A theory of action for why advocates believe blended learning can work

The Learning Accelerator (TLA) recently released its Blended Learning Research Clearinghouse 1.0, which was compiled by TLA Partner Saro Mohammed. The document provides a valuable synopsis of eight studies that are wide-ranging in their design, ranging from the Proof Points that we have released in conjunction with the Christensen Institute, to studies by SRI, the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute, and others. Michael Horn has written an excellent column over at EdSurge reviewing the TLA Clearinghouse in detail. I agree with his description and in particular his statement thatasking whether blended learning ‘works’ is the wrong question,” and I won’t go into depth repeating the points he makes. As many researchers have noted about all sorts of educational technology applications, the answer to the question of efficacy is generally that the application can work under certain circumstances, and the key questions are really about which conditions allow it to work. Several of the sources cited in the Clearinghouse make this point as well, and some of the studies go into discussions about the conditions under which blended learning appears to work.

In addition to providing a guide to some of the existing research, the Clearinghouse also contributes a valuable description of a commonly used theory of action for why blended learning will improve student outcomes. This point is captured as follows:

“There is, however, an established body of evidence for personalizing or individualizing learning and facilitating student agency to foster self-regulated, intrinsically motivated learning, all of which blended learning can enable at scale.”

The report goes on to document and describe seven “instructional elements of personalization that have been found to have large, positive effects on learning,” including references to the relevant studies.

Within the larger context, which is that studies into the effectiveness of blended learning have been limited, the key points from this section of the TLA document are:

1) Numerous studies have shown elements of personalizing learning to be successful at improving student outcomes.

2) Blended learning can enable personalized learning to be implemented at scale.

3) Blended learning is likely to improve student outcomes because it will allow personalized learning to reach a significant percentage of students—which is difficult without technology.

In fact, some people argue that blended learning doesn't just allow personalized learning at scale; it is required to deliver personalized learning at scale.

These general ideas appear to be increasingly accepted. When one asks a school or district leader why they are adopting blended learning, more often than not the answer is related to personalized learning. But it wasn’t many years ago that the answers were not so clear. The TLA report documents a reason why the link between personalized learning, blended learning, and student outcomes makes sense.