California is seeing a major uptick in blended learning as more schools become comfortable with the model.
The California eLearning Census shows that more students this year are taking blended classes, which include both face-to-face and online components. The California Learning Resource Network, a statewide education technology service from the California Department of Education, has conducted the census for the past three years to find out how blended and online learning are changing in the state.
Blended learning spreads quickly
Over the past three years, blended learning students have increased by 74 percent (to 150,589 students), and much of that growth came this year, according to the survey of 569 public school districts and direct-funded charter schools released on Monday, April 21. Blended learning is beginning to snowball as more schools in each district get involved, said Brian Bridges, director of the California Learning Resource Network. The survey results show that schools started out in a pilot phase, slightly expanded their efforts and then greatly expanded them this year.
"We've been seeing steady growth each year, but to see a 49 percent increase in total numbers and an 80 percent increase in median really knocked me sideways," Bridges said. "I was totally surprised by it, and I'm curious to see if this will stay the course."
The Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation predicted that half of all courses will be online by 2019. But in order for that prediction to come true, schools will need to continue adopting blended learning at the fast rate that they are in California, Bridges said.
Charter schools drive blended learning growth
Interestingly, charter schools are driving much of the growth in California. Since 2012, blended learning has increased by a whopping 287 percent in charter schools, bringing the number of blended charter students up to about 50,000 this year. Meanwhile, traditional school districts have expanded blended learning by 43 percent, but still beat charter schools when it comes to the number of students involved in blended learning.
Bridges suggests that charter schools are growing so much because they're smaller and more flexible than entire districts. These two characteristics make it easier for them to change courses quickly.
Why more schools are choosing blended learning
Blended learning is one of a number of different trends that give students more control over their learning, Bridges said. These trends include problem-based and competency-based learning, as well as the move to the Common Core State Standards.
By providing blended learning options, schools allow students to have more flexibility over the time, pace, path and place that they learn, Bridges said. This flexibility means that students don't move on until they learn certain concepts, and blended courses give them more ways to learn the same concept.
"If they're not competent, we should be doing something to reteach them so they do get the ideas and they do become proficient," Bridges said. "We don't just count seat time. We pass them when they're competent, and really good courses can do that."