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Leading adult education through support for and the effective application of technology.

Blended Learning in Adult Education

by Debbie Jensen

Debbie Jensen, OTAN Subject Matter Expert
posted September 2022

Introduction: Lessons From The Pandemic

The OTAN Annual Report asked the question, "What will our 'new normal' look like post pandemic? What lessons have we learned that we can utilize?" I was impressed with the findings that "distance and blended learning are…beneficial to teachers and students" and "From those who took classes online 93.9% said they would continue to learn online." When I heard that percentage, I was surprised and pleased to hear that the number was that high. It validated my own experience.

Let's back up and reflect on the last three years. See if this looks like you. On Friday March 15, 2020, I said goodbye to my students, cautioning them that there might be a temporary glitch in meeting together at school the following week, but that I would keep them posted. On Monday, students stayed home and so did I, trying to reach them in our totally online class. For the following weeks and months, this continued to the end of the school year. During that summer, we all faced the herculean task of creating successful online classes for our learners. Fall 2020, we were teaching online again for the next year. So, the effort continued.

You might have felt like the first image, "The world is temporarily closed." But with time, patience, and a lot of learning on our part, the second image of a learner working online emerged. Most likely your learner attended your class using a smartphone; mine did.

Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash

A person wearing a mask and using a computer
Photo by Emmanuel Ikwuegbu on Unsplash

What did we learn from the pandemic? If you spend an hour with any online search, you will gather many answers to this question. Some of the answers you will recognize from your own experience teaching during the pandemic. Here are a few from the EdWeek article, Lessons From the Pandemic That Can Improve Leading and Teaching:

  1. The look of the classroom changed. Before the pandemic, teachers could look at their students to see if they had understood. Online learning required a new way to assess learning. Directions had to be very clear, with troubleshooting for those who got lost in the technology. Like never before, lesson planning required that the teacher had to keep each learner in mind.

  2. It was harder to keep learners engaged. Eventually, teachers discovered many tools that make the learning process more interactive, e.g., Flipgrid, Padlet, Quizlet, Quizizz, Kahoot, and EdPuzzle, to name a few.

  3. Teachers discovered that in online learning, immediate feedback is possible using in-the-moment tools such as Loom, Google Classroom, Canvas, and even Zoom chat.

  4. After a learning curve with the technology, teachers discovered grading can be more efficient online and more transparent with learners as we include comments and rubrics.

  5. For learners to succeed online, teachers have to meet them wherever they are. If learners do not have a device, they will need one. If they do not have the Internet, they will need access. If their children are online during the day, classes will need to be offered when the adult can attend. Classes may need to have an asynchronous choice so learners can attend whenever they are able.

From The Conversation article, 4 Lessons From Online Learning That Should Stick After The Pandemic, when you think back, you will recognize this response in some of the teachers. They were suddenly thrust into online teaching, but for some it was just "digitally mediated physical classrooms using the internet, not online education. While these two options sound the same, they are not. Bridging physical distance through technology alone doesn't address additional adjustments required to address learner needs. Posting materials online, recording lectures and discussions themselves don't create a coached, collaborative and supported learning environment."

In the article, they brought up four considerations that we should implement going forward. Their final conclusion was that addressing these points will actually improve educational outcomes for all students.

  1. Our students need to learn how to learn online

  2. We need to design our online teaching with the purpose of acquiring student success. At the beginning of the pandemic, individualizing student education was difficult, but with assessment and delivery tools available online this is actually the best of all worlds.

  3. "Blending space and time online…students come together in time and space through blended, collaborative, synchronous and asynchronous online learning."

  4. Finally, the pandemic began a disruption in education; using online and AI tools will improve outcomes.

Best Practices: What Are the Benefits of Distance and Blended Learning to Teachers and to Learners?

The popularity of distance learning has grown due to improved technology and more educational tools being available. States have discovered they can reach more individuals with available resources using distance learning models. (Adult Education Participants in Distance Education - Tip Sheet)

With this as our focus, let's look at distance learning and blended learning in particular. Distance education is any learning that takes place away from a school classroom. This could include correspondence courses or online courses. It can be offered both asynchronously or synchronously and can include a variety of configurations. To differentiate blended learning from its umbrella term distance learning, there are two important elements:  1. Learners learn at least part of the time in-person in a school setting and part of the time in an online setting;  2. Learners have some control over time, place, path, and/or pace. (Christensen)

Benefits of Blended Learning

For the Student

  • Personalization: Learners can learn and present what they have learned in their preferred modality (written, oral, demonstration, etc.).

  • Individual needs can be met. With video, for example, online learning offers learners the ability to rewind, rewatch, slow the delivery, and use closed captioning.

