The Development of Blended Learning?

The Innosight Institute recently released a paper “Classifying K-12 blended learning” by Heather Staker and Michael B. Horn which provides key definitions related to the concept and identifies four overarching models: The rotation, flex, self-blend, and enriched-virtual models, as the paper explains, are all different iterations of using the computer and the teacher in schools and various classrooms.

The paper officially defines blended learning as “a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online delivery of content and instruction with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace … and at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home.”
Online learning. Virtual learning. Cyberlearning. E-learning. All these terms essentially define the same thing. The concept involves splitting a student’s time between study with a teacher and honing 21st century skills by interacting with online content on a computer. The popularity of the concept, championed by a company called Education Elements (a member of investment group Rethink Education’s portfolio) is on the rise in K-12 schools.

The rotation model, one of the four models described in the paper, is characterized by students rotating on a fixed schedule or at the teacher’s discretion between learning modalities. At least one is an instance of online learning. This model is one of the things Education Elements is targeting with their Hybrid Learning Management System, a simple, kid-friendly method of managing student accounts and delivering educational content.

Figure by Heather Staker and Michael B. Horn—Innosight Institute (May 2012)

During the production of the report, the authors looked at over 80 programs in the K-12 sector (many of which have uploaded profiles of their blended learning programs to Innosight’s database). 

A video produced at KIPP Empower Academy in Los Angeles highlighted some of the benefits of the blended learning model. Executive Director Marcia Aaron praised the concept, saying it was a good response to rising class sizes as a result of the California budget crisis. Principal Mike Kerr highlighted the importance of the computer program’s adaptive technology, which scales to the student’s abilities. If a student is struggling, the program rearranges itself to assist the student before moving on to more advanced concepts. (This concept reminds me of the ongoing debate about reading levels as well as the moral and ethical issue of holding students back in grades. There was a great back-and-forth about it on NPR earlier this month.)

The idea of using computers in the classroom isn’t necessarily new these days. But academic and scholarly discussion of the concept of blended learning” seems to be increasing, and relatively new companies like Education Elements are developing program utilities with the idea in mind. Will further discussion and development of the concept lead to a fundamental change in public schools?