Blended Learning Models for Different Education Levels

blended learning infographic

Numerous studies have been done on different aspects of blended learning ranging from its concepts, to its expedient as well as detrimental aspects. Whereas some of these studies have centered their research on blended learning in tertiary level of education, others have focused on blended learning in elementary, and secondary level of education. However, other studies have examined the impact and application of blended learning on different aspect of education from a general point of view. Additionally, some of the prior studies have centered on the use of blended learning and its impact on certain disciplines. This chapter describes the key findings from the previous scholarly articles centered on blended learning models. More precisely, the content of this chapter focuses on the models of blended learning common in the global spectrum, but with much attention placed on Australia.

To begin with, the term blended learning is described slightly differently in literature, but all the different definitions or descriptions share various aspects in common. In its inception days, blended learning was regarded as a combination of pedagogies and technology without specification of the type of technology, and the description was not only used in the field of education, but broadly applied in any type of learning in any field including informal learning. However, most of the recent definitions of blended learning in literatures tend to specify the technology when defining blended learning, and the centered technology common in most of the definitions is web-based technology. In 2003, Procter termed blended learning as an operative mixture of diverse delivery modes and models of teaching and learning.  Graham (2006) describes blended learning as a form of organic amalgamation of considerately chosen and harmonizing in person meeting and learning via technical and online methods. Conferring to Procter’s definition of blended learning, Kaur (2013) described blended leaning as an effective combination of dissimilar modes and model of delivery and teaching as well as learning styles which are practiced in a collaboratively expressive learning setting.

Medina (2018) describe blended learning as a variety of plans and strategies wherein students learn partly online but with some regulatory component excised on them particularly on the pace, time, and place of learning, and with the modalities of learning provided to them. According to Jones, Turner, and Chew (2008) in their study on blended learning models based on Maslow’s and Vygotsky’s educational theory, blended learning is described as a combination of two areas of concerns which include education and education  technology. While these definitions have a broad aspects of blended learning, they all have a commonality particularly on the aspect of technology, and delivery of educational content, or the application of technology in teaching and delivery of content to the learner or student. From a general perspective based on the dissimilar definitions in literature, blended learning can understandably be described as an amalgamation of concepts involving delivery of educational content via online platforms that are well equipped with excellent features which enables classroom communications and interactions.

One significant aspect of blended learning is its models, and theoretical perspective which the models are based upon. Different literatures centered on blended learning models examines blended learning from different perspectives which ranges from holistic perspective, educational perspective, to chief learning officer perspective. Holden and Westfall (2006) describe blended learning from a holistic viewpoint and based on their standpoint, the concept of blended learning pertains delivery of instructions through manifold media which encompasses incorporation of instructional media into the outmoded classroom as well as a distant learning setting. In addition, the holistic perspective of blended learning encompasses a mixture of media that facilitate and sustain instructions irrespective of the combination of synchronous as well as asynchronous media. In contrast to holistic perspective is the educational perspective of blended learning. Laster (2005) examined the educational perspective of blended learning in his study on redefining blended learning, and based on that study, the educational perspective consider blended learning as courses that incorporates traditional in-person class activities with online or web-based platforms in an organized pedagogical way such that part of the in-person time is swapped with online activity.

More specifically, the educational perspective of blended leaning principally tends to be centered on integration of two discrete paradigm, and that is the class room which is considered synchronous, and online which is considered asynchronous.  Another perspective of blended learning in literature is the pragmatic perspective which is slightly similar to educational perspective. With pragmatic perspective, courses are lectured both in a classroom set up, and at a distance, but by employing a combination of dissimilar pedagogic plans that aims to attain three objectives which include to syndicate numerous pedagogic methodologies like behaviorism, constructivism, and cognitive learning methodologies to crop a prime learning outcome regardless of employing instructional technology, to syndicate any form of instructional technology like films, CDs, web-based exercises with in-person instructor-led programming, and to integrate instructional technology with authentic job activities so as to generate a symphonic impact on learning as well as on working. Wexler (2008) describes blended learning from another perspective almost in resembles to holistic perspective called the corporate training perspective. From this perspective, blended learning is viewed as the employment of numerous instructional media to deliver one course or a curriculum such as lectures, sales training course pertaining pre-reading, and other kind of practices. Blended learning is also viewed from a chief learning officer perspective. According to Peters (2009), blended learning from chief learning officer viewpoint involves implementation of a learning strategy that combines numerous delivery modalities which are both asynchronous and synchronous, and resultantly generate the most paramount learning solution to the targeted recipients.

