Fully blended schools often are charter schools or “innovation” schools that have more flexibility than traditional schools, according to the report.

“What’s happening is that we’re articulating, as an education community, that the goal is personalized learning,” said Heather Staker, a senior research fellow in education at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. “People are at a consensus that every student has a right to these engaging, individualized learning experiences, and blended learning is the way to get us to that goal—but it isn’t the goal itself. Blended learning is the ‘how,’ and personalized learning is the ‘why,'” she said.

Staker co-authored a May 2013 blended learning report with Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn.

She said there are four important aspects to hybrid learning today:

  1. Educators, students, and policymakers are articulating their teaching and learning goals better.
  2. The U.S. has seen much growth in hybrid model schools.
  3. Perhaps the quickest-growing model has been a growth in single-district hybrid programs, when a district offers a blended model to fill a gap in course offerings, remedial or dropout programs, etc. Districts either build their own courses or partner with online providers.
  4. While stakeholders are more aware of this phenomenon, there still exists a tendency to value technology for technology’s sake instead of valuing it for the benefits it can bring to students and teachers. “We’re still vulnerable to this problem of tech for tech’s sake, and we have to step back, identify a problem and a strategy for addressing it, and use technology as the tool to solve the problem,” Staker said.

Transforming K-12 Rural Education through Blended Learning: Barriers and Promising Practices,” released in October 2013 by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, identifies three key ways in which hybrid learning can impact rural education.

Hybrid learning has a positive impact on teachers who embrace emerging practices in their classrooms. When teachers are more willing to innovate, they get more enjoyment from teaching, their confidence increases, and they are more efficient.

There also is a proven correlation between a student’s ability to self-pace and that student’s quality of work. When students work at their own pace, the report notes, they take more ownership of their learning and are consistently more successful.

The report also notes that comprehensive teacher training is of great importance in hybrid and online learning environments, and it places a great emphasis on identifying and incorporating hybrid learning instructional strategies into teacher preparation programs. “Beyond merely ‘turning on a tool,’ educators must perceive and embrace the need to change their teaching style in order to engage and enrich each student’s individual education more effectively,” the authors wrote.

“Interest in blended education remains high, spurred partly by research offering support that blended learning is more effective than either online or face-to-face instruction on its own,” according to the report, which cites supporting studies.

Editor’s note: This is the first part of a multi-part series examining hybrid learning across the U.S. Stay tuned for Part 2, which will profile one example of a hybrid learning school.