NOTE: We have released an updated categorization of the blended-learning models since the publication of this paper. Please see “Is K–12 blended learning disruptive?: An introduction of the theory of hybrids” for the most up-to-date taxonomy.

May 2012


As blended learning continues to expand across the K–12 sector, definitions are important to help people talk about the new phenomena. This white paper refines our previous work in helping to create a shared language for the emerging field so that innovators can build upon each other’s ideas, rather than talk past each other.

In the white papers, titled “The rise of K–12 blended learning” and “The rise of K–12 blended learning: Profiles of emerging models,” we suggested a preliminary definition of blended learning and categorization structure. This white paper introduces a refined definition and description of models based on feedback from over 80 organizations and 100 educators who commented on the initial research.

The updated taxonomy includes a number of changes. It eliminates two of the six blended-learning models—Face-to-Face Driver and Online Lab—because they duplicate other models and make the categories too rigid to accommodate the diversity of blended-learning models in practice. The new definitions are intentionally broad and open, rather than specific. They set forth basic patterns that are emerging, but avoid setting tight parameters on how a model “has to be.” The new taxonomy also identifies four sub-categories that are appearing, namely the Station Rotation, Lab Rotation, Flipped Classroom, and Individual Rotation models.

Figure 1 depicts a categorization scheme for the blended-learning landscape as it currently exists based upon an analysis of programs that either are preparing to launch or are already in existence. The models represent particular programs within a school, not a typology for whole-school design.

This white paper defines each of the models in Figure 1 and provides examples of schools and districts that have implemented them. It also identifies several education practices that share features of blended learning but differ in key ways. As stated in the first white paper, we believe that the blended-learning landscape will continue to evolve and expand. We invite others to contribute to this research by offering additions, clarifications, and most importantly, new innovations that produce improved education options and outcomes for students.


  • Heather Staker
    Heather Staker

    Heather Staker is an adjunct fellow at the Christensen Institute, specializing in K–12 student-centered teaching and blended learning. She is the co-author of "Blended" and "The Blended Workbook." She is the founder and president of Ready to Blend, and has authored six BloomBoard micro-credentials for the “Foundations of Blended Learning” educator micro-endorsement.

  • Michael B. Horn
    Michael B. Horn

    Michael B. Horn is Co-Founder, Distinguished Fellow, and Chairman at the Christensen Institute.