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Blended Learning Today and Tomorrow

With the right technology and school preparation, blended learning can be a success

Blended learning is a disruptive innovation that has been changing how teachers teach and how schools operate. The Innosight Institute and its founder Michael Horn predicted its emergence and believe blended learning will continue to grow at a rapid pace due to the success it brings to students. Rocky Mount Prep (N.C.) saw tremendous growth in its elementary students in several months after supplementing traditional teaching with adaptive online math software. This web seminar, originally presented on March 28, 2013, discussed blended learning as a disruptive innovation, the benefits of bringing online learning into a traditional school, and the best technology to incorporate into a blended learning curriculum.

Michael B. Horn
Education Executive Director and Co-Founder
Innosight Institute

At the Innosight Institute, we want to make innovation in education predictable and more successful. Disruptive innovation has been helpful in transforming so many sectors. Entities that were complicated, expensive, and inaccessible were made convenient and far more affordable, accessible, and simple. We thought disruptive innovation could help us transform the education system into something that was more personalized and student-centric. The basic model of disruptive innovation can be imagined as a series of concentric circles. The innermost circles represent the people with the most wealth or expertise in a given field. The outer circles represent people who have less expertise or wealth. In every sector, there’s a process of centralization followed by disruptive innovations that decentralize this world.

In higher education, universities were experiencing a tremendous disruptive impact from online learning. We thought that online learning could have the same impact in K12, but the big mystery was, where were these areas of non-consumption? In the United States, because schooling is compulsory, it is a difficult question to think about. It turns out that if you look at courses themselves, there are lots of levels of non-consumption. Online learning will not disrupt school, but it will disrupt the way we do the classroom experience. Budget cuts and increasing teacher shortages over the last few years have increased these areas of non-consumption. Enterprising districts have been able to use these factors to adopt online learning and start to transform how their schools actually operate.

In 2008, the Innosight Institute predicted that online learning was growing so fast, that by 2019, 50 percent of all high school classes will be delivered online in some fashion. Initially, many schools thought we were crazy for thinking schools could transform so quickly. Six months later, when the financial crisis hit, people came back and instead thought that our prediction was conservative and the change would happen much faster. Schools and teachers are always going to be a critical part of education. I define blended learning as a formal education program in which a student learns, at least in part, through online learning. The student has some level of control over the time, place, path, and/or pace of learning. It happens, at least in part, in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home. The courses or subjects must provide connected learning experiences. If a student is learning some section of math using an online program, and moves to small group instruction to learn another part, those experiences should not be disconnected. Data gained from online learning make for an integrated learning experience; a student should not repeat anything already learned. The different experiences inform and shape each other to create a holistic learning experience.

It’s important to note the variety of things that blended learning is not. It’s not simply putting an electronic whiteboard in front of students and beaming online curriculum at them. In this instance, you haven’t fundamentally changed the pedagogy. You haven’t changed the model of learning itself to give the student control over the time, place, path, or pace of his or her learning. Similarly, blended learning is not just simply the mere introduction of 1:1 laptops or digital textbooks. While these things can be important enablers of blended learning, just introducing them in and of themselves does not mean you’ve actually changed the model of learning. One of the things we see is that many of the most successful blended learning schools actually are not 1:1 environments. Some even have three students to every laptop, and they are still successful. It’s important to keep that in mind because we’ve spent a lot of money equipping schools with technology in the past few decades without an increase in learning outcomes.

At Innosight, we believe the reason is that we’ve just used the technology to sustain the chalkboard. We have moved from chalkboards to whiteboards to electronic whiteboards with lots of technology in between that just sustains the current paradigm rather than shifting the model of learning itself. The learning model is a lot more important than the technology.

Angela Langley
Dean of Math & Student Data Analysis
Rocky Mount Prep (N.C.)

We are moving to the Common Core State Standards here in North Carolina. Our teachers needed tools to help students succeed under these new standards. Additionally, we wanted to take our students on a journey to mastery. We had many students who were underperforming in math and reading, so we needed a model that would tackle both of these issues. As we moved to the Common Core, we knew that the gaps our students had were only going to be further highlighted. Our solution was blended learning. We have brand new learning labs that can accommodate up to 100 students. Students come into the learning lab every day to work online.

The data and feedback we get from our digital curriculum allow us to pinpoint student weaknesses. We chose DreamBox Learning because we were looking for a program that would complement programs we already had. It was going to help teachers see where the gaps in learning were. DreamBox is an engaging tool that enables students to succeed. We know our students learn differently and may struggle with certain topics and succeed very quickly on others. DreamBox facilitates this by allowing students to set their own pace. The program gives us continuous mastery data and feedback that goes to the students, teachers, and parents.

All K5 students spend 90 minutes in the learning labs every day working on math and reading. Before they began the online curriculum, in September 2012, 100 percent of our third grade students were “math frustrated” and not ready to learn at the Common Core level. By December 2012, students made huge gains. Now 48 percent are on grade level target, with only 34 percent “math frustrated.” One of my favorite things students say is, “Do you see what I can do now?” They are excited about what they can do and what they can accomplish. I think this is what blended learning does. It gives students a sense of accomplishment.

Tim Hudson, Ph.D.
Director of Curriculum Design
DreamBox Learning

A key part of DreamBox Learning is empowering students and helping them feel accomplished. Students work at their own pace and at their just-right level and zone of proximal development. The curriculum designers at DreamBox put together the lessons focused on promoting students as independent, critical-thinking, strategic learners. We combine three essential elements to strengthen student learning:

  • Rigorous elementary math. Our reporting is aligned with several different standards, including Common Core.

  • A motivating learning environment where students can enjoy the just-right challenges and be engaged.

  • Intelligent Adaptive Learning Engine™, a pioneering technology that differentiates for students in real-time.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to: