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The Massachusetts Personalized Learning Network considers blended learning a key component to engaging learners within its personalized learning framework. Many confuse the terms blended learning with personalized learning. Blended learning is an instructional model that integrates digital and online media content into teacher instructional practice. Students still attend “brick-and-mortar” schools with a teacher of record, but in-person classroom methods are combined with computer-based or digital assignments. Blended learning provides schools with a variety of ways to address student needs, differentiate instruction, and if done appropriately provides teachers with data for instructional decision-making. The personalized learning framework at CCE takes instructional design a step further; ensuring that this blended approach to instruction is coupled with project-based learning, performance based assessment, social and emotional learning, and competency based progression; allowing student control over time, place, path, or pace.

Higher education institutions have led the way in demonstrating the success of blended learning by expanding online coursework, leaving K-12 with a thirst for a more efficient way to prepare students. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has recently worked to expand the use of blended learning and the integration of digital content in Massachusetts schools by supporting the Massachusetts Digital Connection Districts. There is an awareness in Massachusetts that blended learning methods are one way to address the variety of instructional needs found in its diverse urban classrooms, yet also that digital tools should not replace good teacher planning. Individualized online instruction should not simply be “online worksheets”. Teachers must prepare online content that adaptive and engaging with embedded assessment, as well as the use of digital tools for project based learning that supports critical thinking and application of concepts. This coupled with quality teacher guided instruction in which teachers reinforce higher order thinking skills and differentiate with mini lessons will help schools revitalize traditional classroom methods and better prepare and empower students for the 21st century.

Blended learning allows a fundamental shift from a teacher directing at the front with a few computers on the side, to a variety of rotation models of digital integration that best meets students needs. These models from Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools (2014) by Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker include:

Lab Rotation

Student groups rotate between traditional classroom instruction and digital content in a learning lab or computer lab.

Image of the lab rotation model

Station Rotation

Student groups rotate between teacher-led instruction, collaborative, project-based activity, and online instruction within the classroom.

Image of the station rotation model

Individual Rotation

Students have an individualized playlist and rotation to stations is tailored for individual student schedules set by the teacher.

Image of the individual rotation model

Flipped Classroom

Instructional content is delivered outside of the classroom and often online. Activities, including those that may have traditionally been considered homework, move into the classroom. In a flipped classroom, students watch online lectures, collaborate in online discussions, or carry out research at home; and engage in concepts in the classroom with the guidance of teacher.

Image of the flipped classroom model


Students learn primarily online in a brick and mortar school location with some offline activity. Students move on a individually customized, fluid schedule among learning modalities with teacher onsite for support of learning. Flex models have variations in small group, group projects, individual tutoring, and online learning based on student needs.

Image of the flex model

Blended learning can look differently in every school. Schools should tailor their blended learning approach to meet the needs of their students. The Summit Model is one well know for a rotation model in which students flow between small group teacher directed instruction, project based learning, and competency-based online coursework. As schools look to personalize their blended learning model, it is important for them to have leaders with a commitment to blended learning, a focus on data and quality online content, and a strong school culture in which teachers are empowered as instructional designers. Digital tools do not replace good teacher led instruction, they should be used to supplement and add to a varied instructional methodology, which allows students choice in methods that best suit their learning style.

This article originally appeared in the Center for Collaborative Education Blog on September 22, 2016.

Written By:

Senior Director, District and School Design, Center for Collaborative Education

Ramona Treviño, Ph.D. is the Senior Director for District and School Design at the Center for Collaborative Education, a nonprofit organization established in 1994 to promote innovative models of schools and to engage in related activities that increase justice and opportunity for all learners.

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