Jul 252011

Blended Learning: What is Blended Learning?

blended learning

Blended Learning: filed under: BLI, Blended Learning Initiative, Via Penn State University

What is Blended Learning?

A blended learning approach combines face to face classroom methods with computer-mediated activities to form an integrated instructional approach. In the past, digital materials have served in a supplementary role, helping to support face to face instruction.

For example, a blended approach to a traditional, face to face course might mean that the class meets once per week instead of the usual three-session format. Learning activities that otherwise would have taken place during classroom time can be moved online.

As of now, there is no consensus on a single agree-upon definition for blended learning. The Resources page contains cites to several articles that provide definitions. In addition, the terms “blended,” “hybrid,” and “mixed-mode” are used interchangeably in current research literature. For the purposes of the Blended Learning Initiative at Penn State, the term “blended” is preferred.

Why Blend?

The goal of a blended approach is to join the best aspects of both face to face and online instruction. Classroom time can be used to engage students in advanced interactive experiences.  Meanwhile, the online portion of the course can provide students with multimedia-rich content at any time of day, anywhere the student has internet access, from Penn State computer labs, the coffee shop, or the students’ homes. This allows for an increase in scheduling flexibility for students.

In addition to flexibility and convenience for students, according to research shared at the ALN Conference Workshop on Blended Learning & Higher Education November 17, 2005, there is early evidence that a blended instructional approach can result in learning outcome gains and increased enrollment retention (http://www.uic.edu/depts/oee/blended/workshop/bibliography.pdf).

Blended learning is on the rise in higher education. 93% of higher ed instructors and admin say they are using blended learning strategies somewhere in their institution. 7 in 10 expect more than 40% of their schools’ courses to be blended by 2013 (Bonk, C. J. & Graham, C. R. (Eds.). (in press).

How to Blend?

There are no rules in place to prescribe what the ideal blend might be (Bonk reference). The term “blended” encompasses a broad continuum, and can include any integration of face to face and online instructional content. The blend of face to face and online materials will vary depending on the content, the needs of the students, and the preferences of the instructor. See the section of this site titled Instructional Strategies for information on selecting an ideal blend and designing a blended course.


Creating high-quality blended instruction can present considerable challenges. Foremost is the need for resources to create the online materials to be used in the courses. Materials development is a time and labor intensive process, just as it is in any instructional medium. In addition, blended instruction is likely to be a new concept to many students and faculty. Instructional designers involved in course development or redesign will need to be able to answer questions related to:

  • what blended instruction is
  • why blended instruction  is employed
  • how best to leverage the advantages of a blended approach








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