A big challenge with blended learning is knowing how many students are actually experiencing it. Since we made the prediction in Disrupting Class that by 2019, 50 percent of all high school courses would be online in some form or fashion—the vast majority in blended learning—good data has been hard to come by.
The lack of information on numbers experiencing blended learning has created challenges at multiple levels—from understanding if the phenomenon is actually scaling to contextualizing if bumps on the road, like the recent demise of Amplify, are mere blips or catastrophic events, and from understanding where policymakers and philanthropists can make the most impact to knowing whether the blended learning that is occurring is a good or bad thing for students. Although there is plenty of data to understand the growth of charter schools or the numbers of students in districts, because blended learning is a phenomenon that doesn’t occur at the school level—it instead occurs at the level of individual classrooms and teachers—capturing what’s happening is difficult.
A new report released today goes to some measure to tackle this problem in the state of Ohio. The report, State of Opportunity: The Status and Direction Of Blended Learning in Ohio, produced by the Clayton Christensen Institute, The Learning Accelerator, and the Ohio Blended Learning Network,suggests that 58 percent of schools that responded have some type of blended learning going on—and for high schools that responded to the survey that number is 71 percent.
The survey, which Brian Bridges led, was distributed to all 994 district and charter schools in Ohio in February and March of 2015; 211 schools responded. There are several interesting highlights from the data.
The majority of elementary schools blending use Rotation models—exactly as Heather Staker and I predicted using the theory of disruptive innovation. In high school, the A La Carte model is the dominant one—again, as predicted—followed by the Rotation model. What would be interesting to see is for which subjects high schools use the A La Carte model and for which courses they use the Rotation model. My prediction would be that the A La Carte model is used much more for areas of nonconsumption within schools whereas Rotation models are used much more in core subjects, but the survey didn’t ask that question. Similarly, it would be ideal to understand the intensity of use of blended learning in schools—for what percentage of the day are students in blended-learning environments or how many classes on average do students take that are blended—but the survey didn’t get at these questions.
Also interesting is that 66 percent of district schools report using blended learning, whereas only 42 percent of charters do—something that confirms my observations but is counter to the narrative many in the education reform space hold.
The top reasons for implementing blended learning were also strong and in line with our observations across the country: create/facilitate personalized learning (73 percent), provide more course choices (58 percent), and improve student academic outcomes (53 percent).
Finally, the survey shed light on how schools are navigating the challenges associated with starting new blended-learning programs. In regards to funding, an overwhelming majority of respondents—72 percent—relied on local funding to support their programs. Nearly two-thirds indicated that they went through a planning phase before moving to implementing, and about half of respondents hired consultants to help them move into this work. When it came to selecting digital content, interestingly 78 percent of schools indicated that generating cost savings was a major factor. As for professional development, 58 percent of schools offered some kind of professional development for their teachers, and 28 percent wished that they had offered more.
Thirty-three percent of respondents reported that they needed more planning and networking opportunities to help them implement blended learning, and 24 percent reported a desire for more high-quality professional development. Only seven percent reported wanting advice on resources.
Blended learning offers an unprecedented opportunity to create a student-centered education system at scale—one that personalizes learning for each student in a competency-based environment where students move on in their learning upon mastery. It’s still early days for blended learning; whether it realizes its potential remains a question mark. What is clear from this report though is that blended learning is growing across the country, so rather than worry about its raw growth, it is important to worry about whether it is delivering for students.