Learning Unit

Blended Learning

Time: 75 min    Goal: Prepare a blended learning session

  • #Amy Hutchison
  • #Blended Learning
  • #Blended Learning Design
  • #Blended Learning Expert
  • #Blended Learning Instruction
  • #Blended Learning Strategy
  • #Examples
  • #Experiences
  • #Interview
  • #Learning Techniques
  • #Method
  • #Talk
Time: 20 min

What is Blended Learning?

Blended learning combines face-to-face and online interaction and is an innovative approach to course design. It also changes the relationship between time spent in and out of class. Blended learning incorporates the strengths of both face-to-face and online interactions to promote student engagement and help learners achieve their goals. The course design process should take into account planning the course, identifying which content should be taught in the classroom, deciding the balance between face-to-face and online learning, aims and outcomes, encouraging active and collaborative learning, and building a learning community. Follow the link for a full description.

What is Blended Learning?

Blended learning is a course design approach that fundamentally restructures class hours and the course environment by integrating face-to-face and online interaction. Blended learning leverages the strengths of online and face-to-face interactions to promote student engagement and help achieve the learning goals of the course. The blended learning course design process focuses on:

  • Developing a conscious, pre-planned, and streamlined blended course plan unique for your course
  • Questioning what is necessary to do in the classroom and how face-to-face hours are best used
  • Thinking outside the box of both the traditional in-class lecture and only online-based learning
  • Redesigning based on learning goals and expected student outcomes, rather than content
  • Focusing on active student learning and collaboration
  • Sustaining an engaged classroom community beyond the confines of a traditional classroom
REFERENCE + LICENSE: The text “What is Blended Learning?” by Steel Wagstaff, University of Wisconsin Pressbooks, via,  is licensed under CC BY 4.0, shortened by SEA-EU.

Instruction to Blended Learning?

While it has recently come to much greater prominence, blended learning itself (or the concept of blended learning) isn’t brand new. Blended learning pedagogy and course design borrow keys ideas from good general teaching pedagogy: engage students with the course materials, make good use of the in-class and out-of-class time for both instructors and students, design courses and syllabi based on learning goals and outcomes that you hope the students will achieve, and provide outlets for doing and sharing that help students reach these learning goals. In a face-to-face setting as well as in a blended environment, students won’t learn as well if you don’t engage them with the material and make them active participants in their own learning.

Blended learning also considers the “geography” of learning (where learning happens) and asks us as instructors to reconsider the traditional instructor-centered classroom. Blended learning initiatives ask us to reflect on, retool, and then reformat our classrooms. Instead of the limited traditional classroom space, the blended learning environment leverages online and out-of-class spaces that respond better to the ever-changing and ever-evolving needs of the students. Blended learning models also help us to move outside of thinking of the lecture in only a very traditional, hour-long lecture format. The possibilities of the blended learning environment point to a more active classroom environment or online learning space that engage the students with the content material in an interesting, refined, and targeted way.

REFERENCE + LICENSE: The text “Instruction to Blended Learning” by Steel Wagstaff, University of Wisconsin Pressbooks, via, is licensed under CC BY 4.0, shortened by SEA-EU.

Educational Innovation at UW-Madison: Fundamental Frameworks

Erin McCloskey, Director of Curriculum, Distance Education Professional Development at the UW Division of Continuing Studies, describes key concepts and provides fundamental background information regarding distinctions between online and blended learning.

License: The video introduction by Steel Wagstaff, University of Wisconsin Pressbooks, via, is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

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Time: 15 min

Blended Learning Design Approaches

The blended learning environment has a number of critical elements. For example, a design that leads to open communication, trust, and critical reflection and discussion. But how do you create a blended learning course or module with all these in mind? How do you identify the fundamental learning goals? How do you ensure that your lessons and the tasks you assign actually help students achieve these goals?

