What is blended learning?

Animation by Jameson Parker; storyboard by Joel Goudeau; script by Anne Bannister, Christine Lowak, & Taylor Harrison; Cinematography by Anne Bannister, Brian Diggs, Lauren Knori, & John Jacob Moreno; Voiceover by Christine Lowak

By Christine Lowak, Director of Raising Blended Learners

Blended learning has become common in K-12 education, but what does the term actually mean? And what do these teaching and learning strategies look like in best practice?

For the last nine years, the Charles Butt Foundation has supported the implementation of blended and personalized learning strategies through our Raising Blended Learners demonstration initiative. We have collaborated with two cohorts of approximately 110 schools in 40 districts across Texas. Our grant support includes consulting, professional development, campus visits to showcase ongoing practices, and a rich open-access resource library. At the grant’s conclusion this summer, we will have worked with over 1,000 educators and impacted over 68,000 students. 

This long-term collaboration with school districts, and now regional services centers, through The Texas Center for Blended Learning, has positioned us to be uniquely equipped to assess universal components of a strong blended and personalized learning framework.

Blended learning basics

At its core, blended learning combines the best of in-person teaching with online technology to personalize instruction. It is a practice designed to address individual student needs by providing each child access to rigorous grade-level content while also addressing gaps in prior learning. Although structures vary – from station rotation models to flipped classrooms – at their heart they all support personalized practice to mastery.

To understand what blended learning is; we believe it’s important to address what it isn’t.

Blended learning is not driven by technology. Instead, technology helps to inform the instructional decisions of both the teachers and the students. 

Blended learning is not a virtual classroom. However, students may engage in virtual learning as a component of the blended learning experience.

Blended learning illustration shows how blended combines the best of online learning with brick and mortar instruction.

Core pillars

Through our Texas-wide initiative, we’ve learned that when blended learning strategies are executed at the highest level, five essential pillars are present: assessment and data-driven instruction, personalized instruction, student agency, relationships, and rigor. These pillars intersect to support the whole child. 

The Raising Blended Learners Implementation Continuum (RBL-IC) provides a progression of instructional strategies mapping to each pillar that supports practitioners as they put blended learning into practice.

This illustration shows the five pillars of blended learning: Assessment & data-driven instruction, personalized instruction, student agency, relationships, rigor. Each term has a unique color (red, orange, green, blue, and purple respectively) and a line art icon associated with it.

Let’s dig into each pillar:

  1. Assessment & data-driven instruction: Teachers and leaders use assessment and data to design and deliver instruction that meets the academic needs of each individual student. This includes monitoring student growth and providing specific, timely feedback to students.
  2. Personalized instruction: Students access content through a variety of learning experiences such as small group, partner, or independent learning, and activities must take into account a student’s current level of content mastery. 
  3. Student agency: Refers to the amount of ownership students have over their learning. This may look like individual goal-setting and feedback conferences, sharing input into classroom learning structures; or student advocacy within the classroom and beyond. 
  4. Relationships: Students develop positive, collaborative relationships with teachers and peers which are focused on high expectations for academic and personal growth. Students feel a sense of belonging within their learning community. 
  5. Rigor: Students think critically and engage in the heavy lifting of the content that best meets their needs and spurs academic growth. As with all of the pillars, feedback is consistently provided. 

With all the necessary components working in tandem, blended learning becomes the engine to power personalized practice to mastery, at scale, within schools.

Learn more about our Raising Blended Learners initiative and the Texas Center for Blended Learning.