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Blended-learning trend watch

What's happening in blended learning? A look at the models on the rise.

5 min read


Blended-learning trend watch


Over the years researching blended learning in schools, our team at the Christensen Institute has observed a wide spectrum of blended-learning practices. While there is great diversity of practice, the Institute identifies seven common models leveraged by educators: Station Rotation, Individual Rotation, Lab Rotation, Flipped Classroom, A La Carte, Enriched Virtual and Flex. In this work, we’re often asked questions like, ‘Which models are the most popular? Which models work best for primary school students versus high schoolers? What practices are cropping up internationally?’ Fortunately, we have a continuously growing database that is beginning to answer some of these important questions about practices in the field.

Where to find data

In February 2016, the Christensen Institute updated the Blended Learning Universe, an online hub of blended learning resources, and launched a more intuitive directory of blended schools around the world, precisely with the goal of making it easier for educators to learn about emerging practices from peers. Today, with 670 profiles and counting of schools’ and districts’ blended programs on the BLU, we’ve amassed an informative database indicating changes over time across the blended-learning space. Of course, while this isn’t an exhaustive picture of K-12 blended implementations across the world, it is enough data to reveal insightful trends. Here’s a look at models on the rise as shown in the data.

Models vary across grade levels

Overall, the most commonly reported models in the BLU directory are by far Station Rotation, firstly, and Flex. But what’s more telling is which models are used in certain circumstances—in particular, which models are practiced at specific grade levels.

As the graphs above indicate, the Station Rotation model is by far the leader for blended-learning implementation at the elementary school level (grades K-5). As Angela Jones, an elementary school teacher at Bella Romera Academy in Colorado described, the familiarity of the Station Rotation model made her team’s blended-learning transition relatively smooth. “There was just a sense of control and order about [the model],” Jones said. “No one was confident enough to try something new. We were seeking a recipe…I remember feeling, ‘Please just tell me what to do.’”

The Station Rotation’s unparalleled popularity is also true for middle school (grades 6-8) classrooms, although there seems to be a greater mix of models happening at these grade levels. For example, we can observe a higher rate of implementation of the Flex model, as well as other rotational models, at the middle school level compared to the elementary level. At M.V. Leckie Education Campus in Washington D.C., seventh-grade math teacher Matthew Barnette uses an Individual Rotation model to maximize teacher-facilitated instructional time. “We needed a model that allowed targeted intervention for struggling students,” Barnette said, adding that Individual Rotation helps him to build in more time for small-group teaching.

At the high school level (grades 9-12), Flex is the most often-reported model in the BLU directory. Educators may often select this model for higher grades as it affords students a high degree of control over their learning and customizability of their schedule—providing a learning experience more akin to a university than a traditional high school. Scott Rowe, principal of Huntley High School in Illinois, said his school adopted Flex as a way of “maintaining and enhancing the close student-teacher relationship while breaking down the walls of the traditional school.”

Looking across the BLU data for all grade levels in both 2016 and 2018, we see that these trends in models persist while blended adoption in schools overall continues to rise.

Trends in models differ across borders

What about global trends in blended learning? In the past two years, our research on blended learning has expanded beyond US schools to examine international practices. (Some of this research can be found in our 2017 report, Blended Beyond Borders, which takes a deep-dive look at blended-learning patterns in Brazil, Malaysia, and South Africa.) Our data is never complete on the BLU, but so far we observe that on the whole, trends in models abroad differ from trends in the US.

Interestingly, we notice a comparatively higher rate of adoption of the Lab Rotation model in other countries than within our own borders, in part due to wider access to desktop computer labs than other tech devices, like tablets or smartphones, in some countries. While disruptive models like Enriched Virtual and A La Carte have a decent foothold in the US, we have yet to discover a high degree of adoption of these models overseas. SK Bandar Hilil, a primary school in Melaka, Malaysia, for example, received partial funding from the edtech nonprofit FrogAsia and the privately-owned YTL Foundation to integrate computer-based learning. It was a challenge to fundraise the remaining money needed for a modern computer lab, but the school’s efforts succeeded so that they can now leverage the technology space for a Lab Rotation in various subjects.

We’re constantly collecting data and seeking to grow the database to continue learning from practitioners around the world. If you’re an educator implementing a blended-learning model in your classroom, school, or school network, share your journey with peer practitioners and researchers around the world in a profile on the BLU Directory! The insights you’ve gained in transforming student learning make for unique data that can help other practitioners design their blended environments for diverse learners.

Not sure which blended model(s) you use? Here’s a quick guide:


Jenny White is a K-12 education research associate at the Christensen Institute and the content manager for the Blended Learning Universe. She can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her team’s work on Twitter @blu_.


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