For this, it is helpful to consider a few well outlined and defined instructional design approaches that can guide you toward these goals. All of these approaches offer a conceptual framework for thinking about your students’ learning and a rough template for how you might begin with planning your course. While each approach offers a slightly different set of instructional design principles, you will notice that there can be quite a bit of overlap between elements of the various approaches that borrow from similar teaching pedagogies. All of these approaches are not necessarily unique to blended learning course design and highlight good pedagogical practices and course design for any learning environment. Given that, keep in mind that none of these are strictly prescriptive and are flexible design outlines; it is entirely possible to blend parts of multiple approaches into your own unique design approach that is the best combination for your personal course design needs.

Backward Design

Backward design diagram
University of Indiana Center for Teaching & Learning

Backward design is an approach that makes learning outcomes the driver of course design decisions. The central question in backward design is “What do you want your students to know and be able to do by the end of your course?” The backward design process guides the instructor to ask and answer the following (in this order):

  1. Identify desired results
  2. Determine acceptable evidence, and finally:
  3. Plan learning experiences and instruction.

Backward design is a widely studied and implemented design model and perhaps the most commonly used one.

Prototype or Rapid Prototype Design (also called Iterative Design)

Prototype or Rapid Prototype Design diagram
Camosaun Centre for Excellence in Teaching & Learning

The prototype design model is also frequently called iterative design, modular design, or scalable design. The prototype design process is based on the principle of incremental course redesign combined with constant reflection on how well this redesign worked; the instructor redesigns portions of the course (or modules) one at a time and immediately evaluates their efficacy, makes changes, and then “retests” the module before moving onto another course component. These course modules that the instructor designs can mean anything from a 10-minute segment of the face-to-face lecture to an entire 2-week-long lesson in the course curriculum. For this reason, the prototype model can be especially helpful to instructors who want to progressively move from an entirely face-to-face teaching model to a blended learning model and are not able to do an entire course redesign for a blended model before the course begins.

Multimodal design

Multimodal design diagram

The multimodal design model focuses on the delivery of the course content and materials and encourages the instructor to provide as many learning modalities as possible to give students a choice of pathways to learning that correspond to their individual learning strengths and skills. This means incorporating various methods of face-to-face instruction/learning and online learning in the course with the goal of responding to as many students’ learning styles as possible. The multimodal design approach IS blended learning at its core, but how it is structured can vary widely: the face-to-face and online environments can “duplicate” lectures and activities, the instructor could primarily use a face-to-face or online environment but incorporate diverse activities in the other non-primary environment, or the instructor could include a true mix of both environments. The key concept is that the multimodal model promotes multiple points of access to materials in each environment and learning space (for example, the online environment might be a computer lab one day, an at-home assignment another day, and an online lecture the next).

Learner-driven design

The learner-driven design model is frequently used in K-12 education and encourages student-instructor collaboration, to some extent, in order to set learning goals and objectives. This design model enlists the users (students) to be active goal setters in their own learning and ask them to participate in a “feedback loop” of sorts that will ultimately determine the learning objectives of the course. Learner-driven design concepts are fundamental in all instructional design approaches, since all approaches are student-centered and consider the best pathway to effective student learning when designing a course. The strict learner-driven design model takes this student-centered curriculum one step further and relies heavily on classroom collaboration and the role of the instructor as the “facilitator” in students’ learning processes.

Learner-driven design diagram
University of West Georgia Distance Education

REFERENCE + LICENSE: The text “Blended Learning Design Approaches” by Steel Wagstaff, University of Wisconsin Pressbooks, via, is licensed under CC BY 4.0, rephrased and shortened by SEA-EU.

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Time: 10 min

Instructional Strategies in Blended Learning

Garrison & Vaughan outline the seven basic principles for blended learning and its design process in Blended Learning in Higher Education.

There are seven basic principles for blended learning and the blended learning design process that Garrison & Vaughan outline in Blended Learning in Higher Education:

  1. Design for open communication & trust
  2. Design for critical reflection and discourse
  3. Create and sustain sense of community
  4. Support purposeful inquiry
  5. Ensure students sustain collaboration
  6. Ensure that inquiry moves to resolution
  7. Ensure assessment is congruent with intended learning outcomes

We have already discussed some course design strategies and models that can help us move toward these seven principles as conceptualizing our courses, but let’s look at the primary components of a blended learning environment. These components can apply to a specific blended learning activity, a lesson or module, or an entire course design; however, we will primarily be working at the level of activities or modules here. Not all of these seven principles will apply to each guideline, but it is helpful to reflect on the principles and to try to integrate them as much as is appropriate for each component.

