What is Blended Learning

We are living in times of the rapid development of information technologies. They are changing many aspects of our everyday lives, including approaches to teaching and learning. Being a teacher today is very different than being a teacher 30 years ago when one stood in front of the class with a textbook and a piece of chalk in hand. Being a teacher today does not mean serving as the one and only competent source of knowledge and information in a certain field. Being a teacher today means guiding your learners in the development of new relevant competences by searching for and assessing information from a variety of media sources, by stimulating creative thinking, by developing motivation in self-directed learning, etc.

Technology can be very helpful to the teacher in this new role. It has the potential to improve learning, participation, creativity, and communication. That is why more and more researchers, educators, and policy makers are searching for opportunities to enhance teaching and learning through the use of new technologies.

What is Blended Learning?

Blended learning is a pedagogical approach that combines traditional classroom methods with online learning activities and takes advantage of the best elements of both settings.

According to iNACOL, blended learning is a model that supports in-class activities for students in an actual classroom, whereas online learning occurs entirely outside of the classroom and entails no physical student presence at all. Such practices began in the United States in the late 1990s. At that time, traditional schools began to create online content and use technology to support the learning process. In this context, online learning emerged as a solution to meet specific challenges related to providing access to education in remote areas, supporting children at risk, etc.

Why Blended Learning?

Blended learning shows great potential to emerge as the predominant learning model of the future. Recent research (U.S. DE, 2011; CDE, 2013; 2015) shows that blended learning is the most effective learning model:

  • 76% of educators believed that blended learning was beneficial to students.
  • 59% of teachers reported that students were more motivated to learn in a blended learning environment.
  • 73% of educators who utilized a blended learning instruction model observed an increase in student engagement.
  • 43% of the K-12 teachers in the U.S. used blended learning models that combined online and traditional classes.

All of this data shows that blended learning is gaining more traction in everyday traditional classroom activities. It is applicable to all stages of education and has the potential to transform pedagogical interactions by:

  • Creating a student-centered environment in which students with unique abilities and needs are at the center of the interactions.
  • Establishing a new role for the teacher – access to the learning content that technology offers us changes the role of the educator from that of a single source of knowledge to a facilitator who directs and supports children in the development of their potential.
  • Promoting a higher degree of interactivity.
  • Creating favorable conditions to increase learners’ motivation, personal expression, creativity, and active participation in the learning process.

What are the Benefits of Blended Learning?

  • Student-centered learning

Incorporating online learning in the traditional classroom has the potential to target a learner’s unique background, needs, and interests, as well as to focus on relevant and meaningful outcomes for each individual learner. Students become responsible for their own learning and have more options for collaboration under the guidance of their teacher.

  • Personalized learning

Online learning opportunities allow for flexibility in student-teacher interaction – the students can learn at their own pace and receive individual feedback on their performance. They can choose learning content tailored to their level, learning style, and interests. This makes learning more engaging and productive.

  • Flexibility

Online learning allows access to a much wider range of specialists and learning content. It creates the potential for a higher level of parent involvement without requiring them to be present in the physical environment of the educational setting. It is also an opportunity to promote interaction between educational settings from different locations and serves as a means to conduct joint initiatives and activities. In addition, online learning provides more consultation or catch-up options for children who are absent frequently or for long periods of time.

  • Efficiency

Blending traditional and online learning has the potential to improve productivity and reduce overhead costs, such as making hardcopies, transportation, etc. This cost savings could be used, for example, on teacher training and qualification, which would lead to improved quality and effectiveness.

  • Creativity

Online learning can foster creativity in students by providing them with options to experiment, collaborate with peers to solve a problem, research topics, and develop their own projects. It also inspires teachers to innovate and develop new learning tools and solutions, which improve student-teacher interaction and learning opportunities.

Blended Learning Models

Blending traditional classroom learning with online learning activities can be used by schools and teaching organizations to provide their students with a more personalized learning experience at no additional cost.

There are different blended learning practices being used in traditional classrooms – from using multimedia presentations during class to conducting fully online courses that supplement the traditional classroom curriculum.

Here are some common applications of blended learning models in K-12 education:

  • Traditional learning is enhanced by additional online learning activities that are specifically designed for certain students who are below or above their grade level. This helps them progress at their own pace using technology in the classroom.
  • Students participate in online courses offered remotely in addition to the traditional classroom classes. This model can be implemented when the school does not have enough resources or teachers to provide these courses as part of the traditional curriculum. It is suitable for students who have an interest in a specific subject area.
  • Students in a class are divided into small groups. Each group participates in a different activity for a certain period of time – they study online independently, work on a small group project, or spend face-to-face time with the teacher. The groups switch between the activities on a fixed schedule.
  • Students study primarily online using a virtual learning environment. They have the option to have live consultations with a teacher if needed. This model is suitable for students who need flexibility in their daily schedule – working students, students with families, professional athletes, etc.
  • Students complete some or all of their courses online. This model allows them to work at their own pace and cover the subjects they prefer. Only the coursework and the exams should be taken in a physical premises under supervision.
  • Students in the traditional classroom work independently using online resources and activities. The teachers are on site to provide support if needed. This model is suitable for students with behavioral and academic challenges.

What Issues can Blended Learning Solve?

Not only does the use of digital technologies in the classroom expand the number of learning opportunities, but it also offers a solution to a lot of issues. Blended learning has the potential to:

  • enable teachers to use class time for more than delivering traditional lectures – they can conduct various activities that encourage active participation and engagement among the students.
  • allow students who are struggling or working above their grade level to progress at their own pace using technology in the classroom.
  • provide differentiated instruction by giving the students options for working online or spending face-to-face time with the teacher during class.
  • support students with behavioral, academic, and/or socio-economic challenges by using self-guided activities in which the students can independently learn and practice new concepts in a digital environment.
  • allow access to remote experts, promote intercultural interactions, etc.
  • allow schools to extend their traditional course catalog by offering fully online courses and extracurricular activities for which they have no teacher or not enough teachers.
  • allow students who have dropped out or students who need more flexibility and independence in their daily schedules to graduate by working at a pace and in a subject area that suits them without affecting the learning environment of other students.
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Dr. Veronica Racheva is managing VEDAMO’s training programme. Veronica is a PhD in Theory of Education. She graduated from the Doctoral School at the Institute of Education, University of London and has a specialisation for a Virtual Teacher from the University of California, Irvine. Currently, she is a CEO of a Bulgarian K12 online academy, based on VEDAMO e-learning infrastructure. She is also a lecturer in E-learning at the Sofia University, researcher and author of scientific reports.