Introduction to Blended Learning

A blended classroom successfully integrates both face-to-face and online instruction. The Christensen Institute has provided several models for implementing a blended classroom, taking into account a variety of factors like a workspace, devices, design, and skills.

Defining Blended Learning

The Clayton Christensen Institute, one of the foremost "think tanks" for education, defines blended learning in this way:

The definition of blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns: (1) at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace; (2) at least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home; (3) and the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience. 

It is important to note that blended learning is not about the tool, it is about using effective instruction to improve student learning.  Blended learning restructures classrooms to increase student engagement, input, and personalized learning through the use of technology and face-to-face interaction.

Blended learning and technology integration

Models for Blended Learning

There are many ways to implement blended learning in the classroom - depending on devices, platforms, tasks, workspace design, and beyond. The Christensen Institute, a leading authority on blended learning, has defined these models as well as curated a variety of resources to help you understand how it might work best in your classroom.

According to The Blended Learning Universe’s “Basics of Blended Learning”, a blended classroom is part “online”, part “at home”, and includes a “learning pathway”. Upon further research into the Christensen Institute’s hub called the  Blended Learning Universe, you will see there are 7 Models for implementation of blended learning:. 

Getting Started with Blended Learning

There are several questions you need to answer as you contemplate building a blended course.  

  • What components of Online Learning do you hope to build into your blended course? 

  • What are the elements of your brick and mortar classroom you hope to continue with face-to-face instruction?

  • What percent of your course will be online vs. face-to-face? 

  • What Blended Learning Model will you integrate?

  • How will you use Technology in your blended course?

Let’s start with a video overview. 

While the videos you just reviewed refer to models of blended learning, there are multiple ways to blend, not just the ones referred to in the videos.

Keep in mind that most classrooms are not boxed into one simple "blended model," but rather a combination of models, pedagogies, and strategies that work for you in your setting.   


Choosing a Model

Creating a blended course involves integrating a model that will work for your classroom and the content that you teach.  The Christensen Institute and Blended Learning Universe provide research-based guidance on establishing a blended learning environment and finding that happy medium between face-to-face and online instruction.

Blended Learning

The Christensen Institute: Blended Learning Models and Examples provide guidance on how brick-and-mortar and online learning converse to become blended.  Explore the samples and focus on 1-2 that may work for you. 


  1. Managed Learning:

A learning management system (LMS) is an online platform used to manage instruction and assessment and allows for teachers to communicate, give feedback, and collect assignments.  Many Learning Management Systems are available - Schoology, Blackboard, Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, etc. 

  1. Orchestrated Learning:

Orchestrated Learning is how and where teachers organize student learning in controlled experiences by having students participate in guided direct instruction using digital worksheets, discussion boards, watching videos or teacher recorded lessons or demonstrations, or taking notes.

  1. Collaborative Learning:

Collaborative learning promotes critical thinking in a student-led experience with individuals or groups of students.  Using this method of learning can allow for personalized learning based on student needs and skill levels.  

  1. Authentic Learning:

Authentic learning is where learning should be made public by sharing results with individuals beyond the classroom.  This allows for students to engage in real-world situations and understand how learning connects to the world.  

While the first 2 categories are a good place to begin in blended learning, the goal is to empower students using collaborative and authentic learning to bring deeper learning experiences.

The “Tootsie Pop Principle” is a take on a popular commercial for the candy maker, where the owl is given three “licks” to get to the center of the Tootsie Pop.  In recent years, Ed Tech folks have adopted the “Tootsie Pop Principle” to mean “3 clicks to get to the good stuff” of an online lesson.  

With this in mind, building a blended lesson should get students to the “good stuff” quickly and efficiently. Keep this in mind as you are thoughtful about your design features.  

Blended lessons integrate a variety of key features: 

  • Technology rich and engaging activities to support the content area learning objectives

  • Interactive tools, resources, and media that are visually appealing

  • a combination of face-to-face and online activities

  • opportunities for goal setting, self-reflection, progress monitoring, and assessment

  • Both asynchronous (e.g. Discussion Forums, recorded videos) and synchronous (webinars) communication

  • Opportunities to differentiate, accommodate, personalize, and support students across a diverse landscape (See Thing 21: Assistive Technology)

  • Options for deepening the level of job-embedded technology through theSAMR Framework, TPACK, TIM - The Technology Integration Matrix, TripleE Framework, and beyond. (See Thing 1: Basics) 

  • Lessons fully function within a blended model

  • Provide options and resources for students where access is a challenge

  • A variety of ways for students to demonstrate and engage learners.

Some key questions to ask yourself when thinking about building a blended lesson or course:

  • What lessons or elements need to be face-to-face and what can be online?

  • How much teacher direction is required?

  • What are the technical skills required of the students?

  • What is the availability of technology outside of class?

  • What type of communication is needed?

    • Face-to-Face? Online?

    • Synchronously or Asynchronously?

    • Peer collaboration or discussion?

    • Feedback and reflection?

  • Where will students post their work?

  • How will you track student progress or assess performance? 

  • How will you onboard students to blended learning?

Better Lessons has hundreds of examples of Master Teachers who have shared their blended learning lessons. Visit the site to see how teachers in various settings use blended learning in their classrooms. 

Onboarding conveys the learning objectives, explains people and classroom culture, aligns expectations and performance, and provides the resources that are essential for students to be successfully assimilated into his or her online course/classroom. 

In Tucker, Wykoff, and Green’s “Blended Learning in Action: A Practical Guide Toward Sustainable Change” (2017, p. 97), they ascertain that Onboarding for Face-to-Face should include the following essential elements: 

  • Train students how to access digital tools and class resources, use tools, transition between activities, and organize their digital workspace.

  • Define objectives, expectations for performance and behavior (citizenship), and communication methods.

  • Support students in their digital spaces, communication, progress monitoring, discussions and collaboration, and scaffold responsibilities. 

They go on to describe the elements of Onboarding Students for Primarily Online Experiences to require:

  • Train how to access course resources, login and participate in the discussion, seek help, and collaborate online

  • Define course objectives, communication protocols, and responsibilities

  • Support for deadlines and responsibilities, facilitation, monitoring, feedback and collaboration

Prepare your students for blended success by doing some pre-planning activities to onboard your students.  Some typical activities might include:

  • Pre-assess basic technology skills and accessibility

  • Gather student interests and learning styles with a personal learning survey or an interest profile

  • Familiarizing students with the use of Student Checklists to guide activities, timelines, and expectations. 

  • Providing students with a Code of Conduct for online behavior. For an example, visit thisSchoology Code of Conduct which is a part of the public resources.

  • Review Digital Citizenship guidelines for acceptable and appropriate use, including accountable talk or positive talk stems for how to engage in online discussion boards. (See Thing 9 - Digital Citizenship)

  • Use a Choice Board for an interactive adventure or scavenger hunt of onboarding activities

For more great ideas about Onboarding, check out the MISD session in Schoology: ONBOARDING STUDENTS TO BLENDED LEARNING