Blended learning from the above discussed perspectives share three aspects in common, and these aspects include the learning environment, the media, and instructional aspects. Blended learning models described in literatures revolves around these three aspects. In fact, these aspects are considered in various studies as the key components of a blended learning model. For instance, Kaur (2013) points out that blended learning model is made up of three key components which includes the media, instructional, and the learning environment component. According to Holden and Westfall (2006), the media as a component of a blended learning model are vehicles that basically deliver content. While some instructional media suitably in facilitating either asynchronous or synchronous learning environment, others have unsuitably applied in the same. However, Holden and Westfall (2006) points out that there is no instructional media that is superior or better than the other, but the appropriateness of application is what determines its level of usefulness in a particular medium.  The design of the content to be delivered is largely affected by the appropriateness of the chosen media, and this ultimately impact the learning outcome whereas the content itself is not be altered by the chosen media, but its design which fundamentally impacts its delivery depends on the selected media.

blended learning infographic
blended learning infographic

Holden and Westfall (2006) describe the instructional component as the component applied in the selection of the most suitable instructional strategy that supports the learning goal. The instructional strategies primarily ensures that the learning goals are met, and facilitates the transmission of learning. Holden and Westfall (2006) highlights that the most paramount aspect of blended learning development is the maintenance of the instructional eminence, and ensuring that the learning goals are uncompromised in the actual processes of blended learning. The learning environment component of blended learning ensures that the resources available are optimally used to achieve the learning and instructional goals. Woodall (2010) point out that the learning environment component can either be asynchronous or synchronous with regards to the instructional methods applied. Asynchronous learning environment involves delivery of educational or learning content via a media such as online platforms, and virtual classrooms while synchronous learning environment pertains traditional learning environment such as a classroom setting where instructors or teachers meet face to face with the learners in the same room.

In a study by Aleksic and Ivanovic (2016) on blended learning in tertiary education, traditional models of blended learning are categorized into three groups which include cognitive, associative, and situated models of blended learning, Associative model presume that a person learn by connecting primarily via the fundamental stimuli-response training, and secondarily through the capability to assimilate the concept into thought as well as through connecting the procedures followed in the activity so as to generate a compound skill. Based on analysis of the model by Gagne (1985) in his study on learning conditioning, associative model facilitates individualization of instructions such that every student have the capacity to solve a  problem, and obtain the response immediately especially in developmental programmed leaning. In addition, students are able to learn is logically and small organized steps due to the instructional sequence aspect of the associative model. Contrasting to the associative model, situated model interpret learning as a joint participation of people in real-world activities progressed via observation, and reflection.

Under this model, the results of students learning is subjected to the effects from cultural and social environment. Barab and Duffy (2000) highlights that situational model of blended learning has two key features which include socio-psychological, and joint practice. The socio-psychological feature stresses the dependency of the environmental context in which learning occurs, while the joint practice feature looks into the individual association among the individuals within the group that are involved in undertaking a learning activity. Cognitive blended learning model consider the concept of learning as a vigorous construction of ideas and developing of skills through experimentation, and exploration of the ideas such that the learning outcome reveals an adequate adaptation of skills. Under this model, development of fundamental skills in student such that the skills become automatic and their cognitive attention driven towards the deliberate level of information processing is reflected in the improvement of the student’s performance.

