons and uploading it for students to access at home.
- Create a class blog where you can post student work.
- Add to your students’ learning with a curriculum-aligned learning program such as Mathletics or Readiwriter Spelling.
Read the full blog on how to get started with blended teaching here.
The result: what a blended classroom looks like
So what does a blended classroom actually look like? A jungle of screens that puts the school IT department to shame?
Because it’s not the technology you notice in a blended classroom. It’s the human things.
Like the shy student who finds their voice online, or the group that walks out at the end of a lesson discussing who’s doing what online for the next phase of a project.
They’re the little moments you get when you show students that learning isn’t confined to paper, and it doesn’t have to stop with the bell.
Need more help with blended teaching and learning?
We’ve got you covered. Check out our blogs on Blended Teaching and The Benefits of Technology in the Classroom, or explore our suite of curriculum-aligned learning programs for mathematics, literacy, and science.
Explosive science resources and sequential lessons from the world’s biggest science content provider.
Captivating mathematics programs covering everything from number sense to algebra and geometry.
Rewarding literacy programs covering phonics, reading, and spelling in a meaningful and engaging way.
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The Basics of Blended Instruction – Educational Leadership Magazine
What blended learning is and isn’t – Blended Learning.org
Classifying K-12 Blended Learning – Innosight Institute