Student learning: Foster a student-centered blended learning environment

In addition to fostering good student-student and student-instructor interaction and setting clear expectations for this, your students will want guidance on how they can succeed in your blended learning course in other areas. evaluate your course from a student perspective, and keep in mind that the online components will need explicitly outline your expectations, instructions, and objectives so that the students can see the pathway to learning as clearly as possible. This does not mean that they won’t meet challenges or frustrations with the blended environment or the integration of online components into your course, but being very thorough (more than you think you might need to be, even) and directive can help to mediate these challenges. Keep in mind that students often need to learn how to learn in a blended environment. For many, this may differ greatly from the delivery method of their other courses and they may not understand how this blended environment is a unique experience and pedagogy compared to a face-to-face only course. You may even meet some student resistance or opposition to this teaching style. For this reason, make sure to communicate your rationale and objectives to your students when appropriate and remind yourself that you are helping them to become self-directed and responsible learners in your blended learning environment via your instructions, tasks, and interaction with them.

Environment: Link the online environment to the face-to-face classroom

Consider how the two environments interact and work to seamlessly engage students. There are phases of before, during, and after for each environment: before, during, and after the face-to-face session and before, during, and after the online session. The time between phases is a key area to make streamlined, clear, and impactful. The instructor can help connect these dots by establishing a clear learning objective and define the student responsibilities and instructions during each phase. For example, after a face-to-face session, be explicit about expectations for successfully participating in the online component that will follow. Now let’s look at a model that helps us think through the three phases.

Facilitation: Engage with your students and outline how they will interact with each other

It is important to cultivate student-instructor and student-student relationships in any classroom environment but especially so in a blended learning environment so that your students know clearly what types and levels of interaction (with you and with each other) they should expect in each environment. You will be primarily responsible for fostering these interactions, setting the tone for these interactions, and encouraging your students to engage appropriately. Be clear about the formality, expectations, standards, and levels of engagement that accompany each; your students will want to know this up front, and it will be helpful for you to sketch it out for yourself as well. Time management is a key component of this facilitation. Make clear to your students how you will manage your time, when you will be interacting with them and how, and when you expect them to interact with each other and at what level. Clear expectations will ensure that the interactions in and between the face-to-face and online components are complimentary and as successful as possible.

Assessment: Reconsider traditional assessment structure and outcomes

You may well need to reevaluate traditional assessment methods in a blended environment to ensure that your assessments correspond to your learning objectives. Since all of the student learning is no longer taking place exclusively in the classroom, it would be appropriate to consider other assessment methods that align with the online environment where some of their learning is taking place. Consider discussions, self-checks or self-assessments, web quizzes, rubrics, in-class and/or online essays, “presentations” or discussion leading, and independent projects all as types of assessment for different purposes and to measure different levels of analysis and understanding. Using your learning objectives, ensure that each assessment serves a strategic purpose (both in content and in delivery method) and is useful to you and to the students; this may often mean that the traditional in-class exam or multiple choice on-paper quiz is not the most effective way of qualifying student progress. As with anything else, outline these assessments upfront in your syllabus and state clear expectations for how your students can be most successful with these.

Syllabus elements: Provide practical support and resources

The last key consideration is making sure that all of your course components and your syllabus are clear, easy to location, organized, and practical for your students. Include any tutorials, support documents, or links to help for online activities and assignments in your course site, on your syllabus, and in any related online activities. Remember that integrating the online and face-to-face environments involves a bit of thoughtful planning where it’s helpful to put yourself in your students’ places to imagine what kinds of support will be valuable and provide guidance. Orient your students as much as possible to your course components and to your blended environment; you can do this via activities, course-specific tutorials, or even an email or “how to get started” instructions sent to your students before Day 1 of the course. Finally, go through your checklist to make sure that all course components are accounted for and outlined for you and for your students.

REFERENCE + LICENSE: The text “Instructional Strategies in Blended Learning” by Steel Wagstaff, University of Wisconsin Pressbooks, via, is licensed under CC BY 4.0, rephrased and shortened by SEA-EU.

