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Why Does Blended Learning Work?

This was originally posted to eLearning Industry June 3, 2019

Blended Learning And Reasons Why It Does Work

Blended learning—an instructional approach that combines traditional face-to-face instruction with online methods—is an idea that has been kicking around for a while, ever since the rise of the internet. Now, decades later, online and blended approaches still have their skeptics [1]. However, a growing body of research, including the US Department of Education’s 2009 meta-analysis of research on online learning [2], leans strongly in favor of blended learning as a way to increase participation and performance.

That’s enough to get us excited about the possibilities of blended learning. But what is it about this special blend of onsite and online learning that so powerfully impacts learners?

Blended Learning: A Special Blend Of Onsite And Online

Blended learning succeeds when there is a strong alignment between instructional strategies and learning objectives. This is true for any type of training. The advantage of a blended approach is that it presents a wider range of instructional tools and methods, enabling the instructor to deploy more tailor-made tactics for each specific learning objective.

For example, learners taught through blended methods might spend time online being introduced to content, taking quizzes, and chatting with their instructor and classmates about their ideas and questions; meanwhile, valuable face-to-face meetings could be reserved for skills practice, coaching, and team building. The learning activities performed in one setting complement those performed in the other.

Fine-tuning the right blend of onsite and online strategies takes effort, but the learning experience that results can fulfill some of the most elusive instructional goals:

Promote Self-Directed Learning

One of the fundamental promises of online education is that learners can be empowered with on-demand access to learning materials, tools, and experiences. Blended learning delivers on this promise, meeting learners where they are; between meetings while riding the bus, or during a late-night study session. It enables them to pace their learning according to their availability, curiosity, and comfort level will new knowledge and skills.

Unlike other online experiences, blended learning does all of this without sacrificing the instructor’s role in offering guidance and mentorship throughout the learning experience.

Increase Participation

It’s generally assumed that eLearning undercuts the active learning that can take place when instructors and learners interact face-to-face. In reality, classroom teaching often privileges the voices and needs of a few extroverted learners while failing to fully engage the silent majority. Additionally, the time constraints of large group meetings rarely allow for focused, personal interaction and deep conversation.

A blended approach, on the other hand, adds to the classroom experience an array of synchronous and asynchronous communication channels, including social media, that can facilitate dialogue among groups or between individuals. And while it might seem counterintuitive, blended learning has actually been cited as a factor in increasing attendance in the associated classroom sessions [3].

Enhance Instructors’ Role

Many online programs are criticized for attempting to replace human instructors with technological tools and pre-prepared materials. The reasoning is that these resources, no matter how well prepared they are, can never offer the sensitivity and insight of a qualified expert.

Blended learning not only retains a role for the instructor but enhances this role both onsite and online. By using high-quality technology and media to present content, facilitate assessments, and track learners’ progress, the instructor is freed up to invest attention and expertise where it is most needed: providing one-on-one coaching for struggling students, giving detailed performance feedback, sharing professional insights, and organizing engaging interactions onsite and online.

Meet The Challenge

The benefits are clear but implementing a blended learning program can be an overwhelming enterprise. Even when technology infrastructure is in place, this doesn’t guarantee that instructors or learners are prepared to use these tools. And the rigor of focusing as much on how to teach, rather than simply choosing what to teach, can challenge even experienced instructors who have become over-reliant on their expertise and charisma to “wing it” in a traditional classroom setting.

For these reasons, the most successful blended learning programs tend to be the product of teaching teams rather than lone instructors. Forming partnerships with information technology, content development, and Instructional Design resources is the best way to ensure your program takes full advantage of a blended approach.


[1] Skepticism Abounds: A Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology

[2] Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies

[3] Higher academic performance in an Asian University: replacing traditional lecturing with blended learning