A Critical Look at Blended Learning

With all the hype about blended learning, higher education leaders are taking a closer look at how effective this learning method really is.

In the process, they’re exposing a number of issues that need to be addressed, including how blended learning is defined and which core attributes matter. And they’re trying to figure out where higher education needs to go from here, particularly when it comes to researching the impact of blended learning.

4 Issues with Blended Learning

1. Definitions differ

So many definitions exist for blended learning that it makes research on its effectiveness difficult, said Chuck Dziuban, director of the Research Initiative for Teaching Effectiveness at the University of Central Florida. In a 2005 article Can ‘Blended Learning’ Be Redeemed?, Martin Oliver and Keith Trigwell concluded that “the term ‘blended learning’ is ill-defined and inconsistently used. Whilst its popularity is increasing, its clarity is not.”

2. Model descriptions are incomplete

Car models come with complete descriptions, including physical features, engine specs and estimated miles per gallon. But blended learning models frequently come with just physical feature descriptions and don’t include the pedagogical features, said Charles R. Graham, professor of instructional psychology and technology at Brigham Young University.

In the report Classifying K-12 Blended Learning, Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker categorize four blended learning models by physical features such as how students spend their time and where they spend it. The flexible model includes a customized, fluid schedule with mostly online learning and a face-to-face teacher, while the rotation model includes a fixed schedule of different learning modalities, which include online learning.

3. Transformative change does not happen

Blended learning is not disrupting the education process, so it’s attractive and comfortable for administrators, Brown said. Many of them are paying lip service to the popular idea of blended learning, but aren’t making real changes or asking what purpose blended learning serves.

4. This concept is not new

Back in 1935, a professor had a blackboard, TV and transmitter to teach students outside the classroom. While the technology may be different, blended learning is not a new concept, even though it’s being treated like one, Brown said.
Where blended learning goes from here

While these issues make research on the impact of blended learning more difficult, research should still be valued on campus, said Patsy Moskal, faculty research associate for the Research Initiative for Teaching Effectiveness at the University of Central Florida. Ongoing research for nearly two decades and an executive-level commitment to it has allowed Moskal and Dziuban to analyze trends on campus and provide insight to faculty development staff on a shoestring budget.

One of the areas that higher education can research and study is how technology such as online and blended learning can help more students earn their degrees quickly, said Anthony Picciano, professor and executive officer in the Ph.D. Program in Urban Education at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. It will take creative technology use to alleviate some of these problems in higher education.

“Whatever you do, evaluate what it is that worked or didn’t work, and you learn as much from what doesn’t work as what did work.”

Read the entire article by Tanya Roscorla on the Center for Digital Education at http://www.centerdigitaled.com/news/A-Critical-Look-at-Blended-Learning.html

See also, The Dimensions of Online and Blended Learning from iNACOL at


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