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Time: 10 min

Creating a Blended Learning Activity

When developing activities in blended learning, there are some important points to keep in mind. Follow the link for a step-by-step guide to activity development.

Step 1. Identify and reflect upon a prior learning activity:

Since we’re taking a previous activity or topic and redesigning it to a blended learning framework, we will start by thinking about that prior experience and how it worked for your class.

Key Questions:

  • What is the learning activity?
  • What worked well with the assignment?
  • What challenges did you or your students experience?
  • Were there special materials you developed for the activity or topic?
  • Was the topic formally assessed? How?
  • How much time was devoted to the topic in class? Out of class?
  • How much time would you like to devote to your blended learning activity in class? Out of class?

Step 2. Define your learning objectives:

The learning objectives are the foundation for the entire activity. Writing out clear and measurable objectives will help guide the remaining steps in the development of your activity. Remember to use a specific verb (avoid “understand” or “know”) when crafting your learning objectives.

Key Questions:

  • What do you want your students to know or do upon completion of the activity?
  • At what level of Bloom’s Taxonomy do you hope to position the objective (Remember, Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, Create)?
  • What are the specific learning objectives for your activity?

Step 3. Define your assessment goal:

Without getting into too much detail, start to think about how you’ll know whether your students have met the learning objective you defined above. Think about what you’ll need to see in order to determine whether the students have attained the goal.

Key Questions:

  • How will you know whether your students have met the objectives you defined for the activity?
  • Will the student need to recall information? Demonstrate a skill? Produce something?

Step 4. Consider the blended learning models:

Before we begin planning the activity, think about the blended learning models and how they might inform your decision making and parameters of your activity.

Key Questions:

  • What physical resources do you have at your disposal to help meet the objective (classroom space, technology, text, articles)?
  • What virtual resources do you have at your disposal to help meet the learning objectives (learning management system tools, blog, media)?
  • What combination of virtual and physical resources might make sense as you look to plan your activity?

Step 5. Plan and sequence your instructional strategies:

As we’ve seen, a blended learning activity can include a series of components that work together to meet specific learning objectives. Below are the key considerations. Depending on the length, complexity, and scope of your activity, not all of these may be elements to consider. However, keep these in mind as you plan for other blended learning activities or course design after this workshop and as you move toward a blended learning model for your course.

Key Questions:

  1. Managing your activity
    • How will your orient students to the activity?
    • What instructions are necessary for the student to be clear about the task and successful in completing the requirements?
  2. Cultivating the blended environment & facilitating community building
    • What will student-to-student interaction look like? What are the parameters, requirements, and tone for this?
    • What will student-to-instructor interaction look like? How will you facilitate this, and how will you communicate this to your students?
    • What will student-to-content interaction look like? What expectations, instructions, and levels of engagement will you convey to your students?
  3. Defining assessment measures
    • What scoring criteria or rubrics will you use for this activity? What information will you make available to your students?
    • How will this activity be weighted, scored, or assessed relative to the other assignments in the course?
    • How will you communicate to your students the goal and the importance of this activity and its assessment?
  4. Communicating precise instructions
    • What mechanical details are involved in this activity (e.g., number of words/pages, style guide for citations, number of posts to discussion forum, etc.)?
    • What tools or instructions to your students need (and do you need to make available to them) to complete this activity successfully?
REFERENCE + LICENSE: The text “Creating a Blended Learning Activity” by Steel Wagstaff, University of Wisconsin Pressbooks, via, is licensed under CC BY 4.0, shortened by SEA-EU.

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Time: 20 min

Interview with Amy Hutchison on Blended Learning

Blended learning enables teachers to adapt their teaching to the learners' needs and tailor the course to their preferences. In the following video, Ian O'Byrne and Amy Hutchison, experts in blended learning, discuss what blended learning is, how it enhances teaching and learning, and what you should consider when adopting the method. They also discuss the future in times of constant technological change.

License: The video "Four Questions for Amy Hutchison about hybrid & blended learning" by Ian O'Byrne, via is licensed under CC BY 3.0.

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