Blended Learning – Not a smoothie

blended learning pic


April 23, 2016

Now that we’ve established what blended learning is not, perhaps we should chat about what it is.

Blended learning, as defined by Knewton (2015) is “any time a student learns, at least in part, at a brick-and-mortar facility and through online delivery with student control over time, place, path or pace.”

This type of learning came to my attention while working at the regulatory agency I am employed by.  We called this type of program a “combination” program, one which was offered partially on-site and partially at a distance.  An example of how I have seen of this model in action is in health care programs where students study the theoretical component online with web-based teacher support, followed by lab-based practice sessions conducted on weekends.

As technological possibilities grow, students have more choices for how to learn.  Knewton refers to six different blended learning models:

  1. Face-to-face driver – Most of the program is delivered face-to-face by an instructor, but the instructor also employs online learning in a technology lab to supplement.
  2. Online lab – An online platform delivers the entire course, but in a brick-and-mortar location.  Often, students who participate in an online lab program also take traditional courses.
  3. Rotation – As with the example I used above, students have periods of on-line and in-class study and this is done on a schedule.
  4. Self-blend – When students choose to supplement brick-and-mortar learning with online course content (apparently popular with high school students).
  5. Flex – The curriculum of the program is taught on-line, but students can receive in-person tutoring support from instructors as needed.
  6. Online driver – All of the curriculum content is provided on-line with an instructor, but instructors also do face-to-face check-ins with students.

Technology should not be considered to be a replacement for instructors, but rather a support to them so they can focus on the “high value in-person interactions with students” as noted by Willcox, Sarma and Lippel (2016).

More than ever, well-considered curriculum development is essential.  I have seen far too many programs which did not take into consideration which parts of the program might benefit from face-to-face interaction versus on-line training.  How and when do you assess learners in each part of the program and how will the assessment tools differ (in frequency and content) between the different delivery methods?  How do you ensure students stay engaged when they are not in a classroom with peers and an instructor?  How do students access help when completing on-line content?

I have benefited from Vancouver Community College’s Provincial Instructors Diploma on-line courses.  Through integration of Skype/Facetime calls with instructors and learning partners, YouTube videos, on-line forums, real-time on-line librarian assistance (citing in APA really sucks sometimes), frequent assignment submissions and prompt instructor feedback, I have been able to continue to work full-time while honing my craft. It’s not a perfect system, but it has showed me that exceptional instruction (and instructors) don’t reside exclusively in a bricks-and-mortar classroom.



Knewton. (2015). Knewton Infographics: Blended Learning. Retrieved April 23, 2016, from Knewton:

Willcox, K. E., Sarma, S., & Lippel, P. L. (2016 , April). Online education: a catalyst for higher education reforms. Retrieved from Massachusetts Institute of Technology:



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