  • Accessibility: Class materials can be made so that they are fully available and usable to all learners.

  • Collaboration can be done using online tools (Trello, Slack, Asana, Google Drive, 365 Teams).

  • Learner Choice: Online learning allows asynchronous scheduling which gives learners choice. They can do the work on their own schedule, wherever they are.  

  • Interactive materials are available online, making learning faster, easier, and more engaging.

  • Accelerated learning: Because learners can practice out of the classroom using online resources, ability gaps can be overcome and learning can be sped up.

For the Teacher

  • Communication between the teacher and learner, as well as between learner and learner, is enhanced using online learning management systems (examples: Canvas, Moodle, Schoology, Google Classroom). Other online applications (Loom, Flipgrid, Padlet) allow written, video, or audio interaction without using an LMS.

  • Assessment is built into different online applications (examples: EdPuzzle, Google Forms, Quizlet, Quizizz, Kahoot).

  • Tracking learner progress (grading) is made easier in an LMS.

  • Organization of lesson plans, resources, assignments, etc. is made easier online (Google Drive, OneDrive, DropBox, OneNote)

In researching blended learning, I found that it has caught on not just in academic settings but also in the business world. Corporate Training Singapore states that the benefits of blended learning include: 1. You can track completion rates easier and test for understanding to keep track of progress. 2. Learners can schedule their own learning to suit themselves. 3. Because learning can take place outside office hours, time and money can be saved by using the classroom for important or more difficult tasks. 4. Blended learning is flexible; it can be molded to any configuration that works for your team. With the endorsement of education professionals, business entities, and learners themselves, let's look at different ways or models of blended learning.

Models of Blended Learning and How to Use

According to the Christensen Institute, there are seven models of blended learning (and these models can be found at Blended Learning Universe).

  1. Station Rotation: All learners move together through collaborative activities, online activities, and teacher-led activities. This model is common in K-12.

    Station Rotation: rotation is on a fixed schedule. Learners rotate between online instruction, teacher-led instruction, and collaborative activities and stations.

  2. Lab Rotation: The learners rotate through activities, but online learning is in a dedicated computer lab. This model allows schools to maximize resources.

    In Lab Rotation learners rotate at a fixed schedule. Online learning is in a computer lab

  3. Individual Rotation: The learners rotate through stations, but it is personalized depending on individual needs. Learners participate in what is most beneficial for the individual, determined by the teacher.

    In Individual rotation learners rotate through stations on an individual schedule set by the teacher, may not rotate to every station. One of the stations is a computer lab.

  4. Flipped Classroom: The learners use both in-class and online learning. Course content is presented at home online, then learners attend class where the teacher can focus on application and extension activities rather than lecture.

    In the Flipped Classroom students learn content at home by Internet, school class time is used for teacher guided practice or projects.

  5. Flex Model: The learners participate online. The schedule is flexible as needed, with learners moving through activities at their own pace. This model gives learners control over time, place, etc. This model can be used in both a physical and virtual classroom or combined. The HyFlex Model below shows the teacher instructing both groups simultaneously. Sessions allow learners to choose between attending in-person or online. The class can also be structured to allow synchronous or asynchronous attendance.

    The Flex Model has students move according to need online or in-person. HyFlex allows students to be in class or online both of which take place simultaneously.

  6. A La Carte: The learner can take online courses from more than one teacher, in addition to in-person courses at the school. This can be an advantage for learners whose school may have limited opportunities and can access a community college course for example.

    In A La Carte the learner can take more than one online course with different teachers as well as in school class or a computer lab.

  7. Enriched Virtual: The learner completes most of the coursework online at home but attends school to meet for required in-person sessions (once or twice a week).

    The Enriched Virtual model has the learner doing most work at home online but still attend school for required in-person session with the teacher.

Other Ways to Use

An invaluable resource on Blended Learning Models is found at Blended Learning Universe.  Each model is defined and illustrated.  It includes a video on how to integrate that model (these are in K-12 classrooms). Finally, there is a link to a Model in Action which discusses ways to make that model more successful. See the Definitions at the end of this article for more on each model.


My first foray into distance learning was using Google Classroom. I loved it for many reasons, but first and foremost I discovered its value for student success. One student was sick for two weeks, but he never missed an assignment. My class was open-entry, and it was always difficult to keep students together. But with Google Classroom, I actually had students who went back to finish the work from previous weeks. During COVID, one student could not gain access to the family's computer during the day because the children were using it. So, we met for brief check-ins online, and then she was able to work at her own pace in the evenings.

