The Secret Is the Blend (Inside Higher Ed)

By Tanya Joosten

Recently, a Dean’s office asked me whether they should deliver blended classes in their college. Specifically, they wanted some evidence that showed that students enrolled in blended courses as they do online courses. Our online courses can sometimes fill up far faster than our face-to-face (f2f) courses. 

Through the years, I have had a couple chapters on blended learning, one of which I just wrote a little over a year ago, so I had some literature, but I wanted to know what was happening on other campuses as of late.

This request led me to ask my tweeps (peeps or friends on Twitter) what research was out there and resulted in a working blog post that listed some of these resources.  

Let’s remember that blended learning is not new, but it has had a resurgence in the past couple years. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), our blended learning initiative started back in 2001 with the support of University of Wisconsin System funds to explore this mode of teaching and learning.  Not only did the effort grow blended programs, but it led to a fantastic experience-based, practical faculty development program.

I am a bit partial, I know. As many might know, the Online Learning Consortium (previously Sloan-C) Blended Learning Workshop and Conference has been around for over 10 years. Also, many researchers acknowledge the opportunities provided by blended (e.g., Dziuban & Moskal, 2001; Dziuban, Hartman, & Moskal, 2004, Picciano, 2006).

However, as recent as last month, I was asked to come talk to a university that was starting a blended program (Hi, friends at U of Tampa). Some universities, schools, and colleges are still looking to be persuaded that blended is the right strategic choice for them.  

Now, emerging digital technology pilots and new catchy terms to describe different forms of blended learning, like the flipped classroom and flipped instruction, have brought new attention to the area. There is renewed interest, and we are seeing disciplines previously reluctant to provide instruction in online environments making the move to online, partially. Moreover, there is continued evidence that blended learning is growing.

Almost a decade ago, reports were that a small percentage, 36%, of schools offering a blended program (Allen, Seaman, & Garrett, 2007). More recently, many reports are predicting further growth in blended learning (Anderson, Boyles, & Rainie, July 27th, 2012; Picciano, Seamen, Shea, & Swan, 2012). Furthermore, we are seeing the leadership of initiatives originally funded through opportunities like Sloan Consortium Localness and the Gates Foundation’s Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC).

Why the growth? Blended learning allows us to better meet the needs of students. It provides them flexibility in their lives since they don’t have to come to campus as much through instructors’ effective use of technology to facilitate learning activities appropriate for the online medium.  For instance, one can use the online environment to deliver content rather than f2f lecture, which is partly why flipped instruction attracted new attention.

Most importantly, many would claim that blended learning is more effective than f2f or online because you have the luxury of both worlds, f2f and online. Hence, we hear blended learning is the “best of best worlds” quite often around our circles. Research has documented blended as the more effective mode of delivery (e.g., Means,Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, & Jones, 2009). Furthermore, for other instructors, programs, and institutions who are reluctant to make the move online or have no need to meet the needs of students at a distance but feel the train of the future is leaving the station without them; blended instruction feels like the safe alternative that is in-line with their campus culture.  

Not all blended learning is equal. Although the different definitions of blended would make you think that it is just about putting some of the course activities online (e.g., Picciano, 2006), but I believe the secret is in the blend. Sure, we can develop online lectures and put them online and then have students come to a f2f class for more higher order or experiential learning, but the most successful blended learning is when you blend activities across the mediums.

You strategically think about which activities should use which media and then you use these activities to inform each other in the different environments, creating a loop in a sense and then closing that loop as my colleague Alan Aycock used to say. Integration is a key component of really effective blended courses. This is a pedagogical approach that carefully plans the course design to integrate learning, utilizing both mediums providing coherence of the experience and allocating appropriate effort and attention in each medium.    

If you are going to blend, make sure it fits with your institutional goals in providing students access to a quality education. It is less about the technology and more about the pedagogical approach. So, when you move forward with your blended programs, make sure you rethink your instructional strategies to implement effective practices in blended or find a solid faculty development program to attend or bring to your campus.  

Luckily, the folks at University of Central Florida provide us all with the BlendKit Course. Check it out: UWM has their faculty development resources online at: and

Otherwise, join us in Denver for the OLC Blended Conference and Workshop in July (see or follow the discussion on twitter using hashtag #blend15.

If you would rather read about blended research, there are three books I would recommend checking out:

Blended Learning: Research Perspectives, Vol 2 (2013), Edited by Anthony G. Picciano, Charles D. Dziuban, and Charles R. Graham.  Can be found at:

Blended Learning: Research Perspectives, (2007), Edited by Anthony G. Picciano and Charles D. Dziuban.  Can be found at:

New Pedagogical Frontiers: Conducting Research in Online and Blended Learning (Coming in August), By Anthony G. Picciano, Charles D. Dziuban, Charles R. Graham, and Patsy Moskal.  Can be found at:

Tanya Joosten is Director, eLearning Research and Development, Academic Affairs and Co-Director, National Research Center for Distance Education and Technological Advancements at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.