Understanding the Different Blended Learning Models

August 2, 2016 |

There’s no reason to feel intimidated by the concept of blended learning. Simply put, blended learning is the combination of teacher instruction and online technology that enables student-centered learning. So, what does blended learning look like in practice? If you read our last post (Scaling Student-Centered Instruction: The Power of Blended Learning) you already know teachers using blended learning can help students learn any time, any place, on any path, and at any pace using adaptive digital content. And you also know the use of technology frees up teachers to restructure their classroom and teach in new ways. Together, this provides the opportunity for more individualized instruction, meeting each student at their current level and challenging them at their appropriate pace. But that’s a broad overview of what blended learning can do; in this post we’ll get down to the nuts and bolts of blended learning models and how they work in classrooms.

Four Models of Blended Learning Defined

The Christensen Institute has studied emerging blended learning models and determined most blended courses in schools today can be described as one of four models: Rotation, Flex, À La Carte, and Enriched Virtual. While the Christensen Institute has created these definitions as a helpful common taxonomy for talking about blended learning in practice, it is important to note many schools do not rely on just one of these models. Teachers and school leaders may implement more than one model or pull components from the models they find most effective to create something unique for the needs of their students. The point is, these models are not the only way blended learning can be implemented, but are a helpful starting point in describing what blended learning really looks like in classrooms.

  • Educators are likely already familiar with the Rotation model where students within a single class rotate between a number of different learning activities. In a blended learning Rotation model, though, at least one of these modalities is online learning. Other examples of rotation activities might include one-on-one time with the teacher, peer group interactions, teacher-led lessons, or independent study time. In the Rotation model, students learn primarily on a school campus, in a classroom with their teacher. Within the Rotation model, the Christensen Institute defines four sub-models: Station Rotation, Lab Rotation, Flipped Classroom, and Individual Rotation.
    1. Using Station Rotation, within a single classroom students rotate through all learning activities on the same schedule, when prompted by either their teacher or the clock. Watch a video of the Rotation model in action here.
    2. Lab Rotation is similar to Station Rotation; however, students rotate to a computer lab for online learning activities instead of staying within the same classroom. Watch a video of the Lab Rotation model here.
    3. In a Flipped Classroom, students spend their time away from school learning content independently through online video lectures and class time is then used for “homework.” Or, the classroom itself is redesigned in a way such that the teacher is no longer the focal point. Teachers no longer spend class time delivering direct instruction, but use it to guide supervised practice and provide individual assistance where needed. Watch a video about the Flipped Classroom model here.
    4. For Individual Rotation a teacher or algorithm sets each student’s daily schedule which allows students to rotate to some, not all, of the rotation activities based on their unique needs. Watch a video of the Individual Rotation model in action here.
  • While the foundation of student learning in the Flex model is online, students still learn primarily at their school campus. Students in the Flex model benefit from both learning at their own pace online, as well as from direct teacher guidance in their classroom. Because students spend more time learning basic content online, this allows teachers to spend more of their time helping students in challenge areas or going deeper in content areas a student has mastered. Teachers might facilitate this learning time with small group activities, project-based learning, or one-on-one tutoring support. The Flex model may sound familiar to many educators, too; some of the first examples of the Flex model were credit recovery programs or alternative education centers, where students needed more flexibility to complete courses. Watch a video of the Flex model in action here.
  • In the À La Carte model, students have the option to pick and choose courses to take online as a way to supplement their existing course load at their school campus. This model is most commonly found at the high school level, where students may choose to enroll in a course not currently offered by their school, such as an Advanced Placement course or a unique language course. In the À La Carte model a student could take this course entirely online, either in a study hall period or outside of school time. This model is different from full-time virtual schools because it does not make up the entire school experience for students. While some courses are online, others are taken in school so students still benefit from interaction with teachers and peers. Watch a video of the À La Carte model in action here.
  • The Enriched Virtual model allows students to spend most of their time completing coursework online remotely, supplemented by required in-person learning sessions with their teacher. While online learning is fundamental to the Enriched Virtual model, it differs from full-time virtual schools because face-to-face learning is a required component of the coursework, not optional as it is in full-time virtual schools. In fact, many full-time virtual schools have transitioned their programs to an Enriched Virtual model to provide students with the important experiences of a school campus. Watch a video of the Enriched Virtual in action here.

To read more about how blended learning can enable student-centered learning at scale, check out this blog post, this follow-up blog post, and this short video.

Source: Horn, Michael B., and Heather Staker. Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2014.


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