Although definitions of what blended learning looks like in practice vary from one expert to another, the key components are straightforward: blended learning combines the face-to-face experience of a bricks-and-mortar classroom with the flexibility and opportunity of online learning for the purposes of optimizing the impact of each setting and improving learning outcomes.
Thought leaders, educators, and instructional designers are exploring the many ways blended learning can be put into practice — such as the flipped classroom or the rotation model. These models come with a powerful trove of resources, literature, and events designed to nurture and support all those who are embracing this approach.
As such ideas, tools, and practices gain traction, instructors and students alike are experiencing exciting results. In fact, emerging research shows that blended learning can produce measurably better student outcomes than either face-to-face learning or online learning alone.
Data on student engagement and the flipped classroom
The heightened involvement and sophistication of today’s technology begs a closer examination of how blended learning impacts student success. The numbers are certainly promising, in both the United States and globally:
- According to a 2004 study of University of Central Florida students, published by Educause, blended learning results in more engaged students, less attrition, and higher grades. Students consistently scored higher in blended classes than in fully class-based or fully online courses. Students were also less likely to drop out of a class. These numbers were particularly striking during summer semesters.
- The Use of Flipped Classrooms in Higher Education: A Scoping Review was a 2015 literature review of 28 studies of the flipped classroom in higher education in the U.S., Australia and Asia. The review consistently found improved exam results, as well as improvements in course grades, when students in flipped classes were compared with historical controls.
These numbers illustrate how students become more engaged with learning when they are taking a class with a blended format. Because the flipped classroom is built around student needs, with the instructor acting as a facilitator or planner of learning activities, the students drive their own learning experience during the online portions of the class. The instructor has created educational activities for them, and the students must work on their own to complete those activities.
Often, blended courses allow instructional designers and faculty to build face-to-face class time around effective use of group activities. Many students react positively to collaborative projects, and that skill will certainly be increasingly important in their future careers as professional work becomes more project based. Recent studies have shown that millennials particularly like to work in teams in the workplace.
Working together in class and independently outside of class promotes innovation in learning and student empowerment, according to the scoping review of flipped classrooms; students become better communicators and develop better interpersonal and problem solving skills when they take a blended class.
Serving up the same information in different ways
A blended format allows the instructor to deliver information to students in a variety of ways, meeting the needs of students with different learning styles. This is particularly true of the Flexible Mode model of blended learning which offers all learning content both in a classroom setting and online, allowing students to choose how they consume their course, but the same truth can be applied to all blended learning.
Blended learning can enable a more efficient and effective use of time for the students and the instructors. The Learning From High-Performing and Fast-Gaining Institutions practice guide from the Education Trust describes how University of Alabama replaced traditional classroom instruction with blended learning in a computer lab. Using common textbooks, exams, and quizzes, Alabama redesigned courses to allow students to get help immediately when they encountered obstacles, instead of waiting for faculty office hours the following week. This enabled instructors to focus their time and energy on individual assistance.
The results? Higher success rates and a near eradication of the achievement gap between white and African-American students. Moreover, students were so pleased with the experience they have pushed for the redesign of other math courses.
Related reading: How Personalized Learning Can Help Close the Attainment Gap
Blended learning and the happy student
The flipped classroom review mentioned earlier also found that students often resist the introduction of a blended course. But — just as often — they warm to the flipped classroom model quickly. In fact, the review reported that in some studies, attendance improved in blended courses.
In other cases, students respond well to not having to wait for grades on quizzes and assessments. Online assessments provide feedback immediately and reportedly motivate student learning.
We see that anecdotally at Acrobatiq, also. If you review our case studies of a new blended two-year program at National Louis University, you’ll see similar stories. Effective instructional design and the thoughtful use of support coaches and other learning supports ensure that the program optimizes the best of what the campus-based and online components offer.
A.J. O’Connell is a freelance journalist specializing in education reporting and a former college journalism teacher.