Blended Learning Models for Higher-Ed and K-12


blended learning models for higher-ed & k12

This series is a follow-up to the series on blended learning from last fall. Those posts, based on a course I teach regularly, discussed the basic what, why, and how of blended learning. In this new series, we will be widening the focus, starting with a discussion of different available models of blended learning for both higher-ed and K-12 schools. That will lead into a discussion of the particular benefits and drawbacks of each model. We will also be looking at the related issue of how to tailor a blended learning approach to achieve maximum benefits for all students, through personalized learning and sticky content. Finally, we will look at the opportunities to expand the reach of the blended/online course through the use of mobile technology and micro learning.

Blended Learning Models for Higher-Ed and K-12

Preparing for blended learning

Creating a successful blended learning model is based on successful pedagogy. Before looking at what model of blended learning to use, it’s important to establish the essential learning goals. There may be other desirable outcomes, such as better integration of technology, professional development of teachers, or more efficient use of personnel, but the fundamental goal and starting point should be how a revamped class or curriculum actually helps the learning process.

Keeping that priority in mind helps in reaching more grounded decisions about issues such as technology integration/investment or staffing levels and training. Focusing on improvement in student learning also means that learning assessment should be built into the planning process. Something more than anecdotal evidence will be needed to show all stakeholders (including parents and accrediting agencies/supervisory bodies) that the new model is working.

In re-examining learning outcomes, it’s important to make sure that those outcomes are measurable and that they correspond to current research in the field, both in the discipline and in educational methodologies. The process of moving from a traditional delivery mode to a hybrid or online format is an optimal time to assess both content and pedagogy.

While technology is likely to play a significant role in a hybrid course, it makes little sense to simply digitize existing materials and carry on with traditional instructional methods. Early online courses often consisted of posted PowerPoint slides and digitized readings, not a recipe for successful engaged student interactions.

Interactive content is needed which integrates multimedia and user interactions, as is possible to create with SoftChalk or other interactive content creation tools. How digital content is to be integrated into the learning environment should evolve logically out of the learning outcomes and strategies.

Focusing on local needs

An important factor to consider in the planning process are local conditions, such as teacher experience/expertise, technology infrastructure, and, possibly, curricular mandates from governing bodies. However, the most important factor is the nature of the student population, as that may have a major impact on which model of blended learning is most appropriate. Those considerations include the following:

  • The age range and maturity level of the students
  • The degree of homogeneity of the student population in terms of learning
  • The socioeconomic range represented by student families

Age/maturity will influence the degree of needed learner independence, which varies with the different models. The extent of diversity within the student population will be a factor in how much customized instruction will be needed or whether a one-size-fits-all configuration will suffice. The socio-economic status will likely affect the availability of technology at home, including Internet access. The expectations for at home online work vary according to the model used.

In considering these models, one should keep in mind that they do not necessarily cover all situations. Some contexts might need creative mixed models which combine elements of several of those described below or introduce whole new configurations.

Model 1: Flipped Classroom Model (Popular in Higher Ed)

This is the blended learning model most often used in higher-ed. In this model, any content presentation is done online, not during class meetings. That means that lectures or presentations are recorded and digitized and made available on a course website, most often using a learning management system, such as Blackboard, Moodle, or Canvas.

Class time is used for active learning through class discussion, small group work, or other intensive student-to-student interactions. Students work through course content at their own time and at their own pace. They are able, for example,  to pause digital video and play back passages as needed.

Face-to-face meetings are more dynamic and productive, in that students interact both with the content they have worked through at home and with other students in the class. This adds a crucial social learning component to the classroom.

Flipped Classrooms are popular blended learning models for higher ed due to the increased flexibility/retention in student use of learning content and in the greater degree of interactivity this approach brings to face-to-face class sessions.

Model 2: Rotating Stations (Popular in K12)

This approach is seen most often in K-12 environments. While there may be some whole class activities, particularly at the beginning or the end of class sessions, for most of the class time, students will rotate through a series of stations, either individually or as a small group. Those stations may involve use of computers or tablets, students working through tutorials or other digital learning content.

Other stations may not involve technology at all, but rather focus on small group discussions, one-on-one tutoring, or even playing learning games. A case study of how this model was implemented successfully in a K-12 school district in California is discussed in a white paper from Future Ready Schools. That school system had a wide diversity of student backgrounds and found that the stations model provided the flexibility and individualized instruction that worked best for their context.

Rotating stations are popular blended learning models for K12 environments because they increase the variety of learning activities and allow for instruction to be customized to student needs.

Model 3: Semi-autonomous Learners

In this model, students work mostly independently through course content, with assistance on an as-needed basis. This is different from a totally online course in that help and additional instruction is provided by physically present tutors, teachers, or computer lab assistants.

One variant of this approach is the Flex model, in which students do most of their work in a computer lab. The Graduation Alliance, which specializes in students with behavioral or learning problems, has used this approach successfully in a format in which students work in a computer lab with teachers available. This set-up is well-suited to students taking classes part-time. That might include high school students taking one or two classes through a virtual school program or adult learners enrolled in a work-related course.

The degree of assistance available in such cases will vary. In some situations, there may be regularly scheduled help, tutoring, or check-in sessions, while in others assistance and supervision are supplied only as requested.

Other blended learning models are available as well, such as outlined in a list from TeachThought or in another group from Blended Learning Universe. Common to all models is a combination of online and face-to-face learning, with the optimal set-up taking maximum advantage of both environments. That means that in actual class meetings, time is not used for tasks better done digitally, such as content presentation or drill/practice exercises. Class time is used instead for clarifying content presented, delving deeper into topics, and providing opportunities for open discussions.

In the next post we will be looking at how these different models benefit students, teachers, and schools—and what it takes in each case to be successful.

See our Sample Interactives page for examples of activities and quizzes you can create with SoftChalk for use in these blended learning models.

About Robert Godwin-Jones, Ph.D.:  Robert Godwin-Jones, Ph.D., is a founding partner and responsible for product research and design. Prior to SoftChalk, Robert was a founding partner of madDuck Technologies where he was a co-developer of the Web Course in a Box Learning
Management System. He is the former Director of the Instructional Development Center at Virginia Commonwealth University and is currently a faculty member in their School of World Studies. His principal areas of research are in applied linguistics and international studies. He writes a regular column on emerging technologies for the peer-reviewed journal Language Learning & Technology ( and blogs on intercultural communication at

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