Valiathian (2002) categorized blended learning models into three types which included skill-driven, attitude-driven, and competency-driven models. Although Valiathian (2002) perspective of blended learning models is different from other authors, but these models are primarily relevant in work-associated training, and slightly applicable in the field of education. The objective of employing a skill-driven model in a training program is to acquire particular skills and knowledge whereby the instructor or the trainer provides feedback, and support to the trainees. Attitude-driven model centers in developing a desired attitude and behavior among the trainees whereby the key activities involved under this model is group work that pertains peer-to-peer interaction among the individuals within a cohort.

Competency-driven blended learning model on the other hand intends to capture the inferred knowledge whereby the trainees are expected to observe experts undertaking an activity, and learn from what they observe. This classification of blended learning models by Valiathian (2002) have however been criticized in various studies particularly for its combination aspect since it is founded on the pedagogic approaches, and learning objectives. Contrasting to this taxonomy is the classification of blended learning by Staker and Horn (2013) which narrowed down the initial six models of blended learning to four models. The six initial models included the rotation model, face-to-face driven model, the flex model, the self-blend model, the online lab model, and the enriched virtual model. Under the rotation model, learners alternate between attending to some activities online and others in a classroom based modalities. The face-to-face driven model pertains supplementation of classroom learning with online learning while in flex model, students majorly study online in accordance with customized scheduling at an individual level but an in-person support is provided by the trainer at any time they are needed. Under self-blend model learners appendage their traditional studies with an extra or supplementary off-campus course. By description, online lab model is a direct opposite of the self-blend model since under it learners appendage their studies with an on-campus online course.

Under enriched virtual model, learning mainly takes place online but with occasional visits to a classroom setup to attend an in-person or face-to-face tuition session.  Staker and Horn (2013) abridged these six models into four models by merging online lab model and self-blend model, and abolishing face-to-face driven model with a reason that it is inadequately different from flex model and rotational model. Intrinsically, the four blended learning models by Staker and Horn (2013) include the flex model, the enriched virtual model, rotation model, and self-blend model. While the authors agrees with the components of the three out of the four models, they differ with rotation model by noting that the most interesting variant of this model is flipped classroom whereby students study online at location of their own choosing so that they7 receive instructions and fundamental content. The learners only use classrooms for group discussions particularly on higher tire tasks.

Graham (2006) proposed that blended learning models can be classified based on four dimensions, three types, and four levels. These four dimensions included space, time, sensual richness, humanness. The space dimension concerns virtual and face-to-face learning while the time dimension concerns synchronous and asynchronous learning. The sensual richness dimension concerns high and low senses learning that mainly involves texts, and the human dimension concerns high and low human learning without involving machines. These dimensions have been noted in other studies to crop up from the idea of bimodal delivery. With regards to the four levels, Graham’s (2006) classification of blended learning models include activity level, program level, course level, and institutional level.  Graham (2006) emphasizes that the leveling of blended learning models as employed by an individual in learning activities is quite dissimilar from the use of blended learning models by institutions. Graham (2006) also introduces three different categories of blended learning which includes enabling blends that is mainly centered on flexibility and access learning materials, enhancing blends that centrally pursue to complement on the outmoded pedagogy, and transformative blends which has an objective of reforming pedagogy whereby learners could significantly play a dynamic role development of their individual knowledge.

By applying Maslow’s and Vygotsky’s educational theories, Jones et al. 2008 examined four dissimilar modes of blended learning suggested by some prior authors. One of the models they examined is Gill Samson’s model of structured e-moderation. Under this model, the trainer adheres to a sequence of steps to make the learner or the student feel comfortable and welcomed in an online and virtual environment. Jones et al. 2008 commends this model for its conformity to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  Another model examined by Jones et al. is the Sun Microsoft system, also known as the learning ecology which was authored by Ferguson and Wenger. This model pertains self-guided or self-direct learning and practice. Self-direct or self-guided learning involve peer-to-peer discussions among students, but guided learning involves a classroom-based lecture or a video conference. With this model, different learning goals can be attained by different delivery modes. Jones et al. 2008 noted this feature, and gave the model a credit for its possibility of being consistent with Vygotsky educational theory particularly in the aspect of proximal growth of the theory. Using this model can enable a student or a learner to develop their individual knowledge from a guidance provided by an expert.

