Blended learning or not?

My daughter attends Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.  She had always wanted to learn Italian but the one Italian course offered at Cal Poly was full.  Thankfully, the Cal Poly instructor recommended she look to a local community college that offered an Italian course online.  In the Italian course, the instructor interacts with students mostly online.  But, built into the course are phone calls where the instructor talks with the student, face-to-face instructor meeting, face-to-face written tests, and face-to-face oral tests.  The phone calls are spent reviewing Italian and last for about 15 minutes and occur twice a semester.  The face-to-face instructor meeting occurred in a local coffee shop and lasted for about 30 minutes while the face-to-face written test and face-to-face oral test occurred at the same time and at the end of the semester.

In my daughter’s regular Cal Poly courses, most professors use Blackboard (a course management system – CMS) to extend and enhance the learning.  The professors post assignments, articles, PowerPoints, other important documents or research, and usually use the gradebook function.  Generally, they do not use the online course tools such as the discussion board, chat room, online drop box, or digital whiteboard.

Since I first read the Innosight Reports regarding “Blended Learning” (see previous post),  I have been having trouble with their definition of blended learning because it is so broad that it can be applied to almost any classroom that uses the Web in any way for learning.  Their definition is:  “Blended learning is any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick and mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace. (Horn & Staker, 2010; Staker, 2011. http://www.innosightinstitute.org/media-room/publications/education-publications/).  I am concerned about this definition because from my own research about online learning, one of the challenges was defining terms so that effectiveness can be measured.  For my dissertation, I chose to eliminate any part time course enrollments or blended learning programs and only include full time online students.  This eliminated several (though not all) extraneous variables.

If I apply the Innosight definition to my daughter’s college courses, both of them fit the definition of “blended learning”.  The Italian course which is primarily offered through online tools, is blended because it blends face-to-face meetings in a “supervised brick and mortar location” and it includes “some student control over time, place, path or pace.”  The other regular courses that use Blackboard also fit this definition.  Although students are required to attend the bi-weekly class sessions, students must read the posted articles in the CMS.  Students can read the online articles at any time or place that fits in with their schedule.  I’m not sure that the students have any control over the “pace” at which they read the articles because most college courses mandate that certain readings are completed by a certain time.  However, many of the blended learning case studies completed in the Blended Learning report do not allow students to really work at their own pace either.

My intent is to work towards a common definition of blended learning upon which most can agree.  At this point, I am aware of the following issues in defining blended learning:

  • Blended learning can be defined as a combination of computer assisted instruction and teacher lead instruction
  • Blended learning can be defined as a combination of face-to-face instruction and online instruction
  • Blended learning can be defined as the use of a combination of face-to-face learning tools and online learning tools (e.g. students listen to a teacher lecture or do group work in a face-to-face class setting but also use an online tools such as a discussion board to discuss concepts)

And questions that a common definition will help to answer.  Are these examples of blended learning?

  • A teacher emails assignments to students
  • A teacher posts information on a classroom blog for students and parents
  • A teacher assigns students to explore the NASA website for homework
  • A teacher uses online videos that students watch on a computer at school
  • A teacher has students do the virtual frog dissection from six computers in the classroom and students also complete the work on their own time at home
  • A teacher posts articles online for students to read
  • A teacher has an online gradebook that students and parents can access at any time from any place

In an effort to help further define blended learning so we “know it when we see it”, I have created the Blended Learning Wiki.  Please add in your thoughts and links.

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4 Responses to “Blended learning or not?”


  1. 1 Omozuawo, Sophie Emike October 22, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    Blended-learning enables a pool of students to have access to one another in knowledge sharing to up lift their intellectual capabilities.


  1. 1 What is “blended learning” teaching? « California Dreamin' by Rob Darrow Trackback on May 26, 2011 at 5:04 am
  2. 2 Some Possible Resources | Online Learning Initiative Trackback on May 27, 2011 at 6:00 am
  3. 3 The components of blended learning « California Dreamin' by Rob Darrow Trackback on June 1, 2011 at 5:56 am

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