Blended Learning is the Future – Types of Blended Learning Models for Fall 2020

By: Matt Rhoads, Ed.D

Dr. Matt Rhoads is a Tech and Instructional Leader and Innovator with hands in Adult Ed, K-12, and Higher Education. He is the author of several books and is the host of Navigating Education – The Podcast.

As we continue to think about Fall 2020 for K-12, it looks like there are a variety of options on the table. Last week, I outlined a number of scenarios primary and secondary schools can consider for going back in the fall to ensure quality instruction occurs and safety protocols are in place for teachers, students, and staff. Many recommendations from County’s of Education throughout the county include easing into face to face learning, introducing social distancing protocols, staggering schedules, and continuing some form of remote learning. More than likely, face to face will be limited at first in many states when schools first open in the fall. Likely, face to face instruction may only be a couple days a week to begin with and then it may open up further if the number of COVID cases declines within the local county over time. Thus, in all likelihood, it will likely be a combination of face to face and online learning. When speaking specifically about instruction, the learning model that can be utilized for both face to face and online learning simultaneously for a class is called blended learning. This is what we would call integration between face to face and online experiences. Blended learning has a variety of different definitions as there are several different models that can be used to implement blended learning. My goal is to outline various blended learning models as well as provide teachers with what the research states regarding best practices for their implementation. Lastly, there will be a short discussion on engagement strategies for blended learning for face to face and online sessions.

Blended Learning Models

There is a continuum of blended learning models we should consider when thinking about how to implement blended learning models in K-12 schools. There are blended learning models at each end of the spectrum that have optional online or face to face components. Yet, the blended learning models we want to look at are the models that provide required face to face and online components that are simultaneously blended together. Additionally, these blended learning models should also fit staggered scheduling options in both primary and secondary settings as a result of the implementation of social distancing protocols in schools. Primary and Secondary Blended Learning Primary and secondary blended learning could take shape by having students attend school one to three times a week and have the remaining portion of the class online. Or, this could also look like students attending in the morning or afternoon for face to face sessions and have the remainder of the class have an online component. Either way, the staggered scheduling for students to have face to face time will dictate how much face to face vs. online instruction time students have. In all likelihood, the flipped classroom model will be utilized for both primary and secondary classes, which we are going to cover the most in-depth. With this said, the flipped classroom model will be implemented and utilized differently for primary and secondary settings. Lastly, a short discussion of the Inside-Out and Flex models of blended learning will round out this discussion. Flipped Classroom Model. The flipped classroom model can be utilized in two-ways for blended learning. First, it can mean the content and skills students are taught can be frontloaded either online or in the face to face sessions. Ultimately, this is predicated on whether instructional leaders believe students are best suited to take in content and skills online or face to face first. For the face to face component of the flipped classroom model, it could provide opportunities for small group and one on one instruction for students.Β  When content is frontloaded online students can receive additional support and tutorials in class to practice the content and skills they are taught initially online.Β  Teachers can provide feedback to students in person and students can be given opportunities to demonstrate their learning with in-person assessment. Conversely, another possible avenue is frontloading the content during the face to face sessions and then providing students opportunities to practice and demonstrate their learning online through assessment. Thus, teachers would provide much of their feedback online and then re-teach content during subsequent face to face sessions. For the online component of the flipped classroom model, content, activities/assignments, and assessments can be developed using a module-like style to organize what students need to complete chronologically. Teachers would need to ensure they can organize their learning management system (i.e., in modules, themes, units, etc.) in a way that can allow students to see a progression in content and activities they are learning. This allows for students to see what’s due and what is needed to be done before face to face sessions. For a content-heavy online component of a flipped classroom, it could include watching several lectures while taking notes that would ultimately prepare students for a face to face Socratic seminar. On the other hand, for a practice heavy online component of a flipped classroom, it could have several scaffolded assignments before students are given online assessment on the content they were taught during the face to face session. Lastly, for the flipped classroom blended learning model, elements of project-based learning could be incorporated to allow students to collaborate with their peers and teachers online and in person to develop creative student work projects to demonstrate their learning. This is an option entire schools or teachers can utilize depending on how they would like to assess their students learning and their student population. Other Blended Learning Options. Beyond the flipped classroom model, there are several other blended learning models that we will mention. First, the Inside-Out Model is an interesting blended learning model whereby students begin classes face to face (on one single day or a it could extend to a week long) and then complete the vast majority of the class online followed by the last day or week to be a face to face class. I have experience with this model since it was used during my doctoral work. I enjoyed building relationships in the face to face sessions that carried on online throughout the semester, which ended in a face to face session. However, this model requires a lot of intrinsic motivation to complete the coursework as there are portions of the course that are online (it was 8 weeks in between face to face sessions for my doctoral program). This model is used at the graduate school level, but the likelihood this model could be used in K-12 seems unlikely because there is too great of a distance between face to face class sessions. Realistically, the plausibility of this model being used is little; but, for Advanced Placement classes at the high school it could be a possibility. The second additional blended learning model that can be considered much more widely in K-12 is the Flex Blended Learning model. In this blended learning model, a subject or course is based primarily online and students can complete it at their own place. Throughout the semester, students check in weekly with the teacher of record at the school site to assess their progress. Students also have the ability to schedule their own one on one tutorials with their teacher.Β  One can argue this is what personalized learning looks like since students/family’s are going at their own pace and utilizing support when needed. Ultimately, what this looks like is a flexible as needed basis for face to face support. Currently, many high school independent study and home schooling programs use this model of learning. It could be a plausible choice for primary and secondary schools that want to ease back in face to face learning overtime.

