Is blended learning different?

Is blended learning different at the college level than in K-12 education?  Should the definition of blended learning be different at the college level than in K-12 education?

For years, many colleges and university education departments have had a tension with K-12 education.  Generally speaking, college professors share theories and ideas about education while the practitioners are in K-12 education and generally, the two worlds stay separate.  But with online learning and blended learning, does a similar separation need to exist?  Are the way online learning and blended learning courses delivered different in colleges and K-12 education?

Let’s look at how curriculum is generally delivered at the different levels of education in relation to blended learning.  In the face-to-face (f2f) world, the primary delivery method of instruction at the college level is the lecture, while the delivery method of instruction in K-12 can range from lecture to group discussion to simulation to group work to discovery learning.  Many would suggest that in the elementary school grades, K-6, where teachers teach the same group of students all day long, teachers vary curriculum delivery throughout the day utilizing a variety of strategies depending on the subject and students.  In grades 7-8, depending on how the day is scheduled, students may have short one hour courses which may be primarily lecture.  At the high school level, it appears that the lecture is the primary instructional delivery method, similar to college.

I have been wrestling with the definition of blended learning and whether we all have to agree on its definition.  Allen, Seaman & Garrett refer to this definition of blended learning and spend time examining blended and online learning at the college level.

Blended/hybrid course: courses that blend online and face-to-face delivery where a substantial proportion (30% to 79%) of the content is delivered online. (Allen, Seaman & Garrett, 2007. http://sloanconsortium.org/publications/survey/index.asp)

Horn & Staker refer to this definition of blended learning and have spent their time examining blended and online learning at the K-12 level.

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/).

There are many aspects of teaching, whether f2f, blended or online including the structure and infrastructure, technology, system, the teacher, the curriculum, pedagogy, instructional strategies, etc.

I wonder if, when classifying blended learning at the college level, Allen, Seaman & Garrett were thinking of lecture as the course delivery method?  And did they come up with their definition before sending out surveys to colleges across the U.S. or did the definition grow from the surveys.  From all I can tell, Allen & Seaman created this definition as part of one of their first surveys in 2003.  At the K-12 level, I can understand why Staker & Horn arrived at their definition.  When one looks at the range of blended learning structures from K-6 to 7-8 to high school, it is difficult to identify one main definition.  It appears their definition grew from the various firsthand observations and case studies they undertook.

Should there be a different definition of blended (or online) learning and teaching in K-12 education and college?

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4 Responses to “Is blended learning different?”


  1. 1 brian bridges May 31, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    Great post. I was also in the Sloan camp, as it seemed to be the only place to park a definition, for the past year. However, the Blended Learning document’s definition is more inclusive of all online learning that may take place in a brick-and-mortar school. The six models Staker and Horn found run the gamut from supplementary to full-time online courses.

    I’m wondering if we need a new definition. No, really. I wonder if we need to use the word “virtual course” to refer to courses that are totally delivered online without a face-to-face school or physical school attendance. Yes, one of the Staker models does refer to full-time online, but a new definition regarding virtual courses may help.

    But then, I’m still new at this.

  2. 2 Rob Darrow, Ed.D. May 31, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    Thanks, Brian. I think we definitely need to refine the definition so people know what we’re talking about. Perhaps some type of online course or blended online course matrix?

  3. 3 Beatris June 4, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    I love what you guys tend to be up too. Such clever work and reporting!
    Keep up the excellent works guys I’ve included you guys to my own blogroll.


  1. 1 The components of blended learning « California Dreamin' by Rob Darrow Trackback on June 1, 2011 at 5:56 am

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