Design Approaches to Blended Learning

Blended learning is a concept that is understood differently by different instructors. This is largely due to the varying definitions that one can find on blended learning. Not only is it defined in multiple ways, but is also known in many ways  – Blended learning,  Hybrid learning, flipped classroom, and many more!

Take a look at some of the definitions:

“integrate online with traditional face-to-face class activities in a planned, pedagogically valuable manner.” (Sloan Consortium).

“Blended learning describes learning activities that involve a systematic combination of face-to‐face interactions and technologically mediated interactions between students, teachers and learning resources.” (Bliuc et al., 2007).

“The thoughtful integration of classroom face-to-face learning experiences with on-line experiences” (Garrison & Kanuka, 2004).

In general, most definitions stop at the blend of face-to-face activities with on-line activities. Therefore it is crucial that the instructor has a good idea of what does “blend” mean to him/her. This will help in designing and balancing the blend appropriately.

Personally, I think blend should go much more than a combination of face-to-face and online instruction. So, what does it mean to me?

A blended learning course is one that provides a balanced integration of teaching and learning activities coupled with appropriately designed assessment tasks  for achieving each learning outcome of the course that is being taught. There is a need to employ the best delivery option for each learning activity and assessment task in such a way that fosters intrinsic motivation in students and enables purposeful inquiry. 

A recent article by Ali Almarry, Judy Sheard and Angela Carter (2014), looked at three basic approaches to designing blended learning courses. They called it, the low-impact blend, the medium impact blend and the high-impact blend.

  1. In the low-impact blend, it is simply the addition of extra online activities to an existing face-to-face course. This is very similar to “substitution” and “Augmentation” level in the SAMR model (The “Substitution-Augmentation-Modification-Redefinition” model developed by Dr Ruben Puentedura). In this approach, the activity should be based on its pedagogical merit rather than for the sake of introducing technology, and the instructor chooses to get regular feedback from students to understand what is working. As Reuben puts, in the low-impact blend approach, there is an enhancement to the design.
  2. In the second approach called the medium-impact blend, there is a replacement of activities that were originally planned in an existing course. This is very similar to the “modification” level in the SAMR model. The replacement or modification is done incrementally until a delicate balance is achieved, with a feedback mechanism in place to gauge the balance. In this approach,  Almarry et al. (2014), propose that institutional support is necessary for this level to provide the necessary technical support, balance teacher’s workload, and to deal with fears and resistance from teachers and students on using blended learning
  3. The last approach is the high-impact blend where the course is built from scratch and the approach relies on constructive alignment. This approach is one in which the competencies, skills and learning outcomes that needs to be fostered in students are the key to the pan and design of the course. Once this is established, the instructor redefines the learning activities, assessment tasks, delivery options and determines the best option available so that the learning outcome is achieved. Thus, this approach is similar to the redefinition level in SAMR model, where the learning moves from mere enhancement to a “transformation”. The instructor’s experience will help him in choosing the appropriate media, content, activities and tasks to approach the topic.

Ultimately, the approach that we need to take when designing a blended learning course is to reconsider the learning objectives with your students’ needs as the utmost priority. A redesign approach is generally beneficial as it allows the instructor to take a fresh new perspective, rethink his instructional strategies, and explore the best delivery modes to use.  If I were to design a course, I would rather go for a “redefinition” model as that will transform learning experiences of my students, thereby fostering intrinsic motivation, purposeful inquiry and higher achievement levels in my students.


Alammary, A., Sheard, J., & Carbone, A. (2014). Blended learning in higher education: Three different design approaches. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 30(4), 440-454.


7 thoughts on “Design Approaches to Blended Learning

  1. Thanks for the overview for blended and leaning course. In particular I am totally agree with the needs of always rethink, redefine and reformulate, everything is very dynamic, therefore is an important aspect to be taking into account.


  2. Hello Kiru! Interesting comparison. The course has helped me to understand the concept ‘blenden Learning. Before I just thougt it was a mix of lecturing in the classroom and online-learning. Now i think the concept is much wider. Your blogpost made me thin further. Now I will look closer everytime I read about ‘blenden learning’ what meaning they put in the cencept. Thankyou! / charlotte


  3. Thank you for walking us around the concept of blended learning. I agree with you that rethinking, redefinition and reformulation are important. However, the word “reorganization” is also important. You cannot expect that the blended learning will start to bring fruits immediately. It will take some long time with the implementation of small pieces in the course’s design until you will be satisfied with the results. Being patient with the blended learning is of significant importance as I have learnt in my PBL5 group.


  4. I enjoyed reading your blog once again:-) I agree with you that the re-defining and rethinking is the better option as the focus is then on the most appropriate activity (whether online or face-to-face) that will align itself to assess the intended outcome. For me, there is a risk with the low-impact blend that some educators who supplement the face-to-face activity may still be using a more traditional delivery approach, and view the additional online activities as a “nice to have” and “to-be-included” if time.


  5. A very informative and nicely written post, Kiru! I especially appreciated how you presented the varied definitions of blended learning before crafting your own, informed by what you consider to be important from a pedagogical perspective.


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