The Ultimate Guide to Blended Learning Models

“Have you heard of Blended Learning?”

You’re probably rolling your eyes at the screen. If you’’ve been anywhere in the remote vicinity of the education realm in the past couple years, you’’ve heard of and have probably seen efforts to blend online and offline learning in your classrooms and schools.

blended learning modelsOn a very basic level, Blended Learning is simply the use of online learning (via the web, digital program, or other digital means) and offline learning (traditional brick-and-mortar setting, group-based projects, discussion, etc.) as a means to personalize instruction within the classroom. However, as the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Learning noted, even the definitions of “Blended Learning” are not a “one-size-fits-all” construct.


Blended Learning Models Defined


Because of the amazing individualized instruction abilities afforded by blending online and offline learning, the idea of ‘Blended Learning’ can also be adapted to fit the learning needs of the students and the resource abilities of the individual classroom and schools.


Below are four major Blended Learning models, each providing students and educators flexibility and learning environment variety (as defined by the Clayton Christensen Institute):


1) The Rotation model:

The Rotation model has one simple requirement: students motion through learning activities that cover different modalities, with at least one of these activities being administered online. However, the method and order of these activities often vary dramatically from class-to-class. That’’s why the Rotation model is additionally classified by four different subsets.

  • Station Rotation:
    This method offers educators quite a bit of instructional flexibility. Students rotate through a variety of learning stations/activities, ranging from group discussion to individual online learning and everything in between. The teacher schedules the rotation from one modality to another at their own discretion, whether its a fixed/timed or needs-based.


  • Lab Rotation:
    The Lab Rotation model has been around almost along as we’ve seen computers in schools. The idea is that students participate in offline learning activities in the traditional brick-and-mortar setting, and then go participate in online learning activities in a media or computer lab. Lab rotation requires students to physically change rooms between activities, which sets defined, different environments for the online and offline learning. If your class maintains a computer or media lab, you’ve used the Lab Rotation model.


  • The Flipped Classroom:
    Lab Rotation and Station Rotation are rather traditional when it comes to blending online and offline learning. Simply put, the Flipped Classroom is not. In the Flipped Classroom model, students learn face-to-face with an educator in a brick-and-mortar setting. They are then assigned online activities or homework to be completed in a “remote” setting, i.e. at home, at the library, coffee shop, etc. Once again the learning environment is separate, but in this case, they are not both necessarily located on school grounds.


  • Individual Rotation:
    Obviously, the key word to this subset is “individual”. In the previous three subsets, the students are given roughly the same curriculum path (regardless if the path is online or offline). But, with the Individual Rotation model, the individual student motions through a variety of activities and stations defined either at the teacher’s discretion, via an algorithm-driven learning path, or a combination of the two. It’’s also important to note that the student may not necessarily rotate or switch to each available station or activity, only to those listed in the individual curriculum path.


Alright, that’’s the Rotation model definition. Now let’’s take a look at our other three main Blended Learning models!


2) The Flex model

In the Flex model, online learning is the “backbone” of the student’s path. Instead of working from station-to-station or classroom-to-lab, the students primarily learn online, while being seated in a brick-and-mortar structure. The teacher or educator is available for face-to-face support/structure and facilitates offline activities and group/whole-class discussion on a discretionary or need-be basis.


The main idea behind the Flex model is that those students who need additional help or additional challenges can receive more direct attention from the teacher because a bulk of the learning is done via online instruction resources. In theory, this allows for the educator to better address the learning needs of the individual student because more he or she spends less time setting up and building basic knowledge.


3) The A La Carte model

Students in an A la carte model take one or more specific online courses (with an online teacher or facilitator) while also taking traditional offline courses. The online courses can be taken at the brick-and-mortar site or a remote site. For instance, a student may take an online math course with an online instructor while also taking science, language arts, and P.E. in a traditional offline setting.


This model is often used in higher education settings where students may take online courses to supplement their course load, however we are seeing it used more and more on an individual basis in K-12 settings where students require credit recovery or opt to accelerate their learning path.


4) Enriched Virtual model

This final Blended Learning model offers students a chance to split time learning between full brick-and-mortar courses and full online courses. At first, the Enriched Virtual model sounds a lot like the A la carte model, but there is one key difference. In the Enriched Virtual model, the “whole class” is on the same schedule, meaning each students takes the same exact course load of online and offline classes (instead of the pick-and-choose nature of the A la carte model).

The Enriched Virtual model is now being executed by many of the online schools who began with full online courses, but realized that a traditional offline classroom setting offers the ability to further scaffold learning and develop the critical thinking and collaboration skills often only found in face-to-face settings.

For more on the various Blended Learning models, be sure to check out the Clayton Christensen Institute’s website and resources.

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