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Blended Learning Explained & How To Put Its 6 Models Into Action

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Many teachers cannot always satisfy the learning needs and speeds of all students — whether they be gifted, struggling or anywhere between – with the limited amount of time in today’s classrooms.

Administrators or teachers can introduce blended learning to address this issue. The practice is divided into six models, which each combine traditional teaching methods with different ways of using computerized instruction.

What is blended learning?

Blended learning is a term used to describe the process of combining online learning tools along with traditional classroom instruction. It’s also sometimes called hybrid learning. 

These learning methods are about more than adding computers or tablets into a classroom - as that’s already commonplace in many schools in the 21st century. They’re about changing the way both teachers and students approach the learning experience.  

It’s important to note that there isn’t one concrete blended learning definition because there are so many different strategies to incorporate it in the classroom.

In general, though, blended learning programs are mastery-based. When students show they understand different concepts, they’re able to progress to the next idea. Students who are struggling are given more attention and time to catch up with the class. Students who are exceeding expectations are given new challenges to learn.

Blended classrooms, or flipped classrooms, help students stay engaged with content and change the approach to learning to focus on all students rather than just the middle of the pack.


Key advantages of blended learning

Much research has been done to determine whether or not blended learning is an effective teaching method. From elementary classrooms to higher education, the research has shown many benefits of blended learning. Here are a few of the standouts:

  • Increased student engagement - One study showed that blended learning encouraged  a much higher rate of student engagement. The increased engagement was seen right away and persisted throughout the study. 
  • Growth in reading performance - Blended learning helped students achieve significant gains in their reading skills. These results were seen for both native English-speaking students and English Learning students. 
  • Higher standardized test scores - Particularly in kindergarten through 2nd grade, students introduced to a blended learning classroom scored significantly higher on standardized reading assessments. 
  • Improved computer and technology skills - After implementing blended courses, students showed improved computer skills and higher technology test scores. This is great news as technology skills are essential for success in the workforce. 
  • Students can learn at the pace appropriate for them - Many teachers report that blended learning allows for more flexibility and independence in the classroom. Students can work at their own pace and understand concepts more thoroughly. 
  • Empowers teachers with more flexibility on where to focus their attention - When teachers have the additional support of technology and learning resources in the classroom, they can focus on areas other than direct instruction. They may have more time for one-on-one instruction as the rest of the class works on an online platform. 

Differentiation for various learning styles - Blended learning allows teachers the flexibility to adapt their course material to fit better into each student’s learning style.

Blended learning during the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed everyone towards a blended learning experience overnight. Everyone from grade school to high school to higher education had to adapt. While there were many obstacles and challenges because of the speed at which the transition happened, there were also some benefits. 

Some would say that classrooms needed a bit of a nudge in the direction of blended classrooms, and the pandemic did just that. More and more aspects of our world are becoming technological, so our students need to be adequately prepared. 

Teachers, administrators, and students worked hard to resolve the problems of distance learning during the pandemic simply because they had to. Face-to-face instruction wasn’t possible, and online learning was the only option for so long. It was difficult, but so much progress was made because of their perseverance. 

Everyone in the classroom learned what was possible with technology assisting learning. Using learning management systems became the new normal. Greater flexibility and accommodations for students is now possible. 

Now we can take all the lessons that we learned during the pandemic and apply them to create the best possible learning experiences for our students. 

The 6 models for blended learning

While blended learning certainly can go in a range of different directions, there are specific modalities for implementing it into an education program.

Complemented by examples and a condensed guide to print for your desk, here are steps to put six blended learning models into action:

1. Face-to-face driver model

Student and teacher working together in blended learning.

This blended learning model targets students who demonstrate skills either below or above grade level, allowing them to receive additional instruction through a computer program.

Each gifted or struggling student can work at their own speed as — on a case-by-case basis — teachers assign work on a digital platform and oversee progress. Depending on the scenario, this is done to fill knowledge gaps, reinforce lessons or provide new challenges.

