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 and 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 it out to their 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.
Respondents teach across a wide variety of contexts, which suggests that blended learning is adaptable to many types of adult learners and settings. Respondents use a wide range of digital tools to support blended learning. The most commonly used tools are browsers (62%), free online courses (52%), commercial or paid courses (47%), texting (34%), quiz tools (25%), and reminding tools (21%). All other tools (e.g., free mobile learning apps, social media, Google drive or Microsoft OneDrive, online discussion tools) were used much less frequently. Interestingly, when teachers are separated from volunteers by high- and low-budget programs (high-budget defined as having annual budgets of $150,000 or more), the most common responses were slightly different. For high-budget programs, the most common tools were browsers (68%), free online courses (65%), and commercial or paid courses (59%). For low-budget programs, the tools were the same, but used at a lower rate: browsers (65%), commercial or paid courses (47%), and free online courses (47%). Here, we can see that a bigger budget is correlated with a greater use of commercial or paid courses and that lower resourced programs use of digital tools is more evenly distributed. When asked to specify within these general categories of instructional technology tools, the commonly named tools were Quizzlet, Kahoot, Kahn Academy, Remindme, Aztec programs, GED.com, Newsela, ReadWorks, Burlington English, and learning platforms: Google classroom, Canvas, and Essential Education. The least commonly used tools for high- and low-budget programs were pay mobile learning apps, video recorders, hyperdocs (high-budget programs only), spread sheets (low-budget programs only), and online discussion tools (low-budget programs). This information is an indicator that while cost may be a factor in which tools get used, there are other factors at play given that some of the least used tools are also free.
When asked about the amount of class time they consider blended learning time, the most common response was 20-39% (35%). Responses to less than 20% and more than 40% of class time were almost evenly divided (24% and 21% respectively). When it came to expectations for using technology outside of class as part of their blended learning approach, respondents’ most common home-time expectations was that learners would engage with technology every day for 5-30 minutes (20%). Every other response was significantly lower. For those who responded “other” (n=10), half said their students had no or very limited access to data outside of class.
Resources matter, when it comes to participation in professional development and the uptake of blended learning. But they do not matter as much when it comes to beliefs about blended learning or what tools are used to carry it out. Programs with bigger budgets tend to have more engagement with blended learning, but this is not the only driving factor.