Blended Learning Best Practices

In order to make blended learning a success, teachers need to be trained in how to utilize this type of learning model. There are two components that will require teachers to be trained in: technical and pedagogical. Following these two components, teachers need to aware of several best practice strategies to ensure their blended learning classroom culture flourishes. For the technical component, teachers need training in the learning management system that will be used by students for their online and face to face components of the class. This learning management system could be Google Classroom, Canvas, Blackboard, Seesaw, Powerschool, or Schoology (all major learning management systems). All content and assignments are organized on these platforms for students to access. More technical training involves being able to add further educational technology to make the online and face to face content engaging, collaborative, and interactive for students. Thus, schools should have a learning management system in mind and several additional edtech tools teachers have training in before implementing blended learning. Luckily, with online learning taking place in the spring, teachers will have much more of a technical capacity going into the fall semester. For the pedagogical component, teachers need to work on instructional strategies that can be used during small group and one on one instruction. Small group instruction could include elements of student collaboration, activities to find/solve problems, social emotional learning, critical thinking, and student discussion. One on one instruction could include ways to provide formative feedback, social emotional learning, goal setting, organization/time management, and direct instruction tutorials. Luckily, as with the technical component, teachers already know many of these instructional components that could implement for their blended learning classrooms. Best Practices for Blended Learning Models Beyond the technical and pedagogical components for blended learning, several best practices must be employed to ensure classroom cultures are cultivated and expectations are set at the beginning of the course. Margolis, Porter, and Pitterle (2017) provide 10 best practices that teachers must be aware of. This is where much of the training needs to occur beyond learning the technical and pedagogical components of the blended learning model that will be implemented. Below is a list of best practices that teachers need to be sure to develop and then implement in any form of blended learning. Also, many of these best practices can also be implemented in any face to face class.
  1. Setting the Stage – Set expectations on the first day of class. Discuss the structure of course, technical components, important dates, and grading information.
  2. Consistency with Teaching – This includes communicating with students through the same medium. Teachers should only communicate with their students through one or two mediums (i.e., through email or directly through the learning management system).
  3. Timeliness – Teachers need to be sure all material is posted on time. Minimally, all materials should be posted two weeks prior to the assignments due date.
  4. Accountability – Provide credit for the majority of tasks conducted for the course (completion points, assignment points, assessment points, etc.).
  5. Structure Active Learning – Provide engaging lessons during face to face class sessions that includes active learning by students.
  6. Teacher Feedback on Student Preparation – Teachers should provide feedback for online learning assignments that lead up to the face to face class session. This includes both formative and summative feedback.
  7. Incorporate Student Feedback – Teachers should provide mechanisms to include student feedback during the course.
  8. Continue Reviewing Online and Face to Face Material Throughout the Class – Provide tutorials of how to interact with the online and face to face material. Review previous topics that connect into future topics.
  9. Technology – Be sure to choose technology that allows students and teachers a level of flexibility.
Overall, administrators and teachers need to develop the blended learning system collaboratively with the technical and pedagogical components and best practices in mind. There must be buy-in from both sides to ensure institutional coherence and transparency is established before blended learning is implemented. Also, what we must remember beyond the blended learning model, structural components within the school system will have to be completely revisited to ensure staggered schedules and social distance protocols can be enacted if the face to face component of blended learning will be implemented.

Engagement Strategies Blended Learning for Face to Face and Online Sessions

Engaging students in any learning model is vital. Luckily, for blended learning, the online and face to face components can provide teachers options to make their class engaging in multiple settings. Much of these suggestions for engagement can intermix with both online and face to face class settings.
  1. Class Public Opinion Polls
  2. Interactive Slides – Pear Deck, Google Slides, Poll Anywhere
  3. Student Collaboration Tools – G-Suite, Microsoft 365, Online Backchannels, Online Whiteboards, etc.
  4. Twitterchats
  5. Flipgrid and Online Discussion Boards
  6. Class Brainstorms
  7. Class Instagram
  8. Students Assess Peers
  9. Socratic Seminars
  10. Individual/Class Project Presentation
  11. Student Self-Assessment
  12. Social Emotional Learning Check-ins
  13. Class Made Videos Demonstrating Learning
  14. Student-Choice Projects
At the end of the day, the list of engagement strategies for blended learning can go on and on. I am sure any teacher can add a multitude of other engagement strategies to this list.


Blended learning is the future for the next 12 to 18 months. In order to ease in the reopening of schools, blended learning seems to be the way to go as it can be easily moved online if the number of COVID cases increases to a level that is dangerous to students and teachers. If even only mildly successful, blended learning will revolutionize K-12 education going forward because it will create flexibility among teachers and students in addition to personalizing learning for our students. What are your thoughts about blended learning? Is it something you would be comfortable with going forward? Comment on this post or chat with me on Twitter @mattrhoads1990. Resources Fullan, M., Senge, P. M., & Corwin Press. (2010). All systems go: The change imperative for whole system reform. Thousand Oaks: Corwin. Fullan, M. (2010). All systems go: The change imperative for whole system reform. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. Couros, G. (2015). The innovator’s mindset: Empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity. Margolis, A. R., Porter, A. L., & Pitterle, M. E. (2017). Best Practices for Use of Blended Learning.Β American journal of pharmaceutical education,Β 81(3), 49.

Published by Matthew Rhoads, Ed.D.

Innovator, EdTech Trainer and Leader, University Lecturer & Teacher Candidate Supervisor, Consultant, Author, and Podcaster

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