School & District Management

New Report Seeks to Clarify ‘Blended Learning’ Confusion

By Katie Ash — May 17, 2011 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

What exactly does “blended learning” mean?

Experts often concede that the term—which describes a mix of face-to-face and online learning—is defined numerous ways by different organizations and people.

A new report published by the Mountain View, Calif.-based Innosight Institute seeks to clear up the confusion and provide a working definition of blended learning, along with a framework for mapping and defining blended-learning models.

The report also profiles 40 different blended-learning organizations that are currently supporting 48 different models of blended-learning environments, and it describes six different models that such programs fit into.

Policy recommendations at the end of the report say that all programs, including online-only and blended models, should receive equivalent funding provided that students are successful, and that if a program yields cost savings, those should be reinvested in education savings accounts for students.

The report also draws on the policy guidelines from the Digital Learning Now! framework spearheaded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, which recommend, for example, eliminating caps on enrollments for online or blended-learning environments, lifting rules that dictate class-size and pupil-teacher ratios, and moving away from models based on “seat time” in favor of ones based on competency.

“This report really added a lot because people have struggled with what exactly blended learning means,” said Matthew Wicks, the vice president of strategy and organization development for the Vienna, Va.-based International Association for K-12 Online Learning, or iNACOL. “Having those six specific models and types of blended learning are really helpful along with the definition.”

Blended learning, according to the report, is a model in which a student learns, at least in part, at a supervised physical location away from home and through online delivery where the student has control over the time, place, path, and/or the pace of the curriculum.

The report was written by Heather C. Staker, a senior research fellow for Education Practice at the Innosight Institute, a nonprofit think tank that aims to apply theories of “disruptive innovation” to various social challenges in the United States. The report received support from the Charter School Growth Fund, based in Broomfield, Colo., which invests in high-performing charter school operators to support their expansion in serving K-12 students.

The 40 profiles, which are based on data from the 2010-11 school year, survey blended-learning models in 21 states, but should not be read as a comprehensive list nor as an endorsement of the chosen programs, the report says.

The concept of disruptive innovation was coined by Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen and suggests that innovative shifts occur when simple, more affordable, and more convenient alternatives crop up in a sector with expensive, complicated, and inaccessible products and services.

This theory, argues the Innosight Institute, applies to online learning in K-12 education.

Prescriptions Questioned

Some education observers took issue with the report’s prescriptions.

“If the policy recommendations in [the report] were taken seriously, ... half a dozen large private companies like K12 Inc. would have a clear path toward hundreds of millions of dollars of public education funding,” said Gene V. Glass, a senior researcher at the National Education Policy Center, the University of Colorado at Boulder’s policy-research organization. “The ‘blend’ we see lobbied for here is a blend of public monies and private profit-seeking.”

If the policy recommendations in [the report] were taken seriously, ... half a dozen large private companies like K12 Inc. would have a clear path toward hundreds of millions of dollars of public education funding.”

Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters, a New York City-based nonprofit group aiming to gather information about class size in schools, echoed Mr. Glass’ concerns.

The push toward blended learning is motivated by two factors, said Ms. Haimson: “There’s a huge industry out there that’s dying to make money, and there’s the idea that in the long run this will save money on teachers”—a claim that so far does not have research to substantiate it, she said.

“There should be small-scale, careful pilots before foisting this on the school systems throughout the country,” said Ms. Haimson. “Otherwise, this is a very costly, large-scale experiment on our children.”

Online-learning experts, however, praised the report’s findings and information.

“The report provides an important overview of the emerging field of how online and blended learning are beginning to provide personalized learning experiences in a range of 40 different settings,” said Susan D. Patrick, the president and chief executive officer of iNACOL.

The profiles in the report include a chart of information that details how each organization is managed (through a charter or through the state education department, for example), where it is based, what grades it serves, how much it costs, what content providers it uses, and its enrollment, among other factors.

Next, the report goes into detail about the history and context of each organization, how exactly the program fits into the “blended” learning model, the results it has achieved so far, and where the program is likely to go in the future.

Propelled by budget concerns and the prospect of teacher shortages, blended learning has the potential to transform K-12 education, the report argues.

“Online learning has the potential to be a disruptive force that will transform the factory-like, monolithic structure that has dominated America’s schools into a new model that is student-centric, highly personalized for each learner, and more productive,” it says.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the May 18, 2011 edition of Education Week as New Report Seeks to Clarify ‘Blended Learning’ Confusion


English-Language Learners Webinar The Science of Reading and Multilingual Learners: What Educators Need to Know
Join experts in reading science and multilingual literacy to discuss what the latest research means for multilingual learners in classrooms adopting a science of reading-based approach.
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Get a Strong Start to the New School Year
Get insights and actions from Education Week journalists and expert guests on how to start the new school year on strong footing.
Reading & Literacy Webinar A Roadmap to Multisensory Early Literacy Instruction: Accelerate Growth for All Students 
How can you develop key literacy skills with a diverse range of learners? Explore best practices and tips to meet the needs of all students. 

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion You're an Educator. What Can You Stop Doing This Year?
Teachers and education leaders often feel stretched for time. Here are 9 ways to rethink your schedule.
5 min read
CartoonStock 543822 CS458303
Cartoon Stock
School & District Management Top Tips for New Assistant Principals From Those Who've Been There
Nurture relationships, learn on the job, take care of yourself—and other key advice.
5 min read
Image of leaders as a central figures to a variety of activities in motion.
Laura Baker/Education Week and gobyg/DigitalVision Vectors
School & District Management L.A. Cracks Down on Homeless Encampments Near Schools, Over the Jeers of Protesters
Under the new restrictions, homeless people would be prohibited from setting up tents within 500 feet of every public and private school.
David Zahniser and Benjamin Oreskes, Los Angeles Times
5 min read
A homeless camp in downtown Los Angeles pictured on Sept. 17, 2019. A proposal to greatly restrict where homeless people may camp in Los Angeles drew protest at a City Council meeting from demonstrators who fear the rules would criminalize homelessness.
A homeless camp in downtown Los Angeles. A proposal to greatly restrict where homeless people may camp in Los Angeles drew protest at a City Council meeting from demonstrators who fear the rules would criminalize homelessness.
Damian Dovarganes/AP
School & District Management Statistics Update: New Trends in Enrollment, Virtual Schooling, and Special Education
New data in EdWeek's statistics pages point to changes in where students are attending school and the services they're getting.
Conceptual image of allocation.
Lea Toews/iStock/Getty