An ABE teacher told me about a student who had to go to Mexico for a family emergency. She was able to keep up with the class because it took place online. Another student needed to stay at home to take care of an aging parent. The student was able to complete her course using the HyFlex model. Finally, a student was having great success and loved the in-person portion of the blended class, but transportation became an issue. HyFlex allowed her to switch from in-person to online. The teacher noted that she didn't lose attendance in her class during COVID, in fact, it even went up, but more importantly, successful student outcomes increased.

One last story: an ESL teacher said online classrooms have helped her meet the needs of many more students. Attendance is up. She mentioned one student who could never finish his ESL class because of his work hours. Once the class was online, he could prop up his smartphone by where he was cooking and participate in the class. He successfully finished the class.

This year, we will not only examine how technology enhances the adult education classroom but also how we can apply it in our blended learning environment.

Person holding a smartphone
Bludsick, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


  1. Digital Learning: Learning that uses digital tools for teaching and learning. It can happen anywhere: online, in-person, or blended. To be successful, learners must develop digital literacy skills.

  2. Digital Literacy: These skills are critical to success in today's workforce and are referred to as Essential Elements for the 21st Century Workforce. The list includes communication, collaboration, critical thinking and evaluation of information, creativity, functional skills, and E-safety. ( infographic by Kate Shively)

  3. Distance Education: Any learning that takes place away from a school classroom. It is an umbrella term that includes correspondence courses, online learning, and asynchronous and synchronous learning of all types. (This and the other definitions are adapted from the California Adult Education Digital Learning Guidance.)

  4. Blended Learning: Two factors are necessary for blended learning: first, students learn at least partially from in-person in a school and partially in an online setting, and second, there will be some student control over time, place, path, and/or pace (adapted from the California Adult Education Digital Learning Guidance and Christensen Models.)

  5. Flipped Classroom Model: Learners use both in-class and online learning. In a flipped class, students learn content online at home and then attend class where the teacher can focus on application and extension activities rather than lecture. Article: Students Harness the Skill of Preparedness Through Blended Learning

  6. Rotation classroom (3 models)

    1. Station rotation: All learners move together through collaborative activities, online activities, and teacher-led activities. This model is common in K-12. Article: 3 Secrets to Successful Station Rotations

    2. Lab rotation: Learners rotate through activities, but online learning is in a dedicated computer lab. This model allows schools to maximize resources. Article: Are Computer Labs a Thing of the Past? Not so Fast.

    3. Individual rotation: Learners rotate through stations, but it is personalized depending on individual need. Learners participate in what is most beneficial for the individual. Article: How to Customize Learning with Individual Rotation

  7. Flex Model: Learners participate online. The schedule is flexible, as needed with learners moving through activities at their own pace. This model gives learners control over time, place, etc. This model can be used in both a physical and virtual classroom or combined. Article: 3 Ways to Do a Flex Model

  8. HyFlex Model: Learners participate in both in-person and online classes. Sessions allow students to choose between attending in-person or online. The class happens simultaneously with some students attending in person and some attending online. The class can also be structured to allow synchronous or asynchronous attendance. Webpage, video, and links: Hybrid/HyFlex Teaching & Learning from Columbia University Center for Teaching and Learning

  9. A La Carte Model: Enables a student to take an online course from more than one teacher as well as attend in-person courses. It works well for students in areas where schools cannot provide learning opportunities such as Advanced Placement at a Community College. Article: Tackling Access to International Baccalaureate Courses with Blended Learning

  10. Enriched Virtual Model: Students do most of the course work online but attend school for required in-person session(s) with the teacher. Article: Is the Enriched Virtual Blended-Learning Model the Future of High School?


Blended Learning Universe: Christensen Institute What is Blended Learning?

Christensen Institute Blended Learning Definitions

Blended Learning Universe: Blended Learning Models

OTAN Outreach and Technical Assistance Network for California Adult Education Appendix F-Addendum  OTAN Annual Report 2021-2022

California Adult Education Digital Learning Guidance

Blended Learning A Blended Approach to Transforming Learning

5 Ways to Implement Blended Learning with Online and In-Person Training infographic Corporate Training Singapore

Adult Education Participants in Distance Education DistanceEdTipSheet-508pdf

ProLiteracy: The What, Why, Who, and How of  Blended Learning for Adult Basic Skills Learners

Proof Points: Blended Learning Success in School Districts 2015

Really English Blended Learning Why Use a Blended Approach?

What We Learned: Adult Education's Response to Emergency Remote Teaching and Learning August 2020 from World Ed, NCTN and EdTech

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OTAN activities are funded by contract CN220124 from the Adult Education Office, in the Career & College Transition Division, California Department of Education, with funds provided through Federal P.L., 105-220, Section 223. However, OTAN content does not necessarily reflect the position of that department or the U.S. Department of Education.