As school districts look for ways to give their students a personalized learning experience without expanding their budgets, blended learning can be an effective option. This approach to schooling combines face-to-face instruction with online learning and has yielded strong results since officially being researched as an education strategy. In fact, according to a 2010 study from the U.S. Department of Education, blended learning classes produce statistically better results than their face-to-face, non-hybrid equivalents. This may be partly due to the fact that this rapidly growing model not only increases the flexibility and individualization of student learning experiences, but also allows teachers to expand the time they spend as facilitators of learning. Schools make the switch to blended learning for a variety of reasons. In addition to considering the age of the students, the reasons for choosing a blended model generally dictate which of the six models they choose to implement:
1) Face-to-Face Driver Model
Of all the blended learning models, face-to-face driver is the closest to a typical school structure. With this approach, the introduction of online instruction is decided on a case-by-case basis, meaning only certain students in a given class will participate in any form of blended learning. The face-to-face driver approach allows students who are struggling or working above their grade level to progress at their own pace using technology in the classroom.
Some schools have also found this model to be a helpful way to engage English language learners (ELL), who sometimes fall behind not because they are incapable of understanding a concept, but because they’re not native speakers. A 2009 study of the Round Rock Independent School District in Texas found that the math and reading test scores of third and fifth grade ELLs increased following the implementation of blended learning and the use of interactive whiteboards.
2) Rotation Model
In this form of blended learning, students rotate between different stations on a fixed schedule – either working online or spending face-to-face time with the teacher. The rotational model is more widely used in elementary schools – 80 percent of elementary schools in California that use blended learning follow the rotational model – because many are already set up to have students rotate between stations.
In a case study of IDEA Public Schools in Texas published by DreamBox Learning, the rotational model of blended learning was determined to be an effective means of increasing the achievement of students in this Title 1 School. IDEA students rotated between learning labs, where they used intelligent adaptive learning software to learn math concepts, and a traditional classroom. The result? Students became more active learners and often challenged themselves to work harder and learn material that had not yet been introduced in their math classroom.
3) Flex Model
Schools who are supporting a large number of non-traditional or at-risk students often choose the flex model of blended learning. With this approach, material is primarily delivered online. Although teachers are in the room to provide on-site support as needed, learning is primarily self-guided, as students independently learn and practice new concepts in a digital environment. The flex model is an approach used by the AdvancePath Academy, a blended learning school, which works with school district partners to address the needs of students with behavioral, academic and/or socio-economic challenges.
Students at AdvancePath spend most of their time in a computer lab learning online. However, certified teachers are also on-site to work with students on reading and writing, lead small-group work, and provide help as needed. More than 90 percent of students enrolled at AdvancePath either graduate from high school, transfer to other schools to complete their studies, or are on track for graduation. These are promising results, considering that only three out of 10 students who drop out of high school manage to earn a degree by age 25.
4) Online Lab Model
As schools face increasingly tighter resource constraints, the online lab model of blended learning is a viable option for helping students complete courses, including those not offered at the specific school site. In this scenario, students learn entirely online but travel to a dedicated computer lab to complete their coursework. Adults supervise the lab, but they are not trained teachers. This not only allows schools to offer courses for which they have no teacher or not enough teachers, but also allows students to work at a pace and in a subject area that suits them without affecting the learning environment of other students.
In a case study published by DreamBox Learning, the Inner City Education Foundation demonstrated how vital online lab programs can be for school districts facing budgetary and resource shortfalls. The ICEF Vista Elementary Academy in Los Angeles faced significant state funding cuts in 2010, so school leaders instituted learning labs in an attempt to give students quality digital learning experiences because they had fewer teachers. The result? Students in need of intervention had more face time with teachers and the school’s second and third graders demonstrated improved math skills.
5) Self-Blend Model
Popular in high schools, the self-blend model of blended learning gives students the opportunity to take classes beyond what is already offered at their school. While these individuals will attend a traditional school environment, they also opt to supplement their learning through online courses offered remotely. In order for this method of blended learning to be successful, students must be highly self-motivated. Self-blend is ideal for the student who wants to take additional Advanced Placement courses, or who has interest in a subject area that is not covered in the traditional course catalog.
6) Online Driver Model
At the opposite end of the spectrum from face-to-face driver we have online driver, which is a form of blended learning in which students work remotely and material is primarily delivered via an online platform. Although face-to-face check-ins are optional, students can usually chat with teachers online if they have questions. This model of blended learning is ideal for students who need more flexibility and independence in their daily schedules. This approach is becoming increasingly popular – each year, the number of students participating in online driver programs increases by about 15 percent.