What is Blended Learning?
Posted by Jessica Gilmour on January 13, 2020 in categoryFacts & ResearchcategoryAdvocacycategoryMember TipscategoryBlended Learning

Most adult education practitioners would say that technology has made it into their classrooms in one way or another. This might be in the form of learning apps, online shared documents, online classroom platforms, web-based quizzes, search engines, texting, or other nifty learning tools.  But often these tools are used as a supplement to or replacement for face-to-face instruction.  When students have extra time in class, can’t attend, or want to practice new skills, they may be directed to (or find) technology tools. However, a specific approach to using technology inside and outside the classroom has emerged known as blended learning. Blended learning can be defined as an instructional format that integrates online and face-to-face teaching modalities. In this format, learners spend part of their learning time interacting face-to-face with a teacher and classmates and part of their learning time using a computer or portable digital device (such as a smartphone) to access online courses, curriculum, or other learning resources by themselves or collaboratively, inside or outside of the classroom. Learning in the two modalities is integrated, complementary, and overlapping, and learners have some control over time, place, and pace (Maxwell & C., 2016; Staker & Horn, 2012).

It’s important to note that blended learning is distinct from simply enriching a classroom with technology—it is not limited to classroom use—but is, by definition, fully integrated with instruction (not a supplement). It emerged as an alternative to fully online instruction, which may be viewed as more isolated and less supported. It takes advantage of both the affordances of digital learning and face-to-face interaction in the same time and space with teachers and other learners. “Those who use blended learning environments are trying to maximize the benefits of both face-to-face and online methods— using the web for what it does best, and using class time for what it does best” (Osguthorpe & Graham, 2003, p. 227).

Researchers (Staker and Horn, 2012) of blended learning in K-12 have identified four models (which could be adapted for adults) for implementing this instructional format: 

  • Rotation: “students rotate on a fixed schedule or at the teacher’s discretion between learning modalities, at least one of which is online learning” (Staker & Horn, 2012, p. 8).
  • Flex: a program in which content and instruction are delivered primarily by the internet, students move on an individually customized, fluid schedule among learning modalities, and the teacher-of-record is on-site.
  • Self-blend model: students choose to take one or more courses entirely online to supplement their traditional courses in a brick and mortar setting; the teacher-of-record is the online teacher (Staker & Horn, 2012, p. 14).
  • Enriched-virtual model: a whole-school experience in which within each course … students divide their time between attending a brick-and-mortar campus and learning remotely using online delivery of content and instruction (Staker & Horn, p. 15).


Blended learning offers flexibility and independence to adult learners and can provide educators with data (many instructional tools track student use, achievement, and learning) that can help them tailor instruction to their specific needs. However, implementation can be challenging and many teachers will need significant professional development to use blended learning effectively (Ash, 2012). 

Use of the word “blended” in blended learning is important as it signals a mixture rather than two instructional modalities co-existing in the classroom. The challenge is to find the best balance between them in order to attain increased instructional richness and flexibility, social interaction, access to knowledge, personal agency, cost efficiency, and improved learner outcomes. ProLiteracy has initiated research on blended learning, which will be described in future blog posts.


Ash, K. (2012). Blended learning choices. Education Week, 32(9), S4-S5.

Maxwell, & C. (2016). What blended learning is - and isn't. Retrieved from

Osguthorpe, R. T., & Graham, C. R. (2003). Blended learning environments. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 4(3), 227-233. Retrieved from

Staker, H., & Horn, M. B. (2012). Classifying K-12 blended learning. ().Innosight Institute. Retrieved from



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