5. Blended Learning Design


This chapter covers the basic premise and definitions of blended learning, including a review of some key concepts and design considerations related to blended learning design, the importance of designing for peer-to-peer interactions and connections.


After reading and reviewing this chapter, learners should be able to:

  1. Understand blended-learning concepts, a design framework, and strategies.
  2. Learn about tools and approaches to foster interaction and independence.
  3. Analyze the need for design consistency and course alignment.
  4. Distinguish blended learning from virtual (eLearning or mLearning) and face-to-face learning.
  5. List examples of activities in your own teaching that are well-suited to virtual vs. classroom environments.
  6. Review applications of effective design principles.
  7. Plan a blended-learning experience.
  8. Select and use interactive tools in blended learning designs.
  9. Show an example of building learner independence in a blended learning design.


  1. Introduction to Blended Learning Design
  2. Design Considerations
  3. Managing Interaction
  4. End-of-Chapter Resources

Section 1: Introduction to Blended Learning Design

Video 3-1: What is Blended Learning

What is Blended Learning

Blended learning is a mixture of face-to-face time and online time in a class. Blended learning can include anywhere from 20 to 80% of the course time online. Blended learning offers the instructor the opportunity to extend the learning outside of the classroom, thus increasing the opportunities for students to connect to each other, as well as the chance to utilize a wider array of online resources and technologies to enhance the classroom time.

Some of the common tools used to enhance a blended course:

  • Videos online at services such as YouTube
  • Bookmarking tools and online resource lists
  • Social groups
  • Course lecture and tutorials (flipped learning)
  • Podcasts and interviews with experts in the field
  • Interactive Digital Learning Objects (DLOs) at Open Educational Resource (OER) sites such as MERLOT

One example of this would be when faculty use online discussions to expand on discussions that started in the classroom. The instructor may use 30 minutes of one lecture to get a debate started, and then have the students continue that same discussion in an online discussion forum for the rest of the week. This allows the students an opportunity to delve deeper and longer into the topic they are discussing and to spend time looking up resources and information to enhance the quality of their points. This is an excellent blended learning tactic that helps advance the students learning in meaningful directions.

As you read this chapter, consider how a stakeholder group might view blended learning and what you might tell members of that group (in under 100 words) to help them in understanding what it is. Identify the stakeholder group who is the audience for your message (students, colleagues, families, employers, the public, leaders, officials, etc.)

.Three overlapping areas of blended learning, Time in the classroom, collaboration, and independent learning

The following definition of blended learning is provided by The Innosight Institute (2011): “Blended learning is any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace.” Another way to think about blended learning is that it represents a shift of “school” or “college” from being a site where learning happens in specific spaces at regular times, to a flexible service in which students may engage in a great many times and places (Cavanaugh Hargis, 2010). This site-to-service shift includes several changes that are emerging as influences on the design and delivery of education, as shown in Table 3-1.

Table 5.1: Shifts from Site to Service

Shifts Site: Campus Service: Education
Place Classroom for lectures and assessments; home for practice Campus, home, community and field for all activities
Time 6.5 hours/day; 180 days/year between September and June Any time, any day, year-round
Materials Physical and virtual; owned by the institution with limited access off campus Physical and virtual; increasingly in public domain and by student subscription for access any time on student devices
Interactions Instructor-directed; mostly occurring in class Instructor-moderated;    occurring any time
Assessments Scheduled for all students according to syllabus Given as individual students reach mastery

Tweet Chat: #virtuolearn

Tweet about the differences between blended-learning and traditional face-to-face learning.

Section 2: Design Considerations

3-2 Video: Flipped Learning

The most recent models of blended learning reaffirm the proven learning design principle of a consistent vision and purpose that is reflected in consistent design, from the organization level through the lesson level (Ferdig, Cavanaugh, & Freidhoff, 2012). Key lessons from successful blended education programs are that successful blended programs have direction, were created for a reason, and all decisions about the designs in the program adhere to the overarching direction and purpose and are expressed consistently throughout a course and program, both conceptually and visually. The internal or external benchmarks, design standards, and development templates may be adopted to ensure this consistency. Many schools use frameworks and indicators such as the Quality Matters rubric to evaluate courses for quality design components and which serve as a guide and a pointer to other established guidelines. Each element of the course must serve the course goal.

