Implementing Blended Learning: Moving Toward the Eight Elements of a “Truly Blended” School

May, 2018

Source: Avi Chai Foundation


This report, based on a four-year study of day schools that are introducing and implementing blended learning practices with support from The AVI CHAI Foundation, presents overall patterns of these schools’ goals and progress. Between fall 2012 and spring 2016, we visited schools, usually for two days of observing classes across grade levels and subjects and conducting interviews with teachers and administrators. We studied 23 schools, visited 80 classrooms, interviewed 120 teachers and administrators, and reviewed dozens of school and classroom documents in print and online. We also spoke with program providers and funders and tried out many of the online sites and programs the schools were using.

Our first finding is that schools exhibit considerable variation in their first steps toward blended learning. Depending on immediate needs, existing capacity, and even chance opportunities, the schools made decidedly different choices about where, what, and how to begin blending. Formats ranged from station rotation models in elementary grades to flex models in high schools, with almost every variation in between. Blended learning looks different even within a given school, varying considerably from classroom to classroom, subject to subject, and even day to day. Some schools (particularly new schools) adopted blended learning as a key element of their school design, for every teacher and in every classroom, while more established schools began with just a few teachers, moving cautiously toward wider use.

The second, and most striking, finding of this study was that despite the wide range of variation in starting place, pace, and forms of practice, educators displayed surprisingly strong agreement on what a “truly blended” school would look like, offer students, and require of faculty and staff. They understand blended learning as existing on a continuum that extends from (1) the stereotypical image of a traditional text-based and teacher-led classrooms through (2) technology enhanced (adding new tools to existing practice) to (3) truly blended, and on to (4) fully online education. Across schools, subjects, and grade levels, educators in the day schools agreed that their goal is not to move all the way to the fully online end of the continuum but rather to move to, and sustain, the stage they describe as “truly blended.” This continuum marks both a shared understanding and a common goal—further along than simply “technology-enhanced,” but not so far as “fully online.” In overall intent and direction, their consistency is strong.

Third, they share consistent, specific, and relatively concrete descriptions of what that stage entails. They describe eight elements that characterize a “truly blended” day school:

  1. Increasing content opportunities 
  2. Variety of instructional mode and media 
  3. Diagnostic assessment and data use 
  4. Differentiated instruction 
  5. Personalized pathways 
  6. Production and publication of student work 
  7. Shift in teacher role to designer and facilitator 
  8. School-wide planning and support 

Though most schools have not yet reached the goal of a truly blended day school, their administrators and teachers are convinced that they are moving in the right direction. The study shows that they are indeed making progress toward their intended destination.

With room for local adaptations, carefully considered efforts across the eight elements, accommodation for variations in teacher interest and capacity, and considerable patience as they wait for programs to attain the high standards they’ve set, the day schools are making considerable progress in moving forward. They describe “truly blended” schools, as one staff member put it, as “not using technology for technology’s sake.” Instead, they view it as using new tools to leverage larger school and classroom improvement, create new benefits for students, better prepare students for 21st century lives and careers, and move their programs forward within the context of sustainable costs and tuition models.

The path is long, and the schools’ leaders and educators readily acknowledge that they still have a long way to go. But overall, their direction and commitment to keep moving are clear. Blended learning, this study concludes, has much to offer day schools, and day schools have much to teach the wider field of general education about implementing blended learning.

Read the entire report here

Updated: Jun. 06, 2018