Dell Foundation Blended Learning Report adds to existing knowledge, but doesn’t demonstrate improved outcomes

A recent “Blended Learning Report” commissioned by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, and written by SRI, adds to the growing body of knowledge about blended learning implementations. It is valuable, as the field benefits from additional investigations and examples, especially in exploring and describing ways to improve blended learning implementations. It does not, however, provide the relatively simple examples of quantifiable outcomes that I believe educators, policymakers, and advocates need, particularly in non-charter public schools. The research appears to have begun with a focus on seeking quantifiable outcomes, as “the study was motivated by the following research questions:

  • Do students in blended learning models show changes in academic achievement that differ significantly from their peers’?
  • Do students in blended learning models show a propensity to close the achievement gap?...
  • Are blended learning models more effective for some types of students or subject areas than for others?”

These are three of the five research questions listed in the opening to the report. In my view, they are the most important questions. But the answers are not apparent in the report.

The fact that the outcomes results are not easily accessed in the 173 page report is an issue in itself. In order to navigate the findings I relied on the very useful blog posts by the Foundation’s Cheryl Niehaus, and as a researcher I was far more willing to dig into the report than most administrators, legislators, school board members, or other key people are likely to be.

According to the blog post, “During the 2011-2012 school year when the study was conducted, most of the participating organizations demonstrated statistically significant positive effects in at least some grade levels and/or subject areas. However, the findings also point to clear areas for improvement.” Pages 15-16 of the report discusses the limitations of the attempt to determine outcomes measures, and the school-specific “impact analyses” that are scattered throughout the second part of the report provide the numbers.

The bottom line is that this report includes some examples of success, and many useful descriptions of implementation ideas and issues (which I will discuss in a future blog post). I don’t think it’s going to sway many people who are as yet unconvinced that implementing blended learning is worth the time, money, and effort.