Blended Learning Programs to Watch

In the three years since the U.S. Department of Education published a meta-analysis of research indicating that blended learning — which combines face- to-face with online education — was more effective than either approach on its own, a wide variety of organizations have launched blended learning initiatives. Most of the ground-breaking blended learning programs (also known as hybrid learning programs) that are making news these days are charter schools because of the flexibility such schools are given to experiment beyond the normal constraints of geography, time and class size.

Two philanthropic foundations have recently thrown their support to a wide range of blended/hybrid charter schools now in the planning or early implementation phase. In 2011, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation awarded five $200,000 one-year grants to hybrid charter schools aimed at creating case studies to explain each school's educational methods and results. Through its Next Generation Learning Challenges grants, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is also funding charters that promise to “combine the best aspects of brick and mortar and online learning and result in more personalized, mastery based learning” for students in grades 6-12; in February, 2012, the foundation awarded five $150,000 grants to secondary schools, with additional awards to be announced in May and September.

Following Their Progress

Although there is not yet extensive research coming from either of these organizations about the effectiveness of the approaches they are sponsoring, one of their goals is to create a growing body of evidence to shape future endeavors. In the meantime, all who are interested in blended learning would do well to keep an eye on the programs that are receiving support to see what can be learned from their successes and struggles.

The Dell Foundation has declined to provide much information about the programs it is funding until the case studies are complete but its web site does indicate five programs that have been awarded $200,000 grants to support the development of a “personalized learning model for the 2011-12 school year.” They are:

The first round of Next Generation Wave III winners announced by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are as follows:

Recommendations from Michael Horn

Michael Horn, co-author of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns and a co-founder and executive director of the Innosight Institute, is another fan of blended learning, which he says allows schools to cut back on costs while encouraging a “student- centric model of learning where students can move at their own path and pace to boost student outcomes.”

Blended-learning school programs Horn holds up as examples include:

  • KIPP Empower Academy in Los Angeles, a high-performing, blended-learning school where primary grade students rotate between individualized online-learning, and small-group stations within each classroom.
  • Carpe Diem, a blended model, now expanding from Arizona to Indiana, serving middle and high school students who rotate from online learning for concept introduction and instruction to face-to-face for reinforcement and application.
  • The Los Altos School District in California where a blended learning approach to middle-grade math is built around the Khan Academy’s online videos, supplemented by targeted intervention, flexible groupings, and student collaboration.
  • Quakertown Community School District (QCS) in Pennsylvania that has created a “self-blend” learning environment in which students, grades 6-12, have the option to take one or more online courses taught by district teachers
  • Alliance College-Ready BLAST School, whose video demonstrating an approach to blended learning Horn recommends.
Sources: Variety of Models Fuels Hybrid Charter Growth, by Ian Quillen, Education Week, and Bright Spots Shine in Blended, Online Learning by Michael Horn, EducationNext.
Relevant Research and Reports

The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning — Profiles of emerging models

Innosight Institute, May 2011

Describing online and blended learning as "classic disruptive innovation[s] with the potential not just to improve the current model of education delivery, but to transform it," this report defines and examines different models of blended learning and takes an in-depth look at numerous blended learning programs with information about their history, approach taken, costs and documented results.

Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies
US. Department of Education, 2009

This report analyzed 46 scientifically-based studies of online learning, concluding that instruction conducted wholly online was more effective in improving student achievement than purely face-to-face instruction but that the most effective approaches involved blended instruction.

To Watch:

Mathematica Policy Research's project to track results at KIPP Foundation schools. Ongoing through 2014, this project will follow the progress of the KIPP schools, some of which are incorporating a blended learning model.

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