"Blended learning" has become the term that captures the notion that student learn -- at least in part -- in an online environment, which is supervised by an adult. Blended learning is different than "casual learning," which is learning outside the school system that is unstructured and unsupervised. Students in "blended" environments take tests and are assessed on how much they have learned. But the key to the concept has to do with the "personalized" nature of learning: that technology makes it possible for students who either learn differently or have different interests to encounter material presented in a way that is engaging and meaningful to them.
The trend of creating "blended" environments is on the uptick: In the year 2000, approximately 45,000 K-12 students took an online course. According to the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, 75% of US school districts had one or more students enrolled in a blended learning course in 2010. (see iNACOL Fast Facts). iNACOL also reports: "In 2010, over 4 million k-12 students took part in a formal online learning program (including 217,000 students in cyber charter schools). Online learning enrollments are growing by 46% a year and the growth rate is accelerating."
The use of the term "blended" learning has been popularized through works such as The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning by Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker of the Innosight Institute. (Some people use the term "blended" programs or schools interchangeably with the term "hybrid." Of the two terms, "blended" learning is evolving more nuanced descriptions while "hybrid" is simply a descriptive term.)
Here's a clever video overview of blended learning, from the school consultancy, Education Elements.
Here's an index of recent articles on blended learning from the personal blog of Scott Benson, who is also a program manager at the Gates Foundation.
From a school's vantage, there are a number of ways to introduce blended learning into the classroom. In their report, Horn and Staker describe a half dozen archetypes of "blended learning" models. (See subtopics below).
In November 2011, nonprofit research firm SRI International released a year-long (school year 2010-2011) analysis of how the Miami-Dade County public school district—one of the largest in the county and they Florida Virtual School—a state-wide, Internet-based public high school with the highest enrollment in the country--introduced blended learning. The SRI researchers collected information on 5,500 students in 38 public high schools through surveys, interviews, focus groups, and site visits to seven schools.
Here is a copy of the full report, called Implementing Online Learning Labs in Schools and Districts.
"We found that how schools implement blended learning—such as orientation sessions to prepare students and staff for what may be a new style of learning—makes a huge difference in student experiences and ultimately on student outcomes," said Marianne Bakia, Ph.D., senior policy analyst at SRI International’s Center for Technology in Learning and lead author of the report. "This report provides a guide and starting point for high schools implementing a mix of online and classroom learning. In addition, the report provides research-based recommendations for schools with traditionally underserved students and offers recommendations for new, targeted efforts to help support student success.
For the most part, schools in late 2011 are still exploring their own interpretations of blended learning models.
As of late 2011, blended learning models were still a work-in-progress. The Innosight report catalogued 44 programs.
The charter school program, Rocketship Learning, in San Jose, for instance, relies on a learning lab environment.
By contrast, middle schools in New York City iZone are experimenting with having all students work on a computer program for a specific amount of time (say, 50 minutes) while a teacher provides 1:1 help to students who are struggling. Alternatively, they have also tried splitting a class into halves: one group works independently on computers while the teacher provides small-group instruction to the second half.
For a solo teacher to both conduct small group instruction and be available to troubleshoot problems of students with computers is tricky.