Blended learning, also called hybrid learning, fuses traditional face-to-face classroom teaching with online instruction. It’s a simple concept, but it becomes more complex when you consider that there is no one way to blend learning; online and face-to-face instruction can be combined into several blended learning models.
Many hybrid models have been developed in the last several years: sometimes the bulk of instruction is delivered in class while some additional activities are delivered online. In other cases, most of the class is delivered online. Sometimes a student can choose which activities to complete online and which to complete in a classroom.
It should be noted that although thought leaders offer many lists of blended learning models, not all those models are well-suited to the needs of college students. Some models, like the online lab model — in which students complete most of their coursework online but do so in a supervised lab — may work better in elementary school or high school than on the college campus. Others, like the a la carte model, which allows students to take online classes not offered by their own school, are ideal for high schoolers who need specific AP courses, for example, or may depend on a consortium of schools working together.
There are, however, blended learning models that work particularly well for students in higher education. Below are seven, ranging from the standard flipped classroom to more experimental forms of blended instruction, most of which can also benefit when adaptive learning software is part of the online component of the course.
Blended face-to-face class: Also sometimes called the “face-to-face driver model,” the blended face-to-face class model is based in the classroom, although a significant amount of classroom time has been replaced by online activities. Seat time is required for this model, and online activities are used to supplement the in-person class. Reading, quizzes, or other assessments are done online, at home. This model allows students and faculty to share more high-value instructional time because class time is used for higher-order learning activities, like discussions and group projects.
Blended online class: Sometimes referred to as the “online driver model,” this class is the inverse of the blended face-to-face class. The class is mostly conducted online, but there are some required in-person activities, such as lectures or labs.
The flipped classroom: The flipped classroom reverses the traditional class structure of listening to a lecture in class and completing homework activities at home. Students in flipped classes watch a short lecture video online and come into the classroom to complete activities, such as group work, projects, or other exercises. The flipped classroom model can be seen as a submodel of the blended face-to-face or blended online class.
The rotation model: In this model, students in a course rotate between various modalities, one of which is online learning. There are various submodels: station rotation, lab rotation, and individual rotation. Some of these submodels are better suited to K-12 education. Station rotation, for example, requires students to rotate between stations in the classroom at an instructor’s discretion. But others work well on a college campus. The lab rotation model, for example, requires students in a course to rotate among locations on campus (at least one one of which is an online learning lab). In the individual rotation model, a student rotates through learning modalities on a customized schedule.
The self-blend model: While many of the blended learning models on this list are course-level models, the self-blend model is a program-level model and is familiar to many college students. Learners using this model are enrolled in a school but take online courses in addition to their traditional face-to-face courses. They are not directed by a faculty member and choose which courses they will take online and which they will take in person.
The blended MOOC: The blended MOOC is a form of flipped classroom using in-person class meetings to supplement a massive open online course. Students access MOOC materials — perhaps from another institution or instructor if it is openly accessible — outside of class and then come to a class meeting for discussions or in-class activities. In 2012, a San Jose State University piloted a blended MOOC, using MIT’s Circuits and Electronics course, according to Campus Technology. The students took that MOOC out of class while face-to-face time was used for additional problem-solving.
Flexible mode courses: Flexible mode courses offer all instruction in multiple modes — in person and online — and students choose how to take their course. An example of this is San Francisco State University’s hybrid flexible (HyFlex) model, which offers classroom-based and online options for all or most learning activities, allowing students the ability to choose how they will attend classes — online or in person.
These blended learning models are evolving
This is not a static list. Rather, it is a snapshot of the blended learning models that exist in higher education right now. As educational technology continues to evolve, more models of hybrid instruction will arise as instructors find new ways to deploy that technology and combine it with face-to-face teaching to meet the needs of their learners.
A.J. O’Connell is a freelance journalist specializing in education reporting and a former college journalism teacher.