The following matrix can assist in the planning:

Table 5.2 Blended Learning Plan

Item Example Your


Goals Course Goal: What is the primary outcome of the course?
Objectives Learning  Objectives:  What specific, learner-centered, measurable objectives are needed to lead learners to the overarching course goal?
Assessment Assessment: How you will assess student learning toward this objec- tive and ultimate goal?
Strategies Teaching Strategies: What teaching activities you and students use to meet objectives?
Tools Face-to-face/Online Tools and Resources: How are the face-to-face and online activities integrated to lead to the objectives and goal?

Blended learning is consistently shown in research to be more effective for promoting learning than either fully online or full classroom-based approaches (Means, 2009) because it combines the strengths of both learning environments.

Classroom Learning + Online Learning = Blended Learning

There are some important considerations to think about when designing blended learning modules for a course. Here are a few of those considerations to keep in mind as you progress:

  1. Technology skills: Make sure students know how to use any technology implemented as a part of the course. For example, if you have students create a video for a project, be sure to include directions on how to use a video editing software with guides and tutorials to actually using the technology they need in order to complete that assignment.
  2. Technology access: Double-check that students can access, open, download, and use any resources used online. For example, if many have slow Internet connections at home, then don’t put PowerPoint slides online with a lot of photos, as it will make it a very large file size which is hard for them to download.
  3. Accessibility: Design online learning components with universal access and different learning styles in mind. For example, on videos, include a transcript that students can read instead of listening to the video. This helps second-language learners have better access to the learning content as well.

Suitable Tasks

As in all educational design, some tasks are well suited to some learning environments, and not so much to other learning contexts. It is good to make lists of which tasks in your course will be well suited to the online portion of the blended course vs. the face-to-face portion. Be sure to consider Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy and the Periodic Table of Visualization as you read this section.

The classroom environment is well suited for:

  • Discussion of abstract content, brainstorming, and planning
  • Guest speakers who are nearby
  • Practicing interpersonal skills and presentations
  • Discussion of practices and processes
  • Review of assignments
  • Group discussions, role play, debate, speaking practice
  • Providing practice and feedback to students on complex or ill-defined tasks
  • Hands-on learning requiring the use of specialized materials that are difficult to obtain or use without instructor supervision

The online environment is well-suited for:

  • Reading and asynchronous discussion
  • Synchronous sessions with remote guests
  • Team project development in online space
  • Peer review
  • Video and text-based cases
  • Reading and asynchronous discussion
  • Video and other media
  • Presentations as background for skill development
  • Repeated practice with concepts and skills using tools that allow students to work at their own pace, including with interactive manipulatives, games, and simulations
  • Reading, viewing and listening, followed by independent reflection
  • Connecting virtually for conversations and mentoring and remove students or experts, conducing web surveys, or online book groups
  • Working on multi-media projects and sharing them with a wide audience
  • Learning from and creating graphic organizers
  • Individualized tutoring with synchronous communication tools and cyber study groups
  • Knowledge checks using quizzes with automated feedback
  • Peer review of student work


Flipped Learning

Flipped learning is a type of learning in which the instructor puts lecture videos and materials online for the students to do on their own time prior to coming to class, thus leaving the class time for the students to be able to do interactive instructor-led learning activities and group work which offer the students a chance to apply what they are learning in the class in an expert-supported environment. Many feel this is a much better use of classroom time than only having the instructor stand at the front and lecture on information that students can easily view and learn before coming to class. Flipped learning is a type of blended learning design approach that capitalizes on technology to help enhance the quality of the face-to-face instructional time.

