Key Definitions for Blended Learning

Learning, Learning Innovations, Online & Blended

We’re busy this month updating the DLN Smart Series papers and bundling them as an ebook. We’ll also release Version 2.0 of the Blended Learning Implementation Guide in September, with Digital Learning Now! and The Learning Accelerator.  In the meantime, we couldn’t wait to share our updated list of key definitions and terminology to help our readers keep all these learning innovations straight. 

Terms such as “online learning,” “blended learning,” “personalized learning,” “customized learning,” and “competency-based learning” are flooding our educational dialogue, and they are often used interchangeably. The ideas are related, but they are not the same. It’s important to understand the differences.

Blended learning is “a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through the online delivery of content and instruction, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace, and at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home” (Source: Christensen Institute (formerly Innosight). Compared to high-access environments, which simply provide devices for students, blended learning includes an intentional shift to online instructional delivery for a portion of the day in order to boost student, teacher and school productivity.  As Opportunity Culture outlines, that implies new school models, staffing structures, schedules, and resource allocation pattern. While 1 to 1 initiatives add computers to schools, blended learning changes everything.

Online learning is teacher-led education that takes place over the Internet using a web-based educational delivery system that includes software to provide a structured learning environment. The teacher and student are usually separated geographically, and classes may be delivered synchronously (communication in which participants interact in real time, such as online video) or asynchronously (communication separated by time, such as email or online discussion forums). It may be accessed from multiple settings (in school or out of school buildings) (Source: Keeping Pace).

Personalized learning is paced to student needs, tailored to learning preferences, and customized to the specific interests of different learners. Technology gives students opportunities to take ownership of their learning (Source: National Education Technology Plan).

Customized learning is informed by enhanced and expanded student data, which is applied to boost motivation and achievement, keeping more students on track for college and career readiness (see Data Backpacks: Portable Records and Learner Profiles). We use the term “customized learning” to refer to an expanded and enhanced version of personalization focused on individual student pathways driven by interests and best learning modalities. As adaptive learning becomes more sophisticated, learner profiles will be able to recommend experiences likely to result in learning and persistence.

Competency-based learning is a system of education, often referred to as proficiency or mastery based, in which students advance based on demonstration of mastery. Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students. Assessment is meaningful and serves as a positive learning experience for students. Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs. Learning outcomes include the application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions (Source: CompetencyWorks).

Digital learning, as used by Digital Learning Now! and others, refers to all of the above–full and part time access to online and blended learning.

Do these terms echo the uses that you’re hearing? What terms would you like to better understand? 

Digital Learning Now! is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner