By Jessica Kelmon, Senior Editor
Not sure what the heck "blended learning" means? Well no wonder — the meaning can range from a few students sometimes using a computer to all students basically teaching themselves online.
Here's the quick-'n'-dirty on the six variations of blended learning that you may see at your child's school – plus a great infographic courtesy of Dreambox Learning below. One thing is for sure: blended learning now describes almost any situation that blends technology into the learning process. Take a look...
Type 1: Face-to-face driver
Looks like: Kids in class with a teacher. Some kids use a computer a little bit.
Typically, you'd see this… on a case-by-case basis. Teachers use face-to-face driver as an extra tool or boost for students who are struggling with one concept or in one subject.
Evidence of success: A 2009 study showed this model — specifically 3rd and 5th grade teachers using an interactive whiteboard to explain math and reading concepts — boosted the test scores of ELL students who were falling behind on certain concepts because of their language barrier.
Type 2: Rotation
Looks like: Kids rotating — independently or in small groups — between fixed learning stations. For example: one with the teacher, one using computers, one doing group work, etc.
Typically, you'd see this...most of the time. In fact, 80 percent of California elementary schools that use any sort of blended learning use the rotation model.
Motivation booster: At one group of Title 1 schools in Texas, the rotation model boosted achievement — and the math program they used online in tandem with their classroom learning made kids more active learners: the students worked harder and tried new math concepts before they were introduced by the teacher.
Type 3: Flex
Looks like: Kids sitting at computers, with teachers floating around the room to help. Teachers also lead group discussions (without computers). But the majority of time, kids' eyes are on the screen in front of them.
Typically you'd see this… at an alternative school or one geared toward at-risk students.
Happy customer: A parent review of the San Francisco-based Flex Academy from earlier this year explained, "The Flex model may not work for every student — but for kids who work well independently, who may not flourish within the super-heated social scene of most high schools, and [who] can cultivate the kind of discipline and focus required for college work, Flex can be a tremendously nurturing and successful environment!"
Type 4: The online lab
Looks like: A media lab full of kids, all working independently on different subjects. There are adults supervising, but these adults aren't necessarily teachers.
Typically you'd see this… at a school or district doing its best to counteract budget cuts and carry on without enough teachers. Students may spend their entire school day in an online lab, self-directing their way through all subjects — with minimal interaction with teachers unless they need help.
Studies show: Based on a case study of 56 participating middle and high schools in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools Virtual Learning Lab pilot program, effective online labs seat 30-40 students and are staffed by (at least) one on-site facilitator.
Type 5: Self-blend
Looks like: Students (on their laptops) at home, in the library, or at a coffee shop who attend a traditional school and use their free periods or out-of-school time to take an additional online course or two.
Typically you'd see this… as a tactic for highly self-motivated high schoolers who want to take a course not offered on campus — like AP Stats.
Path to college: Many universities offer online courses for high schoolers who are eager to get started. The early college program at the University of Alabama, for example, is open to any sophomore, junior, or senior with at least a 3.0 GPA.
Type 6: Online driver
Looks like: Students working primarily independently on their own schedule through their course curriculum — which is completely online.
Typically you'd see… students who don't attend traditional school, but instead are trying a self-directed approach to education. Technically, they are likely homeschooling, attending a school like Fusion, or enrolled in an online school.
Growing popularity: Between online homeschooling options, MOOCs, and the like, this new model of education is gaining popularity — by about 15 percent a year.
Not seeing your school's approach? Despite this range of scenarios, some schools don't quite fit. Fusion, for instance, is a mix of 6 (online driver) and 4 (online lab) — but with intensive, in-person, one-on-one help from a teacher. Our recent profile of Unity High School's math program reveals a mix of 3 (flex) and 6 (online driver) — with a dash of the not-quite-flipped classroom model. (At Unity, students watch lectures online in the media lab and work on problems together in class.) Then there are the Rocketship charter schools in Silicon Valley, which may be a sort of 1-2-3 combo: face-to-face driver (but for all kids) — rotation (but with a lot of tech stations) — flex (but with kids working on the same subjects together).
The lines are blurry, the mix eclectic – and, in the future, likely to blend even more.
Guess that's why we call it blended learning.