Does Blended Learning Really Work?

“Does blended learning really work?” This question has become increasingly popular over the last decade or so. Educators and researchers around the world want to know does including technology into the classroom help students learn? Considering the amounts of money and resources poured into school technology, this truly is the “million-dollar” question.

Over the past year, I have read numerous articles and studies to determine this very question and the honest truth is the results are mixed. There is literature that states blended learning makes little to no difference in student achievement. However, there are also numerous studies that support the implementation of technology in teaching and learning.

Take for instance this 2015 study from Saudi Arabia. Researchers there examined the effects of blended learning on fifth-grade students to determine if a blended learning environment would improve reading and language skills in students. The researchers performed a qualitative research design where they examined 49 fifth grades student’s achievement in learning the Arabic language.

The results were quite impressive. The mean scores of the experimental groups post achievement examine increased by (M=9.64) when compared to control groups. To understand this significance, the researchers ran an ANCOVA to determine the covariance between the learning method and the post achievement test. In essence, the researchers simply wanted to find out if the increase in mean scores was related to the use of technology in the classroom. Sure enough, the results came back (0.000) which indicates statistical significance at (a ≤ 0.05). To put it plainly the researcher found that blended learning helped the students learn Arabic.

However, to me, the importance is not that blended learning showed a significance. It was how the technology was incorporated into the classroom that mattered. The researchers noted that the students were in a blended learning environment that promoted student to teacher interactions, student to content connections, and student to student discussions all while receiving corrective feedback from the teacher. The researchers noted that blended learning in conjunction with the qualities of excellent teaching makes the difference. When teachers can use technology ubiquitously to enhance lessons, promote critical thinking, and increase student verbal skills through social interaction, then powerful learning can happen.

This is important because there is a belief that putting students through a station rotation on a digital curriculum increases learning. I believe this is an oversimplified approach. I worry that millions of dollars in education are spent on digital curriculums trying to find a “silver bullet.” When in reality, as Marzano et al. (2001) would indicate, effective learning comes from effective teachers and effective teachers use effective teaching strategies. As we continue to move through the digital age, it is my hope that we don’t forget about the power of the classroom teacher and the effect “good” teaching has on students.

Al-Madani, F. (2015). The effect of blended learning approach on fifth grade students' academic achievement in my beautiful language textbook and the development of their verbal creative thinking in Saudi Arabia. Journal of International Education Research, 11(4), 253-n/a.

Marzano, R. J., Pickering, D. J., & Pollack, J. E. (2001). Classroom Instruction that Works Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Gregg Russell

by Gregg Russell