How to implement blended learning in higher education

Framework highlights moving from interested faculty to institutional implementation

blended-learning-implementationA recent study made a great point about blended learning: It starts with a few interested faculty who experiment with the model, but often faculty and IT are at a loss in how to get the institution on board. Indeed, where does full-scale implementation start, and what do admin need to know?

According to Charles Graham, professor of Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University (BYU), and Wendy Woodfield Porter, attorney and PhD candidate in Instructional Psychology and Technology at BYU, a lot can be learned from institutional case studies to develop a concrete blended learning implementation guide.

In their study, “A Framework for Institutional Adoption and Implementation of Blended Learning in Higher Education,” published in ScienceDirect, but available in pre-published form for free through, investigating six cases of institutional adoption of blended learning helped glean key issues that can guide university administrators interested in full-scale implementation.

Each case reviewed included what the researchers call the “various stages of blended learning adoption,” including awareness/exploration, adoption/early implementation, and mature implementation/growth.

“One reason for lack of recognition by university administration is that adoption has occurred with individual faculty, not at the institutional level,” says Graham. “Increasingly, institutions of higher education are seeing a need to strategically support adoption and implementation of blended learning [BL]. Policies that enable and even encourage BL can strengthen a university’s commitment to improve student learning as well as increase side benefits such as access, flexibility, and cost effectiveness.”

Graham notes that some institutions, like the University of Central Florida (UCF) and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), have over a decade of experience with strategically promoting blended learning, while many others are just beginning to explore institutional adoption and implementation.

“While many studies have investigated [blended learning] effectiveness at the individual course level, very few studies provide guidance for institutions,” explains Graham.

(Next page: Steps to blended learning implementation)

According to the study’s authors, there are three main steps to full-scale implementation:

1. Strategy: According to the study, clear institutional direction and policy are vital to successfully adopting a BL initiative, which starts by looking at whether or not blended learning fits in with the institution’s mission and what problems or issues the institution is trying to solve.

“Institutions have aligned blended learning to solve one or more significant institutional challenges, such as a period of rapid growth, desire to give access to more students, lack of physical infrastructure, desire for increased flexibility for faculty and students, etc.” notes the study. “The goal of improved learning outcomes was often mentioned by institutions as critical…[and] many institutional leaders considered blended learning as a way to address growth, cost, or flexibility challenges while also resonating with faculty as having potential to improve student learning.

The study notes that institutions might want to convene a task force to strategically address issues, challenges, and opportunities that emerge during implementation. Funding and time are also critical considerations in the first phase of strategy.

2. Structure through:

Technology: The study explains that once a clear policy direction is in place, an institution must establish the necessary physical and technological infrastructure, which may include elements such as computers and other hardware, internet access, and necessary software. Though many case studies show that administrators are often concerned about costs associated with infrastructure, the study estimated that schools following the traditional teaching model may “actually spend substantially more per pupil [due to constant upgrades] than schools utilizing the blended learning models they examined.”

Ownership: Policies need to be established “up-front regarding ownership and accessibility of materials,” emphasizes the study. “Since the term blended learning is difficult to define, institutional policy and support regarding ownership should be contextualized and specific.”

Definitions and seat time: A change in focus from time-based to mastery-based performance measures of student progress is one of the most important policy issues to focus on, says the report.

Incentives: Providing incentives for adoption by faculty and staff has been shown to increase the chances of a successful implementation, and the study notes that incentives can include financial compensation, release time, equipment, and funding allocations for blended learning development.

Evaluation: Graham explains that this may require several new evaluation programs, and often the most effective way to measure blended learning success was to have states set quality standards and accountability measures for online programs. There should also be a move from “inputs-based measures of quality toward measuring outputs in terms of student opportunities and achievement.” According to three of the six institutional case studies, three listed issues around communication to stakeholders of these revised evaluations as critical success factors.

(Next page: Step 3 and video)

3. Support: Supporting implementation through professional development is critical to success, says the study. Some guidelines for PD are: focusing on the proper use of educational technologies, providing experiences with online coursework from a student perspective, guiding faculty to understand which classes are best suited for a blended option, and exposing faculty to prototype projects that have proven successful.

For more detailed information on the study; specifics of the six case studies; further recommendations; and additional resources, such as a printable institutional self-evaluation checklist based on the Blended Learning Adoption Framework [located at the bottom of the study] click here.

And though it’s K-12 oriented, this Blended Learning Implementation Guide video produced by Digital Learning Now (DLN) can also serve as a stepping-step to institutional implementation.

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