“New” Blended Learning Definition

Heather Staker and Michael Horn have done an admirable job of further defining “blended learning” in their latest white paper from the Innosight Institute.  Creating a definition that illustrates something that is not clearly known by those not in the field is a challenging task.  As I have shared in various presentations, it is critical for us to define blended learning so that we know what it looks like so we can study it and we can teach others.  This new iteration of the definition is getting closer to the essence of blended learning. I have bolded and changed the color of the parts of the definition that changed from the definition a year ago (also listed below):

Blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online delivery of content and instruction with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace and at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home.  (Horn & Staker, 2012)

The previous definition was:

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)

Their new report illustrates why the definition was changed: to “distinguish blended learning from informal online learning such as playing educational video games” and to “distinguish online learning from using only Internet tools.”  I think there are other reasons adding in the terms “formal education” and “online delivery of content and instruction” are important because it suggests that for blended learning to be effective, it needs someone to guide the education or put together the content or provide some type of instruction…and that “someone” is a teacher.  The type of blended learning that most would agree is effective is one that includes an effective teacher.  Yes, students can learn through computer assisted programs (such as Plato or Education 2020 or Apex Learning and others), but for these programs to be effective, there is almost always a teacher or other educator encouraging and motivating the student.  And, Yes, Horn and Staker explain that their purpose is to define blended learning and that there can be “good and bad” blended learning, just like there is good and bad face-to-face teaching.

Horn and Staker in this report explain that this definition is from the student perspective.  After I read that, I thought, “Ok, so what would the definition of blended teaching and learning be from the teacher perspective?”  Based on studying the variety of definitions of blended learning, reading the iNacol report about quality online course standards, and working to illustrate exactly what “blended learning” looks like (see illustration below), I have taken a stab at defining blended learning from the teacher perspective.

Blended Learning Continuum Illustrated








Here is what I believe the definition of “blended teaching and learning” is from the teacher perspective:

Blended Learning is a pedagogical approach facilitated by a teacher where students have some control over their learning; and the teacher seamlessly incorporates the use of online learning tools (e.g. discussion boards, online collaboration, blogs, etc.), technology tools (computers, digital white boards, cameras, etc.), and face-to-face instruction so that instruction and learning can be accessed at any time by the student through multiple electronic devices.  (Darrow, 2012)

Tomorrow…a discussion of the updated models of blended learning.


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