Learner Engagement in Blended Learning

Learner Engagement in Blended Learning

Kristian J. Spring (Brigham Young University, USA), Charles R. Graham (Brigham Young University, USA) and Tarah B. Ikahihifo (Brigham Young University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7365-4.ch007


Over a decade ago, blended learning (BL) was considered one of the most important emerging trends in higher education. It is utilized in today's society with increasing regularity and has changed the way in which instruction is provided. A recent study found that a majority of students (72%) prefer courses with some online component over traditional face-to- face (F2F) courses. Additionally, meta-analyses looking at evidence-based practices in online and blended learning have found a significant number of BL studies generally concluding that students in BL contexts performed better than those in fully online or traditional F2F contexts. Blended learning has great potential in terms of advancing student engagement and providing opportunities for researchers and practitioners to measure and cultivate that engagement and, in turn, learning outcomes.
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Definitions of Blended Learning

Use of the term blended learning remains relatively new in higher education, K-12, and corporate settings. While this is the most commonly used label, the construct is sometimes described with the terms mixed mode and hybrid learning (Moskal, Dziuban, & Hartman 2013; Picciano, 2014b). Due to the flexible nature of blended learning, the debate continues over a precise definition of the term (Picciano, 2014b). While some consider this ambiguity a weakness that prohibits blended learning from use as a discriminating label (Oliver and Trigwell, 2005), others submit that a more narrow definition would impede “great potentials of the concept” (Alammary, Sherad, & Carbone, p. 443, 2015).

The most widely accepted basic position is that effective BL environments are a combination of F2F learning with technology-mediated instruction (Graham, 2006, 2013). Many individuals and institutions build upon this broad definition include caveats about seat time (Mayadas & Picciano, 2007), and the quality of the blend (Garrison & Kanuka, 2004) or quantity of instruction placed online (Allen & Seaman, 2007). Most current definitions of BL focus on the physical dimensions of the blend (e.g., online and face-to-face). However, future definitions may emphasize more of the psychological/pedagogical dimensions of the blend (Graham, Henrie, & Gibbons, 2014).

Across contexts and institutions, varying ideas exist of what constitutes a BL environment (Porter, Graham, Spring & Welch, 2014). This distinction is most noticeable between postsecondary and K-12 sectors. Although BL at both levels is similar in many ways, it must be adapted to fit the K-12 setting (Staker & Horn, 2014). Horn & Staker’s (2015) three-part definition of BL focuses on the element of student control over their own learning experience, learning in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home, and the importance of an integrated learning experience. The integration aspect focuses on the coherence between the F2F and online components to deliver cohesive instruction for the learner about a given topic (Horn & Staker, 2015). An effective implementation of blended learning is well-coordinated with each component supporting the other.

Despite disagreement on an exact definition, many institutions are adapting BL to suit their specific needs. In each case, institutional context plays an important role in the construction of an operational definition and strategy (Moskal, Dziuban, & Hartman, 2013). The loose definition is “plastic enough to adapt to local needs and constraints of the several parties employing them, yet robust enough to maintain a common identity across sites” and thus allows the creation and implementation of customized institutional blends (Star & Griesemer, 1989, p. 393)

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