Blended learning is an instructional format that integrates online and face-to-face teaching modalities. 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 resource, 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, 2016; Staker & Horn, 2012).
Although blended learning affords opportunities for increased instructional richness and flexibility, social interaction, access to knowledge, personal agency, cost efficiency, and improved learner outcomes, practitioners, program managers, policy makers, and funders know little about the extent to which it is being implemented or the related challenges and opportunities.
ProLiteracy asked the field to tell us how blended learning is being used. In Spring 2019, we surveyed our members and New Readers Press customers. World Education also sent the survey out to its technology newsletter subscribers. In all, 509 responses were received. Of these, 12% were volunteers, 31% were teachers, and 57% were program managers. After providing them with a definition of blended learning similar to the one above, slightly less than half (48%) responded that they or their staff implement blended learning. Teachers and volunteers who say they use blended learning represented 25% of all respondents; 22% of respondents were program managers who say most or some of their teachers and/or volunteers use blended learning.
Integrating blended learning into the classroom or tutoring is a complex and challenging task and many teachers will need significant professional development to use blended learning effectively (Ash, 2012). The relatively low uptake of blended learning may be caused by a number of factors, but one that may be of particular interest to state directors, funders, policymakers, and professional development providers is how little professional development on blended learning practitioners have participated in.
Of those teachers and volunteers who say they use blended learning, 85% had participated in some professional development on blended learning, but their participation was limited both in terms of total hours and in that it was offered in formats that have not been found by researchers to be particularly effective formats. So, while 30% have had more than 15 hours of professional development, with regard to intensity, the most frequent response was 37% who had only had 1-5 hours of professional development. Participants from low-budget programs (annual budgets of $150,000 or less) were more than twice as likely to have had no professional development on the topic. The most common form of professional development that instructors had participated in was self-directed (63%). Webinars, workshops, and conferences (51%, 51%, and 40% respectively), a relatively ineffective approach to helping instructors make significant changes in practice, were the next most common forms of professional development. These responses indicate that many teachers are, more or less, on their own when it comes to learning how to implement professional development.
This survey points to the pressing need to widely implement high-quality professional development that provides effective blended learning approaches.