The Personalized Blended Learning Classroom

November 10, 2016

Data-driven digital curriculum makes the difference.

"Blended learning," a combination of traditional and online learning, is undeniably on the rise. The Education and Workforce Committee estimates that 70 percent of school districts now offer blended learning, and the Clayton Christensen Institute, a nonprofit education think tank, predicts that half of all high-school classes will be delivered online by 2019. At the same time, this technology revolution is still very much in its infancy, with schools exploring how to use this model to its full potential—with varying degrees of success.

The title of a June 2016 blog post by the Clayton Christensen Institute says it all: With Blended Learning, Plan on Change. The post says, in part, “Blended learning has the potential to personalize learning for individual students at scale, but the degree to which that potential is realized will depend on how educators adapt, iterate, and improve blended programs over time to address particular student needs.”

Overwhelmingly, research during the past five years supports this statement, pointing to successful implementation of personalized learning as the lynchpin for effective blended learning programs (see below). Personalized learning enables students to choose when and how they learn, and creates dynamic learning environments that engage students—not just as passive users, but as active participants.

According to the Center for Digital Education’s (CDE) 2015 Digital School Districts Survey, personalized learning is the #1 priority of schools and districts. The top benefits experienced by schools transitioning to personalized learning include:

  • Student engagement was increased by 69%
  • Student retention rates rose by 39%
  • Test scores improved by 28%
  • Grades rates up by 22%
  • Attendance increased by 22%


Power Up Blended Learning with Personalized Learning

Realizing the Potential of Blended Learning requires going beyond simply replacing traditional teaching tools with passive technologies (i.e. videotaping a lecture, creating PDF versions of textbooks, or digital curriculum with rote Q&As). The ultimate goal is to meld best practice, face-to-face instructional strategies we already know are effective with high-quality digital content that actively engages students in learning and supports teachers in building meaningful connections among the digital coursework, the physical classroom, and the outside world.

A 2015 Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation report on personalized learning concludes that schools that have adopted personalized learning show greater achievement in both math and English over a two-year period than those that did not. Although implementation of personalized learning varied considerably across the 32 schools in the implementation analysis, more than three-quarters of administrators reported that their schools were implementing flexible or multiple paths through content. This is a key component of personalized learning, as different students learn at various rates and in different ways.

Enhance Blended Learning with Data-Driven Digital Curriculum

Teachers in blended learning classrooms have the advantage of using data collected by technology as well as traditional instruction to be responsive to student needs and allow them to take various paths through content. According to administrators in the Gates Foundation study, about two-thirds of the schools using personalized learning incorporated a flexible approach to grouping students of similar learning abilities that was informed by student needs and achievement data in mathematics and ELA classes.

Any teacher will attest that collecting data is only useful if it’s actionable data. It’s imperative to be able to leverage progress and performance data, quickly and easily, to understand which concepts, skills, and standards students have mastered and in what areas students might need assistance. Digital curriculum must include robust reporting tools accessed through a comprehensive and intuitive dashboard. Real-time data collection allows teachers to quickly and easily assess each student’s daily progress and then adapt student grouping strategies and classroom lessons, as well as individualized online lessons, based on that data.

The other half of the data collection equation is that students must be empowered with self-assessment tools and other scaffolding. An active learning, “learn by doing” instructional approach actively engages students in their learning and embeds opportunities for students to check their understanding through frequent formative interactive activities. These low-stakes or no-stakes assessments are designed to make students continuously aware of their progress in class and mastery of the content.

Combining the Best of Both Worlds with Blended Learning

Instructional design can, and should, create a bridge between traditional teaching and online learning for truly blended learning. For example, specific components of online lessons to initiate whole class discussions or as the basis for discussion in individual or small-group instruction may be used. Lessons and projects can also be designed to make the connections between digital and physical environments—either thematically or academically. All of this serves to empower teachers to reach each student through blended learning.

A common misconception exists that active learning is only “hands-on offline” and personalized learning stays “online.” But both online and offline elements of a blended learning environment can be active and personalized. By identifying and meeting individual needs, students can be equipped to participate in challenging projects and to produce high-quality products. Active and personalized learning work hand-in-hand to leverage great teaching and realize the full potential of technology to boost student outcomes.  (For more tips, see 7 Tips for Successful Blended Learning.)

Harnessing the Power of Blended Learning

The power of blended learning lies not in simply digitizing traditional models of teaching and learning. The true potential of blended learning is enabling both personalized and active learning at scale—for all students.

At its best, digital curriculum enhances face-to-face instruction, giving teachers access to a standards-based repository of online tutorials and prescriptive assessments. It enables teachers to use data to identify areas of strength and weakness and provide targeted remedial support, resulting in a decreased dependency on specialized academic interventions and greater efficacy of instruction. At the same time, it empowers students with the personalized learning and “learn by doing” experiences that add up to not only success in school, but success over a lifetime of learning.


For more blended learning best practices, download our free white paper, Realizing the Potential of Blended Learning.


Blended Learning Success Story

How do we set students up to be successful in both the digital and physical classroom? Clark County School District (CCSD) in Nevada has developed an orientation style course called “Freshman Academy” that does just this. Freshman Academy is designed for incoming high school students in the district. Students attend a freshman studies class for one period in the day, similar to an advisory period. They focus on the skills that CCSD has identified that students need to be successful in the blended environment, such as time management and effective use of digital curriculum. Students are also assigned an online elective course. Freshman Academy combines digital content with direct instruction and provides two credits for students: one online elective credit and one credit for their freshman studies course. The teacher in the classroom is teaching students how to be successful in both the digital and physical environments.

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