Blended Learning: An Annotated Guide to the 4 Main Models

Digital devices are becoming more and more common in the classroom, and at its core, a digital device (computer, tablet, netbook, etc) is nothing more than a tool.  The computer and other digital devices are nothing more than tools,  and cannot in and of themselves be the solution to all of the changes and challenges we face in preparing our students for today’s world.  The most successful educators will be the ones who leverage these tools to promote teaching and learning that was once not possible prior to the use of these digital devices.  The Clayton Christensen Institute has been a thought leader in the field of innovation across three specific sectors, one of which being education.  In particular, they have invested in significant research supporting movement towards blended learning which they explain must meet the following three criteria:

at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace;

at least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home;

and the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.

A very important distinction must be made at this point, and that is blended learning is not about how many digital tools, gadgets, or devices you or the student uses, it’s about leveraging the access that these devices provide to enable a more personalized approach to instruction.  The purpose of this blog post is to focus on ways that educators can make the most out of blended learning.

A critical first step to any educational endeavor is planning towards your intended outcomes.  What is it that you want your students to learn, experience, take part in during their time in your classroom.  Blended learning models vary from one to the next and not all models are suitable for all intended outcomes.  Students and teachers may flex through multiple models in a unit or even lesson depending what types of outcomes are desired by the designer.  Within this process, it is important that teachers consider what type of blended learning model best leverages technology to meet the intended learning outcomes.  Take a look below to see how each model works and some of the advantages each has to offer.

These first two blended learning models can be implemented within the confines of an individual classroom, or could be a part of a larger school design/structure.

  1. Rotation Model
    1. Station Rotation– In this model students rotate through a series of stations typically within a classroom in which one or more of the rotations include instruction delivered online.  This model is an excellent starting point when you are starting out in blended learning. As an entry point, the station rotation model provides teachers a way to begin to shift their role to the guide on the side by using technology to deliver a portion of the instruction through one of the stations.  Stations also provide the teacher and student a chance to interact in a small group environment that can help a teacher hone in on student needs. The figure below shows a basic template for how a station rotation classroom could work.
    2. Lab Rotation- Students rotate into a computer lab to conduct part of their coursework online.
    3. Flipped Instruction- This instruction essentially flips the role of classroom and home activities where students use the time at home to gather information, read, view videos or other materials on the topic to be discussed the following day.  The time in the classroom can then be dedicated to applying that knowledge gathered and dig deeper into a subject.  Flipped instruction, in theory, helps stretch the amount of time that can be used for learning by offloading typical face to face instruction to the online setting.
    4. Individual Rotation-  Students will rotate through a specific “playlist” of activities that is designed by the teacher.  These activities take place both on and offline, and each playlist is unique to the needs of that student.  This model has shown promising impact for students as the continuous
  2. Flex Model-  Students receive most of their instruction online while spending a majority of their time in a face to face environment.  The teacher supports students through individual and group instruction on an as-needed basis.  This model can vary depending on the needs of the students’ needs, physical space available, staffing, and other factors.  The flex model is another good entry point for teachers looking to dive into blended learning.  There are many resources available online that not only deliver curriculum, but can also better inform teacher instruction to meet the needs of their students.

These next two models typically occur as a part of the larger school structure or design and are not models that can be implemented by individual teachers within the confines of his or her individual classroom.

  1. A La Carte-  In this model, a student who usually takes a majority of their classes in a face to face environment may take a course completely online.  In this model, students may pick and choose from face to face and online courses.  Though challenging for some students due to the nature of online learning, this model can help schools expand their curriculum to include courses that were once not possible to offer.  This disruptive model delivers new options to students in a way that can help personalize their learning environment, pace of learning, and choices available.
  2. Enriched Virtual Model- In this model the teacher typically works in both an online and face to face capacity.  Students have required meetings with teachers as determined by the class and or teacher, but the majority of course delivery is done online.  In this model students and teachers typically do not meet every day.

Station rotation and flex models can be easily adapted to work within the confines of an individual classroom, and either model can be a good entry point for teachers making the transition to a blended learning style classroom.  Moving a portion of curriculum online allows teachers greater flexibility in the use of their time.  Rather than being responsible for delivery of all instruction, the teacher now has the ability to be more involved in the progress of each student.  Instruction and assessment can occur in much tighter loops, helping drive student progress and growth.

A La Carte and the enriched virtual model are not typically associated with an individual classroom.  Both provide much more in the way of student agency and as a result, must fit within a larger design for instruction occurring at the school-wide level.  Both models provide schools with an opportunity to redesign school experiences that can begin to personalize a student’s experience.

Blended learning has immense potential to have a positive impact on K-12 education. One of the key factors in whether or not schools are able to transform the learning experiences of their students hinges on the concept that technology is a tool and not the answer.  How and why we use the tool will be the differences between successful transformation or simply digitizing the past.

For more information and research regarding blended learning, check out some of the links below.

Blended learning models-

Blended learning research

Blended learning articles, blogs, and other resources-

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