The term “blended learning” encompasses a number of different instructional models in use across the country, but who has the time to compare and contrast these programs for an analysis of what blended learning means today? A new report does just that, and it also collects instructors’ opinions of this type of learning.
The report, titled “The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning: Profiles of Emerging Models,” is part of a series on blended learning by Michael B. Horn, co-founder and executive director of education at the Innosight Institute, and Heather Clayton Staker, a senior research fellow for education practice at the institute.
Horn is also co-author of the 2008 book Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, and the reports are intended to study K-12 blended learning and measure its potential to become a disruptive technology in education. (See “Report: Blended learning could hit or miss.”)
The report describes the blended-learning programs of 40 organizations that have combined face-to-face and online instruction, to help education leaders better understand the many possibilities that blending learning offers.
“The introduction of online learning into the schoolhouse is very new. Consequently, no comprehensive database yet exists to document its adoption school by school. That makes this research groundbreaking,” Staker told eSchool News.
Staker began by interviewing a panel of online-learning researchers from academia, consulting firms, and the investment community. These experts identified more than 60 organizations they thought might be leading the way with blended-learning initiatives. From those, she selected the 40 organizations that were “most engaged in blended learning.”
Programs range in operation from state virtual schools and charter management organizations to individual charter schools, independent schools, school districts, and private entities.
All blended learning programs first had to meet the definition of blended learning from Innosight Institute: any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised face-to-face location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace.
From there, all programs are categorized into six models of blended learning:
- Face-to-Face Driver: The 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Self-Blend: Students choose to take one or more courses online to supplement their traditional school’s catalog.
- 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.
Information on each organization was compiled through cold calls, interviews, research, and in some cases site visits.
The 40 organizations profiled in the report offer a total of 48 blended learning programs. Each program surveyed gives information on:
- Geographic location and student demographics
- Grades served and enrollment numbers
- Operator type
- Revenue per pupil
- Technology services and content providers used
- Subjects taught
- History and context of the program
- Typical schedule
- Results of the program
- Future plans
Trends and wish lists
Though the report makes sure to note that the survey is not a “top 40” list, nor a comprehensive market analysis, it does say that the sample provided a large enough data set to “indicate strong patterns in the distribution of content providers and technology tools across the emerging blended-learning landscape.”
For example, K12 Inc., has the biggest presence, with five implementations of its Aventa Learning products, three implementations of its K12-branded courses, and one implementation of the A+ program by American Education Corporation, which K12 acquired recently.
Pearson ruled the student information system (SIS) field, with 12 PowerSchool implementations and three implementations of other Pearson products.
The leading provider of both learning management systems (LMS) and digital gradebooks is Blackboard, with seven implementations, respectively. After the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), Blackboard is also the second leading provider of online assessments.
The report also notes educators’ “wish lists” for blended learning technology and policy.
Regarding technology, blended-learning instructors would like to see better incorporation of research into content design, addressing such questions as: “Do kids have to scroll down? Does sound help? Video or flash animation?” asks Mark Kushner from Flex Public Schools.
Dr. Tom Ryan from eCADEMY would like adaptive technology for all grade levels, and Holly Brezycki from Capital Area Online Learning Association would like either a single content provider or a system that integrates all content so students have a single log-on.
Mickey Revenaugh from Connections Academy would like an improved data interface between online teachers and face-to-face teachers.
When it comes to policy, teachers wants relaxed federal policies surrounding the “highly qualified teacher” designation, which they say can hinder the provision of knowledgeable content experts in blended-learning environments.
Vendors and education leaders also gave their opinions on policy. For example, Matt Mervis from Diploma Plus wants to complete the transition to Common Core standards to eliminate the tension between those and state standards.
Kiley Whitaker and David Couch from the Kentucky Department of Education want to appoint a dynamic leader to bring together federal funding opportunities and private companies to extend connectivity to all parts of the state.
And Robert Sommers, former CEO of Cornerstone Charter Schools in Detroit, said: “Any policy about procedure, rather than performance, undermines the creation of a child-centered [education] system.”
“The operators raised a strong voice for reinventing education policy to make it output focused rather than input regulated,” said Staker.
These suggestions and more, as well as detailed information on all 40 organizations profiled, can be found in the report here.
The report also contains a “blended-learning matrix” that illustrates the various kinds of models in use at schools nationwide.
“We introduce the idea of a blended-learning matrix, with the X-axis representing geographic location (brick-and-mortar versus remote) and the Y-axis representing content delivery (online versus face-to-face),” Staker said. “Our paper provides a more complete definition of blended learning, and good definitions go a long way in helping to clarify an emerging sector.”
The Innosight Institute is also launching a public, online database to continue to track and profile K-12 blended-learning programs. The institute invites educators to add profiles of other blended-learning programs at http://www.innosightinstitute.org.
“This white paper is intended for several audiences,” Staker said. “Educators, policy makers, and investors can spot trends and begin to identify what works by glancing at the big picture. … At its core, we hope it will help children. If even a handful of kids is spared from enduring the cramming of low-quality internet-based clutter into their classrooms, this study is a success. Our goal is to channel innovation to greater quality in an effort to transform the school system into one that is authentically student-centric.”
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