Design Strategies

Begin with the end in mind, as with any learning design effort. Specify what a successful learner knows and can DO at the end of the lesson, unit, or course. Create a step-by-step plan for scaffolding learners from their likely entry point to the desired exit point. Align all activities and assessment along this learning pathway. Blended courses are ideally suited to alternate between rich interaction, frequent feedback, and periodic reflection on learning. Think of ways to seamlessly integrate a complete developmental learning experience using the two learning environments

Interactive DLO: Hierarchy of Online Course Development

Hierarchy of online course development

By Peter Waters, Link: https://www.thinglink.com/scene/359584407108976640

Planning the Course

  • Design sequences of activities in a continuum so that the online materials and time between class meetings support the classroom time by preparing students for classroom activities and following up on classroom activities.
  • Build flexibility into timelines and activities to get the benefits of the online time between class meetings.
  • Focus on the sequences and strategies that are best for learning rather than focusing on the technology. Select the appropriate technology for the learners and the learning, with a preference for technology that is simple and effective rather than flashy.
  • Test online materials and run practice sessions with the synchronous technology.
  • Provide an orientation or trial session for online tests, meetings, and other components that may be new for students.
  • Plan each course, each week, and each session using a detailed timeline.
  • Create policies and protocols and communicate them to students related to timelines for your response to their contacts and assignment submissions.
  • Develop clear and consistent protocols for student participation in online discussions.
  • Tightly align course goals, objectives/outcomes, materials, and assessments.

Tweet Chat: #virtuolearn

When considering technology skills, technology access, and accessibility in blended learning design, choose one concept and tweet two barriers to achievement.

Section 3: Managing Interaction

3-3 Video: Where Good Ideas Come From

Through connections with peers in learning interactions, student knowledge can be expanded and built upon. Peer- to-peer interactions are important to help students learn from each other and to challenge their thinking in new directions.

Following are some tools you can use to enhance the interactions in your course.

Table 5.3 Tools to Enhance Course Interactions

  Web Tools and Apps Learning Management

System Tools

Media Resources
Type Blogs, Wikis, mindmaps, social networks, project management spaces, file sharing Chat, discussion boards, portfolios eBooks,    video, photo, sharing
Example EduCanvas, Bubl.us, Mindmeister, Popplet, Twitter, Pinterest, Basecamp, Zoho Project, Box/Dropbox, Google Apps for education Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai, Udemy, iTunes U, eCollege YouTube,       Instagram, SlideShare

There are many ways to implement interactive tools into your blended learning course:

  1. Focus on dialogue, interaction, reflection, and collaborative activities.
  2. Strive for teaching presence in online materials.
  3. Learn the methods of communication that are preferred for students in between classroom sessions so they never feel abandoned.
  4. Lean toward over-communication in between classroom meetings to increase clarity and understanding.
  5. Provide examples for exemplary student discussion replies, assignments, and projects.
  6. Develop online tutorials as necessary.

When creating the flow of events in the course, consider Gradual Release of Responsibility (Fisher Frey, 2008). Early sessions and activities should be sequenced in smaller chunks to develop foundational knowledge and skills with more instructor leadership, feedback, and concrete examples.

Gradual Release of Responsibility Instructional Model. I do it, we do it, you do it together, you do it alone.

Figure 2

In effect, the learning should scaffold independence and allow for more student autonomy as their knowledge increases. As the course continues, work can become more conceptual and complex. Students can work more independently and the instructor role should transition to that of a tutor or mentor. Finally, students should lead activities and presentations as the course culminates.


Blended learning is any time a student learns, at least in part, at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and, at least in part, through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace. There are tasks well suited to blended learning design such as discussions that expand talks outside the classroom, bringing in remote guests, team work, collaboration on projects, integration of video and media, and access to online resources and tools. Use a design framework to guide the creation of the online portion of the course. Choose appropriate tools that enhance learning rather than detract. All decisions about the designs in the program adhere to the overarching direction and purpose.

Tweet Chat: #virtuolearn

Tweet a comment on your favorite web based tool or app that have you used as a learner or instructor that you feel most enhances interactions within a course.

End-of-Chapter Resources


  1. What is flipped learning, and how can this learning strategy be applied to your course?
  2. In your course, what types of activities can easily be moved to the online delivery format, and which are best suited to the classroom time?
  3. What types of interactivity can be designed into your unit plan that will provide students with opportunities for peer-to-peer learning?


The task is to design a blended learning lesson/unit for your course.

