BLENDED LEARNING

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BLENDED LEARNINGDefining Models and ExaminingConditions to SupportImplementationPERC Research BriefSeptember 2014

OverviewThis brief examines the research base on blended learning to identify a definition of thisemerging concept, and to present a set of literature-based conditions for implementation thatcan be used to successfully integrate blended learning approaches into instructionalimprovement strategies. It was developed, written, and refined in consultation with partnersfrom the School District of Philadelphia and the city’s charter sector as part of the PhiladelphiaEducation Research Consortium, or PERC. Prior to dissemination, it was thoroughly reviewedby an anonymous, nationally-known education technology expert unaffiliated with PERC or theSchool District of Philadelphia. The contents of this brief reflect the work of the authors alone,and are independent of the views or opinions of School District of Philadelphia and charterschool PERC members, as well as those of the William Penn Foundation.

Table of ContentsIntroduction . 1A Note About Our Information Sources . 1I.What is Blended Learning? . 2A Literature-Based Definition . 2The Elements of Blended Learning . 3Complementary Concepts . 4Blended Learning Models . 6Assessing the “Disruptiveness” of Blended Learning Models . 8Assessing the Risks and Costs of Blended Learning Models . 9II.Empirical Evidence of the Effectiveness of Blended Learning . 11Meta-Analysis of Blended Learning Effects . 12Discrete Studies of Program Impact . 13Individual School Studies of Blended Learning Effectiveness . 13III.Conditions to Support the Implementation of Blended Learning. 14Product/Program Choice: Questions to Consider . 14School-Level Conditions to Support Blended Learning Implementation: Questions toConsider . 16System-Level Conditions to Support Blended Learning Implementation: Questions toConsider . 19IV.Next Steps . 21Endnotes . 23

Blended Learning: Defining Models and ExaminingConditions to Support ImplementationPERC Research Brief – September 2014AuthorsJessica K. Beaver, Ph.D.Brittan Hallar, Ph.D.Lucas WestmaasCopyright Research for Action 2014

IntroductionOver the course of the last 10 years, policymakers and practitioners alike have turned to blendedlearning as a way to promote innovation, reduce educational costs, personalize the learningexperience for students, and, ultimately, raise student achievement. The goals of this brief aretwo-fold: First, to identify a clear and concise definition of blended learning; and, second, topresent a set of literature-based conditions for implementation that the charter and districtschools of Philadelphia can use to guide their efforts at integrating blended learning approachesinto ongoing instructional improvement initiatives.A Note About Our Information SourcesThis brief is designed to ensure that all content is both current and relevant to Philadelphia.Accordingly, we searched for articles that would explain the pedagogical theory of blendedlearning, strategies for spreading the blended learning approach, media reports about themethod, and studies of its efficacy on a number of school and student outcomes.The definitions used in this brief were established by the Clayton Christensen Institute (formerlythe InnoSight Institute), a strategy firm that has established its reputation around defining andrefining blended learning approaches in practice.i,ii,iii These established definitions of blendedlearning have received the support of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning’s(iNACOL) Virtual School Symposium, and are widely used in the empirical literature on blendedlearning.1

For empirical evidence of the effectiveness of blended learning approaches, we relied on peerreviewed journal articles. However, as we mention later in this brief, there were few pieces thatqualified for this rigorous standard. The dearth of literature here signals that more studies ofblended learning are necessary to establish causal links to specific student or school outcomes.We omitted articles prior to 2008, and also limited the scope to pieces that were relevant to thespecific context of the School District of Philadelphia and charter schools in Philadelphia. Weintentionally sought out studies that were conducted in places that are at least somewhat similarto Philadelphia, and excluded studies that only examined significantly different contexts, such asforeign countries, high-wealth districts, and universities or professional schools. We includedevaluations of specific programs and models that might yield information on the efficacy ofblended learning as a whole. We excluded promotional pieces that did not contain verifiable orempirical evidence of success, and case studies of famous blended learning schools in settingsthat differ significantly from Philadelphia.I.What is Blended Learning?Although blended learning approaches might seem omnipresent in K-12 education, the termitself is vague and poorly understood. The source of the confusion is three-fold.1. Blended learning is an umbrella term. The term “blended learning” does notrepresent a monolithic wholesale approach to instruction. Instead, it is an umbrella termfor a number of different models of learning that combine—or “blend”—either traditionalor technology-enriched classrooms with online instruction.2. Similar learning approaches are mistaken for blended learning. Innovative,technology-rich instructional approaches such as personalized learning, competencybased learning, customized learning, and cyberschooling contain similar elements asblended learning and may be confused with the blended learning approach.3. The approach is new—and still evolving. Despite its popularity, blended learning isstill a relatively new approach in education, and there is a dearth of rigorous empiricalresearch to document its impact on educational outcomes. Accordingly, much of the“evidence” is anecdotal and based on limited experiences in select school environments.These complications combined can understandably make blended learning seem like anebulous, ever-changing concept.A Literature-Based DefinitionOne way to understand blended learning is to picture a continuum of technology usage ineducation, as can be seen in Figure 1. At one end of the continuum is the “traditional” classroom.This classroom has desks that face the front of the classroom, a teacher who explains concepts ina lecture format and then involves students through class discussions, small group work, orindependent work. This classroom contains very little or even no technology. All the way on theother end of the continuum is a wholly online learning program. In this setting, students learncompletely off-site (for example, in their homes) and students interact virtually both with thecurriculum and their teacher-of-record.2