Nevertheless, Jones et al. points out that the weakness of this model is that it fails to clarify a clear strategy on it can be implemented. The third model examined by Jones et al. 2008 is the Jones’ Blended Learning Continuum.  This model was suggested for institutional based learning whereby an institution such as a University employs this model in delivery of content of different disciplines but via an online medium. While Jones et al. 2008 praised the model for its flexibility in an institution-wide approach, and its recognition of different disciplines, they also criticize it of its theoretical weakness, and lack of conformity to either Maslow’s or Vygotsky’s educational theories. The last model examined by Jones et al. 2008 is the Garrison and Vaughan’s Inquiry-based framework model. Under this model, students or learners and teachers or trainers are pictured as participants in a community of inquest. Unlike many other models that emphasizes on delivery modes, this model emphasizes on learning by considering that the role of technology in blended learning is to enable three key components of cognitive, teaching, and social presence. Cognitive presence encompasses information exchange as well as creation and testing of ideas, and teaching presence encompasses provision of structure and direction. The social presence encompasses permitting collaboration between different groups. Jones et al. 2008 commend this model for its consistency with various aspects of Maslow’s and Vygotsky’s educational theories.

Although there are various models of blended learning that have been suggested by different authors as understood above, but how effective are these models in supporting and nurturing students to be responsible in learning, and keeping focused as well as engaged while learning? This is an area that has been slightly overlooked in literature since most of the previous studies on blended learning models mainly revolves around classification of the models, their benefits and shortcomings at a general point of view. Nevertheless, some case studies done on application of blended learning models reveals the level of effectiveness and impact of blended learning from a general perspective on teaching, and students’ learning developments as well as engagements at different levels of education but with much focus on the higher education sector.

A study conducted by Rourke and Kanuka (2013) on employment of blended learning strategies to address the teaching development needs at higher education sector in Canada revealed that implementation of blended learning initiatives for developmental teaching undergoes critical challenges which makes it difficult for academic centers to adopt blended learning in their teaching and learning practices. One of the critical challenges pointed out in the study is the undervaluing of the blended learning initiative by the academic institutions. Blended learning initiatives are perceived to be not of value in academic institutions in Canada, and learning is mainly considered to be effective in a face-to-face context. Most faculties in Canada’s higher learning institutions have high preferences for the teaching and learning activities in a face-to-face context. Part of the reasons why these institutions undervalue blended learning is that blended learning is perceived to be not effective in nurturing, facilitation, and sustainment of the opulent dialogue of exchange, sharing, and interaction among students in Canada’s higher education institutions.  

Aleksic and Ivanovic (2016) examined the attitudes of students and teachers towards blended learning model and learning styles at the faculty of technical sciences in the University of Cacak located in Serbia. The study was conducted by gathering data from a sample size of 199 students within the faculty of technical sciences for period of one year. The gathered data concerned the attitude of the students towards the blended learning model, and its impact on learning styles as well as academic achievement of the students. The outcome of the study not only revealed that the students and teacher values the use of blended leaning model in teaching and learning technical sciences, but also the academic achievements of the students were enhanced by the integration of blended learning model in their learning activities. The correlation between the data collected concerning the students’ achievement, and the use of technology in delivery of learning content revealed a positive correlation which indicated that students had better grades in the subjects that were partly taught using blended learning model than the ones they were taught without the model.

