What is “blended learning” teaching?

Earlier this week I wrote about the definition of blended learning and how I thought the definition from the Innosight Institute is too broad.

Blended learning is any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brickand-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.

The definition is too broad because it seems to me that almost any teacher who assigns a student to use a website outside of the school building fits the above definition.  But,  I do not believe that this is really blended learning.

So, as I continue to struggle with a better definition of blended learning, I saw this tweet from Chris Bell:  “Looking for computer science instructor with online (not blended) teaching experience + CA certification. Any leads?

After reading this Tweet, I realized that part of the answer to defining blended learning is not so much the tools or when students do their learning, but also about the pedagogy and what blended learning looks like.  In a previous post, I talked about my daughter’s experiences with blended learning at the college level.  I reread Innosight’s Blended Learning document from January 2011 and then the more recent report (May, 2011) that included Blended learning case studies and some excellent diagrams.

I emailed Chris to clarify why he made this distinction between online vs. blended teaching and he responded, “I had to make that distinction because I need someone who knows how to teach and connect with students at a distance when they may never meet the kids F2F.” And as we discussed the differences and the definition of blended learning, he commented, “we are continuing to discuss the inputs of what blended learning is instead of the outputs (or outcomes).”  After reading Chris’ response, I realized the teaching and pedagogy is equally important if “true” blended learning is to work.

We want students to be lifelong learners who are interested,  engaged and excited about their learning, whether f2f, online or blended.  And we know that the difference between boring learning and engaged learning (whether first grade or high school history or college physics) always gets back to how the content is delivered – also known as teaching or pedagogy.

So, what makes an effective blended teacher?  I would suggest it includes the items listed below and many more:

  • A teacher who knows the difference between f2f teaching pedagogy and online teaching pedagogy
  • A teacher who embraces and utilizes many of the Web 2.0 tools for teaching and learning
  • A teacher who has a Personal Learning Network and is a lifelong learner (should probably be a member of Classroom 2.0 and Future of Education)
  • A teacher who utilizes online learning tools integrated into real learning and not used as an “added fun thing for kids to do.”
  • A teacher who utilizes online learning tools with students for both teaching and learning  the standards or objectives for the course
  • A teacher who utilizes online learning tools such as: email, wall postings, discussion boards, blogs, wikis, Google tools, online gradebooks, online drop boxes and many others as they pertain to the learning objectives of the class.  A longer list of online learning tools is here.

All types of learning is really about the teaching.  Behind every technology is a teacher, whether formal or informal.  Bertrand Russell, that famous philosopher best sums all of this up,

More important than the curriculum is the question of the methods of teaching and the spirit in which the teaching is given

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10 Responses to “What is “blended learning” teaching?”


  1. 1 Michael B. Horn May 26, 2011 at 8:23 am

    I like this, especially since we’re starting to dig in to how do we make it effective — a good modifier to move beyond simply the what to the how and for what objective.

  2. 2 Michael B. Horn May 26, 2011 at 8:24 am

    And by “we’re” I mean “you are” — in this post!

  3. 4 Catlin Tucker May 29, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    I agree that pedagogy is different when teaching online courses and blended courses compared to the instructional strategies used in the traditional classroom. That said, I don’t think that necessarily means the learning outcomes are entirely different given the environment in which the learning takes place.

    When I taught online writing courses, my goals were similar to those I had when teaching writing with students in my classroom. The ways in which I communicated with students was different and the strategies I used were different.

    I think the most effective blended courses are taught by teachers who seamlessly weave those two instructional mediums together to create a cohesive whole. The work online cannot be disjointed or disconnected from the work done in class. The teacher plays a pivotal role in drawing the two together and using one to drive the other.

    I would be interested in hearing other educators thoughts on how pedagogy is different when teaching a blended course vs. traditional course. What works? What has to be modified or changed in an blended course as compared to a traditional course? Do teachers feel they have the necessary support to effectively teach blended courses?

    Thanks for a thought provoking posting.

    Catlin Tucker

    • 5 Rob Darrow, Ed.D. May 31, 2011 at 5:07 am

      Hi Caitlin – I think your sentence, “the most effective blended courses are taught by teachers who seamlessly weave those two instructional mediums together to create a cohesive whole” characterizes what we mean by “blended learning” or “blended teaching”. There are differences between f2f and online teaching and it is important for all practitioners to understand this before they are saying they are doing “blended teaching.” Thanks for adding this clarity.

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