White Paper

How Blended Learning Environments Bring Value to Higher Education

Combining face-to-face and online instruction helps colleges and universities to deliver engaging, robust learning experiences.
by: Virgil Cannon |
February 23, 2021

Blended learning represents a new approach to pedagogy that combines the best attributes of both in-person and online instruction. Well-planned blended learning curricula empower students to take ownership of their learning, increase flexibility for students and faculty, and allow institutions to deliver high-quality instruction at a lower cost.

In 2020, the pandemic forced higher education institutions to pivot to remote instruction faster and further than many had anticipated or planned for. One midyear survey found that 87 percent of institutions planned to use blended learning in the fall, a move that represented, for many colleges, a departure from previous instructional models.

Blended learning, also called hybrid learning, combines face-to-face and online instruction to deliver engaging, robust learning experiences. When institutions turned to online learning as an emergency solution in the pandemic, many were unprepared, and the quality of instruction often reflected that. But there is an important distinction between the rapid-response remote learning that colleges deployed in crisis mode and the well-planned, high-quality pedagogy of intentional blended learning. 

Done well, blended learning supports current thinking on pedagogical best practices and aligns with institutional goals for digital transformation. By skillfully combining online and face-to-face instruction, this approach uses technology to deliver new ways to learn, create and collaborate. It facilitates students’ agency and ownership in their own learning, particularly compared with “sage on the stage” lectures. It also can dramatically increase flexibility and personalization in learning, while expanding the palette of teaching tools available to instructors. 

During the pandemic, faculty have delivered much of their online instruction asynchronously, teaching from their homes or campus offices to students who are in their homes or residence halls. Blended learning may also include situations in which an instructor simultaneously teaches students in a classroom and students who are remote, along with synchronous sessions in which everyone is online at the same time.

To support these programs, colleges rely on versatile, feature-rich software platforms that, ideally, integrate with a learning management system (LMS). A seamless experience supports virtual meetings, breakout sessions, document sharing, and recording and streaming of video and other multimedia content. Whiteboards, monitors, cameras and audio equipment serve to connect learners in a virtual space and allow faculty to record lectures and video for asynchronous sessions.


The percentage of higher education institutions that have increased their spending on online learning systems, including online learning program management services

Source: EDUCAUSE, “EDUCAUSE QuickPoll Results: IT Budgets 2020–21,” October 2020

Benefits of Blended Learning

A meta-analysis of 94 research articles about blended learning notes several benefits: flexibility for students and instructors, improved personalization and academic outcomes, increased autonomy and self-directed learning, lower costs, and more opportunities for communication among students and instructors. Blended learning makes it possible for many students to continue their studies without the hurdles that can often make it difficult, such as commuting, arranging childcare or scheduling around employment. Asynchronous sessions allow students to choose when to access course materials and to go at their own pace. 

For many learners, being able to record an educational session can make it easier to transfer information. Students no longer need tape recorders because they can access automated transcriptions. Many students appreciate the convenience of having all their materials online and easily accessible. As colleges face decreased enrollment and tighter budgets, anything that promotes student enrollment and retention is valuable, and blended learning certainly fits that description.

Blended learning also increases flexibility for institutions. Classroom spaces that can serve both in-person and remote students have allowed institutions to pivot in response to the pandemic. This flexibility has made it easier to retain international students, an important population from a funding perspective because they typically pay a higher tuition rate. A survey by the Institute of International Education found that 58 percent of institutions offered online classes to international students in 2020 to allow them to continue their studies.

In addition, blended learning can help colleges curb their brick-and-mortar spending, while at the same time increasing the variety of courses and schedules they can offer to students. Moreover, as colleges continue to mature and deepen their pursuit of data-driven decision-making and academic interventions, online platforms yield a wealth of data with which to improve student outcomes.

Future Outlook

In 2020, the biggest challenge to blended learning was many instructors’ lack of readiness — from both a pedagogical and technological perspective — to teach online. A successful blended learning course requires more than simply transferring a traditional course online. When equipped with the right tools and skills, however, instructors often find that blended learning lends itself to a greater variety of pedagogical approaches and more meaningful interactions with students, via online chats and discussion forums, than they may have experienced in the classroom.

Far from being a stop-gap measure limited to crises such as the pandemic, blended learning may well become the dominant educational model for the future — delivering, as it does, the best of both traditional and online modes. In fact, a global survey by the World Economic Forum found that 72 percent of adults in 29 countries believe that by 2025, higher education will be conducted online at least as much as, if not more than, in person.

Want to learn more about how CDW can help you enable flexible learning? Read the white paper “Building Out Blended Learning Environments for Higher Education” from CDW.