The report states that as policy makers open the gates for innovation by “creating zones with increased autonomy, they must simultaneously hold providers accountable for results so that the adoption of online learning leads to radically better outcomes for students.”

Apples to apples

To help policy makers and blended-learning operators (districts or other organizations that operate schools that use blended-learning models) know how to provide the best blended learning model for their unique students, the report describes six “distinct clusters,” or models, of blended learning:

  1. Face-to-Face Driver: Face-to-face teacher delivers most of the curricula. The teacher deploys online learning on a case-by-case basis to supplement or remediate a student’s education, often in the back of the classroom or in a technology lab.
  2. Rotation: Within a given course, students rotate on a fixed schedule between learning online in a one-to-one, self-paced environment and sitting in a classroom with a traditional face-to-face teacher.
  3. Flex: Uses an online platform that delivers most of the curricula. Teachers provide on-site support on a flexible and adaptive, as-needed basis through in-person tutoring sessions and small group sessions.
  4. Online Lab: Relies on an online platform to deliver the entire course, but in a brick-and-mortar lab environment. These usually provide online teachers, and paraprofessionals supervise. Often students in an online lab program also take traditional courses and have typical block schedules.
  5. Self-Blend: Students choose to take one or more courses online to supplement their traditional school’s catalog.
  6. Online Driver: Uses an online platform and teacher to deliver all curricula. Students work remotely and face-to-face check-ins are sometimes optional and sometimes required.

The report also notes that just because it’s blended learning doesn’t mean it’s always right.

Read more about blended learning:

Teachers turn learning upside down

Panel: Remove barriers to digital learning

eSN Special Report: Blended learning on the rise

“Just as a hybrid car can be either efficient or a clunker but still be a hybrid car, blended learning can be both good and bad. Some programs save money; others are more expensive. Some produce stellar results; others do not,” the report says.

When a program is good, and meets the needs of all students, blended learning’s potential is significant and allows for a fundamental redesign of the educational model, the report says—including a more consistent and personalized pedagogy that allows each student to work at his or her own pace and helps each child feel and be successful at school, and productive new school models that require fewer, more specialized teachers and use space more efficiently.

The report gives detailed examples of two schools that use blended learning in revolutionary ways to achieve positive student outcomes, which include closing the achievement gap for English-language learners.

“To do this in its most thoughtful and transformational way and really tap the potential of blended learning, models should allow for innovation across curriculum, culture, teaching, intervention, professional development, leadership development, and so forth—and that’s exactly what [these schools] have done,” said Horn.

Horn said that a larger study by the Innosight Institute, to be released in the spring, will profile a number of district efforts around blended learning.

What’s missing?

While some innovative schools are making the blended learning model work in incredible ways, there are still obstacles that are preventing this model from reaching its full potential, the report says.