Consider the key concepts from the blended learning chapter, then think about your own experiences with blended learning. Choose a lesson, unit, or other component of a course that you would like to redesign systematically as a blended component. Then complete each task below after reading this chapter. Create an outline for a lesson from a class including topics, content for each topic, and teaching strategies. Decide which elements of the lesson will be face-to-face and which will be blended. Provide a brief rationale for your decisions. The readings will lead you through this design process from start to finish.

Complete the following tasks after reading each section in this chapter:

  1. Section 1: Identify a lesson or activity in a course you teach or you will teach to redesign and add interaction as if time and space were not limitations. Use the learning objectives and assessments to brainstorm the optimal activities that would take the students from their entry state to a high level of achievement of the objectives. What is the ideal sequence and pace for these activities? Review the table called “Blended Learning Plan” in chapter 4.1. Complete your own table with specific examples of how you will redesign the activity to fit the blended learning format.
  • Once done, you have just done the basic steps of blended learning design: content analysis and the overall design of the learning experience!
  1. Section 2: Sort the activities you named in the first task into those well-suited for the physical learning environment and those well-suited for the virtual learning environment. Refine the activities to integrate media. Develop formative assessments for key points in the activities. Remember to add details, policies, procedures, expectations, and grading rubrics.  Points to keep in mind as you complete this task:  Be sure  to outline how you would apply the “flipped classroom concept” to the activity you identified, how you will change the activity to a blended-learning format, and how will you assess whether learners completed the activity.
    • You have now added to your analysis and design by beginning the development step in blended learning design!
  2. Section 3: Choose one or more new tools for the activities you have developed for your blended learning module. Consider how your plan may be adapted to increase student responsibility later in the lesson/unit. Write up a graduated, step-by-step, scaffolded plan for the student’s learning from the start of the unit, when you will mentor and guide them more, to the end when they should be able to show more autonomy on   the topics. If you will expect students to learn to use and apply a new tool, then write specific step-by-step instructions for the use of tool, and provide an example of how learners will be expected to apply the tool autonomously by the end of the unit.


Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy: choose tools that support specific learning skills students need to improve as a consequence of learning: http://edorigami.wikispaces.com/Bloom%27s+Digital+Taxonomy

Flipped Learning Network: http://flippedlearning.org

Innosight Institute, now called the Clayton Christensen Institute, on Blended Learning: http://www.chris tenseninstitute.org/

Periodic Table of Visualization Methods: http://www.visual-literacy.org/periodic_table/periodic_table.html

Hierarchy of Online Course Development: http://www.thinglink.com/scene/359584407108976640

Gradual Release of Responsibility Model:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gradual_release_of_responsibility


Bonk, C. J., Graham, C. R. (2006). The handbook of blended learning: Global perspectives, local designs. Pfeiffer essential resources for training and HR professionals. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Cavanaugh, C. (2009). Getting Students More Learning Time Online. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress. http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/05/distance_learning.html

Cavanaugh, C., & Hargis, J. (2010). Redefining school from site to service: Learning in and from K-12 online education. Distance Learning 7(2), 1-5.

Cavanaugh, C., Barbour, M., Brown, R., Diamond, D., Lowes, S., Powell, A., Rose, R., Scheick, A., Scribner, D. & Van der Molen, J. (2009). Examining Communication and Interaction in Online Teaching. Vienna, VA: iNACOL. http://www.inacol.org/research/bookstore/detail.php?id=14

Ferdig, R., Cavanaugh, C. & Friedhoff, J. (Eds.). (2012). Lessons Learned from K-12 Blended Programs. Vienna, VA: iNACOL. http://www.inacol.org/research/bookstore/detail.php?id=33

Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2008). Better learning through structured teaching: A framework for the gradual release of responsibility. Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.

Innosight Institute. (2012). Blended Learning. http://www.innosightinstitute.org/media-room/publications/blende d-learning/

Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., Bakia, M., &Jones, K. (2009). Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies. Washington, D.C: US Department of Education. Available at: http://www.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/tech/evidence-based-practices/finalreport.pdf

University of Central Florida. (2012). Blended Learning Toolkit. http://blended.online.ucf.edu/

Wang, F. L., Fong, J., & Kwan, R. (2010). Handbook of research on hybrid learning models: Advanced tools, technologies, and applications. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.