Moreover, the study revealed that students taught using blended learning model had an individual feeling of easy learning and excellent experience in the processes of attending lessons online. Nevertheless, high academic achievement was only noted in subjects that the students frequently interacted with in the online platform. Based on a met analysis study conducted by the United States department of Education on the effectiveness of blended learning across the United States, it was found that blended learning generates better results in terms of academic performance of the students as well as with regards to social aspects of learning compared to the traditional face-to-face learning only or entirely online-based learning. Blending both online and face-to-face learning have

According to Madina (2018) blended learning models should primarily facilitate high levels of interactions between the leaner, and instructor, among the learners, and the learner and content. Cuesta and Alvarez (2012) proposes that an efficient analysis and implementation of these interactional modes in a blended learning concept should be objectified towards helping students to individualize the learning experiences based on their individual needs, skills, beliefs, styles, and learning history. However, Paechter and Maier (2010) emphasize that with blended learning, it is difficult for students to establish social emotional interactions among themselves as well as with their instructors. Bryan and Volchenkova points out that a pedagogical gain is not attained by only implementing a certain model of blended learning, but the type of learning style determines the level of effectiveness of the model chosen as well as guarantees the attainment of pedagogical gain. Russel (2016) on his study on no significance difference, demonstrates that the learning outcomes of a given learning activity does not depend on the means by which the learning content is delivered especially for studies done over a lengthy period of time. Based on this finding, the intensity of student engagement and focus on a learning activity undertaken through blended learning does not essentially depends on the blended learning model used in the learning activity.

While in some countries across the globe such as the United States, Britain, China, Japan, South Korea and many others, blended learning have been reported to record positive outcome in learning and performance of students especially in higher learning institutions which is an implication that students are indeed responsible for their learning, and kept focused in engaging with not only their instructors but also the education content delivered via online modes, in some countries such as Canada, the impact of blended learning has not been realized. Although blended learning is viewed in various studies as a successful modality that enables students to interact and engage with their instructors as well as education content, but this is not the case in some parts of the world. In Australia, blended learning has been practiced for several years in the higher learning institutions. Based on a study conducted at the University of Queensland in 2009 to find out if blended learning is a modality that could help students develop metacognitive skills that facilitates deep-thinking, the outcome of the study showed that technology-supported learning is the most effective way to enhance students thinking capability especially provided that there is a course coordinator, instructor assistance, and IT support (Partridge, et al., 2011).

Moreover, the study also revealed that provision of course content such as virtual slides, and handouts which is an aspect of blended learning, improved the students’ performance by fostering good learning practice (Partridge, et al., 2011). In 2011, another study was conducted at the University of New South Wales on the impact of web-based lecture technologies on the future practices of learning and teaching, the outcome of this study showed that web-based learning did not only minimized the feeling of isolation in a face-to-face classroom by external or foreign students, but also improved the level of engagements of the students with course instructors (Partridge, et al., 2011). Worthington (2017) examined blended learning for the Indo-Pacific, and from the study, he suggested that IT courses undertaken by international students could completely be offered using e-learning than the on-campus model employed by numerous universities in Australia. Worthington (2017) further points out that delivering the courses by using e-learning methodology would complement the on-campus based education offered predominantly by Australian universities while at the same time complement the blended learning initiatives employed by other countries such as United States, Japan, and China. However, Worthington (2017) highlights that the key challenging issue to implementing such a strategy in Australian universities is the lack of well-trained personnel in e-learning or blended learning instructional and program designs.

In summary, most of the prior peer reviewed journal articles published on blended learning supports its aspects, and studies that have been done on the effectiveness of its models are mainly centered on the modes of delivery aspect of it. Literature mainly revolves around how effective are the models when it comes to delivery of education content. However, none of the studies have investigated the possibility of the blended leaning models being ineffective in keeping the students engaged as well as responsible in their studies. This is a critical gap in literature that needs to be addressed so that actual impact of blended learning on learners can be realized, and not only the effectiveness of the models in delivery of the learning content.

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