To use this blended learning classroom model, you must:

  • Identify students who need supplemental instruction — Whether it’s across classes or in a specific subject, working with teachers to identify which students need additional instruction will help you find a tool that suits their needs.
  • Choose an appropriate digital tool — Based on their needs, look for an engaging program that offers proper scaffolding to struggling students and uses adaptive learning principles to deliver content that challenges advanced students.
  • Find time to use the tool — Having teachers budget and designate time will ensure students use the tool. For example, many teachers use their digital programs of choice as entry tickets.
  • Supervise and help students — Instruct teachers to oversee student progress as they use the tool. They should answer questions and lend a hand if needed.

Example of the face-to-face driver:

The Round Rock Independent School District, which is made up of 38,000 students, participated in a 2006 study that involved using interactive whiteboards to reinforce face-to-face learning.

Grade 3 and 5 classes at English Language Learning (ELL) schools used the whiteboards. In the case of grade 5 math, the digital classrooms saw a 23% higher state exam pass rate than traditional classes.

As introducing the face-to-face driver model is relatively straightforward and benefits students at different levels, it is ideal for diverse classrooms — or ones entirely made up of struggling or gifted kids.

2. Rotation model

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The rotation model focuses on using learning stations, exposing students to a range of instruction types and kinds of content.

This gives teachers a chance to provide students with different digital and non-digital activities. As a result, this blended learning environment can benefit students who have distinct learning styles and needs.

How to set up this blended learning model: 

  • Find a Digital Tool that Any Student Can Use — As every student will go through each station, the digital learning tool — or tools — must have content for diverse ability levels. It is beneficial to use education technology that prioritizes differentiated instruction, adjusting problem type and difficulty based on user performance.
  • Create Activities that Appeal to Different Learning Styles — In addition to digital software or hardware, learning stations should contain solo, pair and group activities. It can also be beneficial to target visual, tactile and auditory senses. For example, one station can involve listening to an audiobook, whereas another can focus on a slideshow.
  • Fill Knowledge Gaps — As students move between stations and work through activities, go around the classroom to address any gaps in understanding.

Example of the rotation model:

Many teachers who use Prodigy’s free, adaptive math game deliver it as a learning station.

The game is for grades 1 to 8 and uses differentiated instruction principles to adjust content, addressing each student’s trouble spots. Teachers can also customize in-game problems to reinforce and supplement lesson plans.

Students who frequently play Prodigy meet standardized test expectations almost 12% more than students who don’t, according to a study of a 25,000-student district.

Because teachers can closely monitor students and create stations that appeal to their specific learning styles and needs, the rotation model suits almost any school.

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3. Flex model

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Generally used in schools with high numbers of struggling or at-risk students, the flex model of blended learning emphasizes online content delivery.

Lessons, for the most part, remain in the classroom – but it becomes a blended learning environment. Students spend most of their time receiving individualized instruction through online resources and adaptive software instead of traditional lessons.

Integrating the flex model typically takes buy-in from all stakeholders, and you must:

  • Group struggling and at-risk students — Depending on your approach, these students will work side-by-side throughout the academic year or for specific classes.
  • Follow a technology budget — Before looking for new software or hardware, ensure you won’t surpass your technology budget. Keep in mind, some educational technologies are free. But you may have to propose a budget if one isn’t in place.
  • Determine how you’ll cover curriculum material — As you can use the flex model for specific classes or an entire grade’s curriculum, identify which units or topics you’ll cover. This will dictate the kinds of digital learning programs you need.
  • Secure a range of education technology — Keep curriculum-alignment in mind as you search for adaptive learning software, game-based learning programs and other online resources.
  • Instruct teachers to supervise and motivate students — As students individually work through trouble spots, teachers should fill in knowledge gaps and keep them focused on the learning process.Example of the flex model:

Example of the flex model:

The AdvancePath Academics organization takes on the burdens of implementation, partnering with districts to deliver complete online instruction to struggling students.

The program works with each partner district to hire on-site teachers who support students and organize group activities. The program also provides each enrolled student with an independent learning plan, delivering relevant content aligned with curriculum standards.

Different levels of government fund AdvancePath, meaning all operational costs are covered on behalf of your district.

Implementing an original system may be a rigorous task, but — with the right technology — the flex model has the potential to address the issues of many students in need of intervention.

4. Online lab model

A classroom computer lab.

This blended learning model also accommodates students who need to work at an adjusted pace, but it cannot function in all schools.

That’s because it applies to schools that are almost entirely made up of computer labs. Students purely learn online in this model. Professionals – who aren’t necessarily teachers – supervise.

