Overview of Blended Learning

As I am working through the capstone project for my Master of Education in Digital Leadership, the following phrases from ISTE Coaching Standard 2b kept jumping out at me: “technology-enhanced…research-based…learner-centered.” Because educational technology is relatively new, research is still emerging and ever-changing. In my exploration, I came across a 2016-2017 study on the benefit of blended learning. Blended learning by definition incorporates technology. This post explores the ways in which it can also be learner-centered.

Tennessee Department of Education's 2016-2017 Blended Learning Pilot Report

“The task force defined blended learning as the combination of strong human teaching strategies and technology-based teaching strategies fused together to strategically personalize learning for students. Blended learning includes the use of computers and other devices as instructional tools, video, and online sites for practice. A blended learning environment also allows students to control some of what they learn. The task force believed that the deliberate, measured incorporation of technology into the classroom would create a scenario where teachers could leverage the increased student ownership provided by blended learning to differentiate instruction and focus on those students who need the most support.”

The study explored the impact of a blended learning program on Algebra classes at the middle and high school level. The study had three goals:

  • Did blended learning improve student performance?

  • Did blended learning enable teachers to differentiate and personalize instruction?

  • Did blended learning increase student ownership of learning?

50 teachers across 37 schools in 21 different school districts representing 5,319 students in Tennessee participated in the study. Quantitative and qualitative data was collected. Teachers participated in focus groups and were given coaching throughout the process.


  • A positive relationship was found between blended learning and students’ end of year test results (average of six points higher compared to control group).

  • Blended learning increased teachers’ ability to differentiate (from 30% using differentiation weekly via technology at the start of the pilot compared to 55% at the end).

  • Correlation was found between teachers who incorporated more technology than in previous years and those who used technology to differentiate. Teachers who did not increase their technology use also did not increase their differentiation suggestion a connection between use of technology and differentiation possibilities. 

  • 84% of teachers reported increased student engagement with the incorporation of blended learning; this self-report was supported by classroom observations.

  • Positive correlation was found between student self-reflection and frequency of blended learning. Teachers did, however, report that students needed scaffolding in order to complete quality self-reflection.

A Framework for Blended Learning

Source: Christensen Institute "Blended Learning Definitions"

Defining Effective Blended Learning

The Christensen Institute, which has an incredible resource bank on blended learning, posits that effective blended learning must have three components:

  • learning occurs partly through online learning where student has input in time, place, path, and/or pace

  • learning occurs partly through in-person interaction away from home (school)

  • learning includes interconnected modalities along student’s learning path within a content area

It’s important to note that blended learning in and of itself doesn’t guarantee personalized learning. For example, if a math teacher has all students watch a video tutorial as homework and then has students apply the formula the next day, no personalization or differentiation is involved. Effective blended learning must incorporate elements of student voice and choice in addition to providing a means with which teachers can differentiate for students. To take the prior scenario and make it personalized, the math teacher could have students watch the tutorial and apply the concepts to a set of problems as homework. Using a tool like Google Forms, he/she could quickly determine which students got the correct answer. The next day in class, a rotation model could be utilized so that students needing one-on-one support could work directly with the teacher while those who are ready to move on could work with a partner to write math problems utilizing the concept and then quiz each-other. 

Blended Learning Models

  • Rotation model: learning occurs mostly on campus as students move through different modalities on a set schedule, one of which includes online learning

    • Station rotation: within the same classroom on campus, students move between modalities visiting each one (for example, an independent writing assignment on paper, time on a tablet to research, and conferencing with teacher)

    • Lab rotation: students leave the traditional classroom to learn digitally in another classroom or lab environment

    • Flipped classroom: students learn content primarily online at home and then attend class to collaborate with peers, work on projects, and conference with teacher

    • Individual rotation: students have individualized learning tasks with blend of digital and brick-mortar learning with teacher conferences. Learning playlists would be an example of the individual rotation model. 

  • Flex model: students learn content mostly through customized online programs while remaining on campus; teachers provide assistance and support as needed to complete tasks and facilitate peer collaboration

  • A La Carte model: one class or content area is taught entirely online while student attends traditional school. This model often occurs as enrichment classes for subject areas the traditional school doesn’t offer.

  • Enriched Virtual model: learning occurs partly through face-to-face interaction and partly online; once students meet with teacher daily to check in, the remaining work may be completed remotely using technology

While the latter three require change at the administrative level, the rotation model and its iterations are possible for teachers to implement on their own.

Questions for Consideration

  • What content can be delivered remotely or accessed independently?

  • How will I ensure that students are consuming the content?

  • What can I do to support struggling students with the time created by blended learning?

  • How can blended learning give my students voice and choice in how they learn?

  • Are there aspects of my content where I am giving a single access point, but could incorporate multiple points?

  • How can blended learning allow my students opportunities to collaborate both digitally and in-person?

  • If students consume content independently at home, what engaging projects or activities can I facilitate in the classroom for them to ‘show they know’?


Clayton Christensen Institute (Ed.). (2019). Blended Learning Universe. Retrieved May 5, 2019, from Blended Learning Universe website: https://www.blendedlearning.org/basics/

Horn, M. B., Christensen, C. M., & Staker, H. (2014). Blended: Using disruptive innovation to improve schools. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Tennessee Department of Education. (2018, April). 2016-17 Blended Learning Pilot Report Retrieved from Tennessee Department of Education database.

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