Blended Learning Literature Review



Blended Learning: A Review of the Literature

Nicole Cruz

Lamar University



In reviewing the literature, it is clear that blended learning offers many benefits: for students, but also for the institutions that offer this teaching modality. There are different models of blended learning in which the learner spends various blocks of time learning online and in a brick-and-mortar classroom. Used properly, it allows for deeper learning of the material. Students enjoy the flexibility of taking part of their courses online, but with the added benefit of face-to-face interaction with the instructor and other students in the classroom. Blended classrooms are meant to engage and motivate students, and the research supports this finding. Following is a review of the literature that explains this exciting way to teach and learn.


The Four Basic Models of Blended Learning

Blended learning is defined as a “formal education program in which a student learns: at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace, at least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home; and the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience” (Christensen, 2015). Blended learning integrates both face-to-face and online teaching modalities, creating a cohesive learning experience. These hybrid approaches can foster independent learning and collaboration, as well as facilitate better communication among students and between students and instructors (Horizon Report, 2016). Christensen divides blended learning into four main categories: Rotation, Flex, A La Carte, and Enriched Virtual. The Rotation model includes four sub-models: Station Rotation, Lab Rotation, Flipped Classroom, and Individual Rotation (Christensen, 2015).

The Rotation model is where students rotate through learning modalities on a fixed schedule, at the discretion of the instructor. It includes an online component. Learning modalities may include group assignments, full-class instruction, traditional paper-and- pencil assignments, tutoring. It mostly takes place in the brick and mortar classroom, except for homework. The flipped classroom approach is a well-known subcategory of the rotational model, where learners participate in online learning and receive the primary content off-site. They then attend class where they participate in teacher-guided learning activities, practice, and projects (Christensen, 2015).

The Flex model describes a course in which online learning is the “backbone”, and students have a customized schedule among learning modalities. Students learn mostly on campus, except for homework. The teacher is on-site and provides support as needed (Christensen, 2015).

The A La Carte model is a mixture of online and brick-and-mortar classes. The student will take some classes completely online which accompanies his or her experiences at the school or facility. This differs from taking courses completely online because a full-time online schedule is not considered a “whole school experience” (Christensen, 2015).

Finally, in the Enriched Virtual model, most of the learning occurs online, on the student’s schedule. It differs from online classes because there are some required face-to-face meetings with the instructor of the course (Christensen, 2015).


How Students Learn

Before analyzing different methods and technologies used in teaching, it is vital to have a solid understanding of how students learn. In How Learning Works, Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, and Norman (2010) list seven research-based principles for effective teaching. One of the principles is how prior knowledge can help or hinder learning. When previous knowledge of a topic is inactive, insufficient, inappropriate, or incorrect, it hinders learning. On the other hand, when activated, sufficient, appropriate, and correct, it helps learning. They explain how teachers often overestimate students’ prior knowledge, thus building new knowledge on a shaky foundation (Ambrose et al, 2010, pg. 12)

Students participating in a blended learning environment have the advantage of learning the foundational knowledge at their own pace, online. This allows for deeper learning to take place while in the classroom. In 2005, one study at Pennsylvania State University Berk’s College, a chemistry class was conducted as a blended course. Realizing that students needed certain foundational knowledge to understand more advanced topics and participate in critical thinking, the faculty built online guides with resources for the students. The end result of this blended design increased student engagement, retention, and nearly doubled pass rates (Amaral & Shank, 2010).

Another important factor in learning is engagement and motivation. Motivation is key in learning outcomes. If students do not find the course material interesting or relevant, they might see little value in mastering the subject matter, or engaging in behaviors that facilitate deeper learning (Ambrose et al, 2010, pg. 69).

Blended learning does not imply that educators should not teach and emphasize certain core knowledge, skills, and dispositions in students, but that to successfully accomplish these goals, schools should be “intrinsically motivating” (Horn & Staker, 2014).