Many schools will likely have qualms and difficulties putting this model into action, as it applies to scenarios such as:

  • Schools and districts not having enough qualified teachers or space for traditional classrooms, which is somewhat common in rural and impoverished areas
  • Students needing a flexible school schedule, due to constraints such as travel time to the campus
  • Students facing difficulties in traditional learning environments

Example of the online lab model:

Some elementary and secondary schools in rural areas rely on this model of blended learning, as they may not have the ability or funding to attract certified teachers. Instead, it’s practical to provide comprehensive learning software and other education technology.

Using this approach can also create once-improbable learning opportunities for students, according to leading education technology consultant Monica Burns:

“You can plug an iPhone or Android phone into a Google Cardboard and create an experience that really connects students with the world … Maybe I’m taking my kids to the Empire State Building through virtual reality and having mock conversations in Spanish as part of my foreign language exploration.”

Because students mainly use education software without the supervision of a qualified teacher, the online lab model may not resonate with all learning styles.

5. Self-blend model

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The self-blend model appeals to students who want classes outside of school, involving them signing up for online courses to take during their spare time.

Gifted and driven students are generally the ones who gravitate towards this model. They often do so for advanced placement or if they’re interested in a subject that goes beyond the curriculum.

To make this option readily available, look to:

  • Identify online courses and programs — Search online, and ask other admins and teachers about relevant courses. Nearby districts may offer them, meaning they’re curriculum-aligned. If this is the case, reach out to the district contact and follow the implementation steps she gives you. If alignment isn’t a priority, consider purchasing a school-wide membership to a website with diverse education content.  
  • Advertise these courses and programs — List online classes in your course calendar or elsewhere. Be sure to indicate if they count for credit, or are just for fun. Teachers may also wish to directly inform students.

Example of the self-blend model:

There are more than 3,500 courses on and almost 150,000 educational videos, making it a popular resource for self-motivated learners.

The content isn’t explicitly curriculum-aligned, but certain lessons match and complement secondary and post-secondary school material.

Districts just need a membership package to offer the videos for free to students.

Unlike the online lab model, virtually any school can introduce the self-blend model with relatively few hiccups.

6. Online driver model

A laptop and notepad on a desk.

Similar to the online lab blended learning model, the online driver model focuses completely on instruction through the Internet and generally resonates with independent learners.

Face-to-face check-ins usually aren’t required, as students work from remote locations such as their homes to complete coursework.

Because of these characteristics, you can follow the self-blend model’s implementation steps to offer these classes. Just be sure a designated teacher can answer in-person questions and act as a resource.

Example of the online driver model:

A growing number of schools have online classes from kindergarten to grade 12, or offer entire curricula through the web.

For example, K12 is an organization that provides online resources to traditional classrooms and establishes virtual public schools across the United States. Teachers use digital tools to guide lessons and customize content for different students, also acting as a resource to answer questions and provide other forms of support.

As students become increasingly used to and interested in online instruction, this model of blended learning should steadily grow in popularity.

Blended learning in kindergarten

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Credit: Huffington Post

Blended classrooms have been proven to help students improve their comprehension of various subjects. But what about students who are coming to school as blank slates?

It turns out blended learning can help students as early on as Kindergarten!

In a 2013 study, Barbie Gossett of Woodlawn Elementary introduced blended learning methods, similar to reciprocal teaching, to her Kindergarten class and saw almost immediate results.

In her class, students worked in groups or sometimes individually with online software to learn curriculum based concepts. Meanwhile, Gossett was able to float between all of her students to answer any questions.

After using these strategies in her classroom, Barbie found that, “Not only did every one of her students achieve expected growth on their MAPS test but, for the first time, [every] single one of them scored above the expected grade level”.

Teachers should experiment with blended learning and see which models work best for their classroom.

Final thoughts about using the six models of blended learning

Students will gain more control over learning pace and style if you introduce blended learning models that apply to your school or district.

Doing so will help address a pain-point many teachers face — satisfying the unique needs of each student.

By selecting the right software and giving adequate access, desirable results should follow.

Create or log in to your teacher account on Prodigy — a free, game-based learning platform that assesses student progress and performance as they play. Aligned with curricula across the English-speaking world, it’s loved by more than a million teachers and 50 million students.

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