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6 Reasons Blended Learning Works

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Research suggests that blended learning is more effective than both face-to-face and online education, according to a new e-book released by the Online Learning Consortium and academic publisher Routledge. Online & Blended Learning: Selections from the Field brings together advice and best practices from a number of scholarly publications related to online and blended learning; topics covered include the basics of the blended model, differences between online and on-campus learning, strategies for teaching with technology, data analysis techniques, policy issues and more.

The book cites a 2009 U.S. Department of Education report that examined 51 research studies on student outcomes in online vs. face-to-face courses. On average, the report found, students in online environments — and particularly in blended environments — performed better. Why? "There are no complete answers," the book said, but the authors offered a number of ideas on the secrets behind blended learning's success.

Below, excerpted with permission, are six reasons why blended learning is so effective in higher education.

  1. Improved instructional design. Blended courses (like online courses) may be more intentionally designed than face-to-face counterparts, if only because institutional initiatives for blended courses often involve instructional designers or educational technologists who support the faculty in a scheduled redesign process.
  2. Increased guidance and triggers. Students working in a face-to-face class receive guidance from the teacher during class time and from a syllabus when working on their own. In a blended course, the course environment provides a clear path through resources, activities, and assessments with explicit guidance each step of the way.
  3. Easier access to learning activities. Putting materials and activities online allows more of the class to engage with these on their own schedule, which may lead to more complete learning.
  4. Individualized learning opportunities. Because digital materials may be accessed according to students' individual needs, and reviewed upon demand, the provision of digital materials allows students to self-direct certain learning activities to fill their knowledge gaps. Automated assessments often used in online learning environments may also provide immediate, corrective feedback that directs students to revisit materials.
  5. Increased engagement through social interaction. Students in a face-to-face course may have limited opportunities to engage with each and every one of their classmates, and the face-to-face environment itself may inhibit some students from participating. Online environments that facilitate class discussions, collaboration, etc. may increase the amount of student-to-student interaction. This may, in turn, enhance their engagement with the subject matter and provide motivational benefits from the increased social interaction.
  6. Time on task. Blended and online courses tend to intensify student focus on more relevant work through the course website. This may be true because of increased guidance and access, and improved instructional design as described above. It may also be that time on task is simply more visible in a blended course because student activity in an online environment can be tracked on every page and every click.

Online & Blended Learning: Selections from the Field is available for free download from the Online Learning Consortium site.

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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