CC BY-SA 4.0, Horizon Education Network, 2020.

Blended Learning

Blended learning combines traditional face-to-face instruction with online instruction in a more robust way than simply adding a learning management system (LMS) like Moodle to a face-to-face course. In blended learning, some of the time that would otherwise have been spent in the classroom is now spent online.

Blended learning means respecting the true value of conventional methods – such as seminars, tutorials, projects, labs, field trips, physical materials. And it means acknowledging the extraordinary power and flexibility of digital technologies. How can the two be thoughtfully integrated to give education the power and flexibility it needs in order to play its proper role in 21st century life? [1]

Diana Laurillard

Blended learning can take a variety of formats. In a flipped classroom model, students study the course material online and come into the physical classroom periodically to focus on application of the material. The classroom time becomes more of a laboratory to put what they are learning into practice. In a counseling course, this might look like reading about the theory and watching a video of a specific counseling technique online, then coming into the classroom to role play that technique with another student and then discuss the role play. The classroom time is not primarily about lecture; instead it might include discussion, role play, group activities, or student presentations.

Another blended learning model is where students come to campus for a short period of time for several intensive face-to-face sessions, but then complete the rest of the module in an online format. For example, students might come to campus for evening sessions during one week, but then spend the next seven weeks reading, participating in discussion forums, and submitting papers online. The face-to-face component might or might not be the first part of the course; students could also do some preparatory reading in the weeks leading up to the face-to-face time.

Blended learning models are quite flexible and can be used to make learning convenient for both the faculty and the students. If a faculty member is available to teach during seven of the eight weeks that a course is scheduled to run, but has to be out of town at a conference during the eighth week, a blended learning approach could mean holding face-to-face sessions for seven weeks and running the eighth week online.

Although it is possible to make decisions about what learning activities will be done face-to-face and what activities will be done online based simply on what is most convenient, the best blended learning occurs when course designers and teachers think strategically about the strengths and weaknesses of each modality and chose the modality that will maximize student learning. Some topics may be so complex that the teacher prefers to explain them in person when she can see if her students are struggling to understand. Other topics may be easier to understand and students could easily read about them online to save class time for application. Some topics may be better to discuss in person, for example, if students are going to debate two sides of an issue. Other topics may be better to discuss in an online forum so that all students have a chance to contribute. There is no back row in an online forum! Some skills are simply easier to evaluate in person—giving a speech to a live audience in a classroom is a different skill than giving a speech to a webcam. The key is to think through each of the learning activities and decide if it would be better handled during the face-to-face time or better handled during the online time and to plan the blended course accordingly.


[1] Diana Laurillard, “Thinking about blended learning: A paper for the Thinkers in Residence programme.” Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts (2014), p. 3. Retrieved from http://drupalcordoba.webhosting.be/sites/default/rest/blobs/101/DP_BlendedLearning_Thinking-about.pdf.