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 its technology newsletter subscribers. In all, 509 responses were received. 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.
Although respondents who use blended learning identified many challenges in implementation, they also all agreed that this format can be very beneficial.
All groups, whether using blended learning or not, had a high level of agreement on what makes it beneficial:
New opportunities for learners who can only attend class for a limited number of hours per week get the equivalent in learning to a class with 6-10 hours a week
- More and extended learning opportunities inside and outside the classroom
- Potential to acquire (additional) digital skills
- Enhanced opportunities for more individualized, differentiated, and/or personalized, instruction
- Increased learner engagement and independence
Less frequently selected benefits were:
- Educational gains that are better than traditional face-to-face instruction
- Increased cost efficiency
- Greater opportunities for interaction with other learners, the instructor, and the materials
- Instructional design can be grounded in extensive learning progress and outcome data
However, when asked about effectiveness, we saw a slightly more nuanced and less positive picture. We asked about effectiveness in two ways: in terms of 1) cost efficiency and 2) increased educational gains beyond traditional face-to-face classroom instruction alone. There was a high level of consensus in response to these questions. On a scale of 1–5 (with 5 being the most), 80% and 83% chose 3, 4, or 5 in response to the efficiency and learning questions respectively. However, among these choices, 3 was the most popular response. Only 10% chose 5 for the efficiency question and only 16% chose a 5 for the learning question. These responses seem to demonstrate that there are neither very negative views of blended learning nor the very most positive view. The potential benefits chosen by respondents suggest that blended learning is an instructional format with much potential that is yet to be fully demonstrated for many practitioners.