A study at the University of Massachusetts followed the 5-year results of conducting a chemistry class in the traditional way vs. a blended format. The research found that the blended format increased student engagement. This led to more active learning in class and resulted in a net test score increase of 12% over the traditional classroom model. A review of 20 studies, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, showed similar results, indicating that blended learning increases student engagement, motivation, and ultimately student success (Horizon Report, 2016, pg. 18).

Experience shows that blended classrooms enhance student learning and retention; it further engages the students using digital learning materials such as podcasts, interactive multimedia tutorials, and videos (Amaral & Shank, 2010).


Other Benefits of Blended Learning

A critical component of blended learning is reduced seat time. Students are free to pursue their education on their own schedules, which is a very attractive draw for many adult learners (Morrison, 2013). Colleges and Universities are increasingly offering online courses for students to address financial and time constraints, and issues of balancing work and family obligations. In fact, 32% of students surveyed in a study by JISC indicated that technology influenced University choice (Horizon Report, 2016, pg. 18). Morrison (2013) explains that “blended learning develops a skill set for students that otherwise would not be possible in exclusive face-to-face instruction. Skills include digital citizenship, information management skills, self-directed learning, and web research and collaboration skills.”

Finally, a benefit for the learning institution is the ability to manage facility resources more efficiently and allows for the teaching of many more students in a term (Morrison, 2013).


Teaching a Blended Class

In 2010, Resta insisted that we need to prepare teachers to teach in online and blended learning environments. Online courses and blended courses have grown exponentially in recent years and is projected to continue well into the future. Unfortunately, few teachers are learning to teach online classes. “Twenty-first century educators must get training and experience in online and blended learning environments as part of their educator development programs so that they master the skills to teach in such environments” (Resta, 2010).

Teachers must understand what students are trying to accomplish and what experiences are needed to help them accomplish those goals. Then, the teacher must assemble the right resources and integrate them in the right way to deliver those experiences (Horn & Staker, 2014). Done well, this learning style preserves the benefits of the old way (traditional classroom), and provides new benefits: personalization, access, equity, and cost control (Horn &Staker, 2014). This is particularly important to adult learners who have specific goals, but feel limited by the traditional classroom due to work schedules or other obligations.


After reviewing the literature, the blended learning approach seems promising. The research has shown that it can help students learn their material more deeply, and can engage and motivate learners. It has been shown in several studies that students’ test scores are ultimately better in a blended learning environment vs. a traditional classroom. It extends flexibility to the working adult and/or parent who may not have a schedule that permits him or her to attend classes in a traditional setting. Blended learning can save resources for the school, and allow for more students to be reached in a given term, but it also allows for face-to-face interaction with the teacher that some students may need or want.

I would like to read more about the different models of blended learning and the pros and cons of each; this would give me a better understanding of what would work best in a career college setting, where a large amount of the learning is hands-on in a lab or clinic setting. It seems that blended learning would work very well for didactic courses, especially considering that adult learners come from a wide range of experiences and foundational knowledge. As more colleges and universities adopt this style of teaching, it will become a standard that many students will benefit from- and even expect.




Amaral, K.E. & Shank, J. (2010). Enhancing Student Learning and Retention with Blended Learning Class Guides. Educause. Retrieved from

Ambrose, S., Bridges, M., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M., & Norman, M. (2010). How Learning Works. 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Christensen, C. (2015). Blended Learning Definitions. Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. Retrieved from

Horizon Report. (2015). Higher Education Edition. Retrieved from

Horizon Report. (2016). Higher Education Edition. Retrieved from

Horn, M. & Staker, H. (2014). Blended Learning is About More than Technology. Retrieved from

Morrison, D. (2013). Is Blended Learning the Best of Both Worlds? Retrieved from

Resta, P., & Carroll, T. (2010). The Summary Report of the Invitational Summit on Redefining Teacher Education for Digital-age Learners. Retrieved from http://redefinete.


Further reading:

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