Figure 1. The Continuum of Technology Usage in EducationAs suggested by its name, blended learning is not at either end of the spectrum, but rather is ablend of strategies from both ends of the continuum into one integrated approach to learning.The specific definition we use for blended learning is from Christensen, Horn and Staker(2013)iv and builds on previous iterations from Horn and Staker (2011)v and Staker and Horn(2012).viFigure 2: A Definition of Blended LearningSource: Christensen, Horn and Staker (2013)The Elements of Blended LearningTo fully understand the definition, it is necessary to go deeper into the meaning of time, place,path, and pace. We also suggest another element for consideration: the teacher-of-record. Theseelements are summarized in Table 1.3

Table 1. Elements Included in Blended LearningThe various models of blended learning, which we present later in this section, employcombinations of these five elements in different ways.Complementary ConceptsBecause technology is a popular lever for instructional change in education, many technologyrich learning approaches appear similar to blended learning. While the approaches are notinterchangeable, they are not mutually exclusive; some incorporate elements of blendedlearning in ways that enhance the experience. In Table 2, we provide literature-based definitionsof several of these approaches, explaining the commonalities, complementary components, anddifferences from blended learning. In several areas in the table, we refer to “online learning.”Online learning is a component of blended learning, but is often a component of complementarylearning approaches as well.4

Table 2. Definitions and Descriptions of Concepts that are Complimentary to Blended Learning* There is wide diversity in how online schools incorporate these elements.5

These definitions can help us understand where these complementary concepts fall on ourcontinuum of technology-enriched learning environments, as displayed in Figure 3.Figure 3. Complementary Learning Concepts and the Technology ContinuumEach of the complementary concepts depicted above span across a defined range, which reflectsthe fact that there are potential variations of each approach; some of these variations may beless dependent online learning, while others may be more so.Blended Learning ModelsThe literature suggests four discrete models of blended learning in practice.vii We describe eachof the four models below, explaining how each model incorporates the different elements of theblended learning definition into its approach. We then place each on the continuum oftechnology use.Table 3. Elements of Blended Learning Models11Icons for the four models drawn from Christensen, Horn and Staker (2013).6

1.Rotation Model. In this model, students rotate between learning paths or“modalities”—one of which is online learning—either on a fixed schedule or at theteacher’s discretion. In practice, these rotations might mean that a student stays at herdesk, but switches between a paper-and-pencil instruction and online learning on a tablet orlaptop. But it also might involve students trading the classroom for a computer lab for aparticular lesson. There are several popular sub-classes of the rotation model. Station Rotation: In this model, students rotate between various stations within theclassroom, and at least one of these stations includes an online learning component.Other stations involve more traditional instructional learning approaches, such assmall group work, worksheets, and whole-class discussions. Students rotate througheach station on some sort of schedule—either fixed or at the teacher’s discretion. Lab Rotation: This rotation model is similar to the one above, but the online learningcomponent takes place in a learning lab that is designed primarily for this purpose.Students rotate between the classroom environment and the learning lab, all whilestaying on the school campus. Flipped Classroom: In the flipped classroom, students rotate on a fixed schedulebetween classroom instruction during the school day and online outside of schoolhours. In this way, students control how, when, and where they receive their onlineinstruction, and then rotate back into the classroom environment the following dayto apply what they’ve learned in a project-based environment. Individual Rotation: In this rotation model, students customize how they rotatebetween modalities (again, one of which is necessarily online learning). Either theteacher-of-record or an algorithm can set individual student rotation schedules, butonce set, these schedules usually stay fixed. Unlike the other rotation models,students do not necessarily rotate to each available station. For instance, high-needstudents may be rotated into a small-group setting that is not necessary for allstudents, or English Language Learners might have a set rotation to an intensiveonline reading program.2.Flex Model. Similar to the individual rotation model, the flex model featuresstudents working on a customized schedule that rotates between modalities, one ofwhich is online learning. Unlike individual rotation, however, the flex model is fluidinstead of fixed, allowing for real-time changes in schedules to meet ever-changing studentlearning needs. Although the teacher-of-record is on-site and interacts with students face-toface, this support is flexible

small group work, worksheets, and whole-class discussions. Students rotate through each station on some sort of schedule—either fixed or at the teacher’s discretion. Lab Rotation: This rotation model is similar to the one above, but the online learning component takes place in a learning lab that is designed primarily for this purpose.

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