Education has steadily shifted away from the traditional classroom because the old ways of teaching are no longer working for the students of today. One type of instruction does not provide students with enough choices or opportunities to interact with their learning and make connections (Singh, 2003). Blended learning is not a new concept in education and has gained worldwide attention as a promising alternative to the traditional classroom. A blended learning initiative can offer students choices in learning, as well as give access to information in multiple formats.
There is promising research to suggest that blended learning can have a positive impact on student outcomes, however there are also studies that have been inconclusive or point to students being more successful in a traditional classroom setting. The vast amount of research and data available on blended learning should be examined to create a clear understanding of how it can affect students. The goal of this review of literature on blended learning is to gather data from case studies and assess the overall impact it has on students including but not limited to student outcomes.
Varied measures of success in blended learning
When examining successful blended learning implementations, consideration must first be given to how success is defined in the study. In a case study of 6th grade students in a computer technology course in Turkey, success was defined as gains in test scores and increases in knowledge retention. This study relied on quantitative data that showed significant increases in pretest and posttest scores in the experimental group that was taught using blended learning compared to the control group which was taught using traditional lecture models (Ceylan and Kesici, 2017). In this case success was defined by numbers and considered only quantitative data and in many cases, this is what organizations are looking for when considering implementation of a new program. Another case study in a Kentucky high school looked at the graduation rate and student satisfaction with classes to measure success. This study was more informal but spanned six years. The Kentucky district boasts a 100% graduation rate and attributes the success to student choice in learning. They specifically address the benefits for at-risk students in this program and how blended learning and other similar programs kept students engaged and in control of their education (Pierce, 2015).
A study of a university in Uganda measured the success of blended learning by measuring the quality of the blended design, user satisfaction and motivation, and test scores. Students were surveyed during the study and the results showed a positive correlation between quality blended learning, student satisfaction with the program, and positive student outcomes. Another aspect of the research in this study addresses the characteristics of learners that make success in blended learning more likely. The research showed that students who were proficient with technology, had adequate support, and were able to navigate and evaluate online resources were more successful in blended learning. (Kintu et al., 2017).
There are multiple ways to measure the success of a blended learning program based on the research questions that drive the studies. As the body of research continues to grow for blended learning initiatives, the definition of success will continue to evolve and become multifaceted.
Variables and limitations to research
There are studies that show blended learning can have no effect or even negative effects on student performance depending on how they measure success. In a recent study completed in a Texas charter school, a blended learning program was implemented and quantitative data including MAP and STAAR scores for 6th grade math were used to assess the program’s effectiveness. The study followed two groups of students one face-to-face and the other in blended learning and used the previous years’ MAP and STAAR data to compare with case study results. The MAP scores showed a significant improvement for the blended learning group at the end of the study, however the STAAR scores showed a decline in scores for the same group. The researchers gave explanations for the discrepancies between the MAP and STAAR scores. The STAAR test measures performance based on curriculum standards for a particular grade level and does not consider students who are academically behind at the beginning of the year. MAP scores are based on student growth over time and are unique to each student. Another explanation for discrepancies was based on how each assessment was given. The STAAR is a paper and pencil test, and the MAP test is computer based. Students familiar with online testing may have struggled with the paper and pencil test. The study concluded that future research should include long-term studies that span multiple years (Fazal and Bryant, 2019).
Another study conducted in a school district in Turkey implemented blended learning into 7th grade social studies classes. The results showed an increase in student achievement, but in a measure of student engagement showed no change from the control group in traditional classrooms. The researchers gave limitations of the study as a reason for this. A separate technology teacher was needed for the online part of the blended and only available in one of the classes in the study. Results of the study varied due to a lack of technology training and proficiency for the regular classroom teachers and this impacted student engagement in the study (Sarıtepeci and Çakır, 2015).
In these studies, the negative impact of blended learning was caused by variables that were not foreseen before the study began. Ongoing research that corrects these variables would be beneficial and could prove that blended learning is successful at the conclusion of the studies.
The available research on blended learning gives conclusive evidence that many of the programs have had a positive impact on student achievement, satisfaction, and engagement. Some studies such as those included in this review have had mixed results. However, these can be attributed to variables and limitations to the study. There are many areas to consider within the research on blended learning such as the quality of blended learning design, length of study, quality of technology and resources, and technology proficiency that can impact the results of a study. As the research continues and variables are accounted for and resolved, the outcomes will continue to improve. Blended learning is a promising alternative to the traditional classroom and is backed by research that shows an overall positive impact on students.