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Archives > July 2014 > How Blended Learning is Transforming the Face of Education

How Blended Learning is Transforming the Face of Education

Education is being revolutionized by increasing technological advances. Tele-classrooms, flipped classrooms, video conferencing and online learning have evolved the traditional brick-and-mortar model.

By: Andrew Kim

However, the need for physical learning spaces remains. Integrating both online learning with in-person learning, known as blended learning, has emerged as a key approach to student success. As educators begin to rethink learning through this blended lens, creating innovative and flexible design of educational spaces is now more than ever a crucial factor to student success. To better understand the spatial implications of blended learning, we have released research that shows the blended approach provides both challenges and opportunities within educational institutions of all types.

We studied sixteen schools, including six colleges and ten high schools (public, private and charter) throughout the United States, across a six-month period. After conducting extensive interviews with educators, administrators and students on the impact of blended learning, in addition to observational research, researchers found that technology is a tool that significantly changes the relationship between instructors and students. Based on the results of this study, the research team identified six key insights to help educators consider spatial responses to the blended learning revolution.

1. Person-to-person connections remain essential for successful learning
These traditional connections remain essential for successful learning. Brick-and-mortar approaches allow students to interact through building relationships and social learning. Human interaction personalizes education for each student and allows a foundation of trust and caring between the educator and student. While online courses are important for individual learning, this person-to-person interaction is necessary in blended learning to drive success rates.

2. Richer face to face interactions
Technology is supporting richer face-to-face interactions and higher-level cognitive learning. The concept of blended learning alters former models of presenting content for students to absorb-instead fostering feedback, discussion and collaboration. These "flipped classrooms" enable students to learn new content at home and then work through assigned problems in class with the teacher offering personalized guidance and interaction. As technology improves online learning and tele-classrooms, flexible learning spaces must support these collaborative activities.

3. Flexibility & activity-based space planning
With the integration of technology in blended learning, students can progress through material at different paces, and multiple subjects can all be taught in the same room. The role of the educator changes to become more of a facilitator and a coach. Classrooms are now being designed to have multiple zones to support different types of activities, such as self-directed work at computers or collaborative projects. Moveable walls, screens and other flexible approaches to space division make it possible to create varying spaces within one room. In addition, a range of spaces that support frequent movement throughout the day is beneficial to students' health.

4. Loosened spatial boundaries
The value of "in-between" places-informal areas outside classrooms where interaction tied to learning can occur-has increasingly been recognized. For effective educational environments, mobile technologies give students and teachers choice in different spaces according to need. This choice and control is crucial to helping students tailor their learning experiences.

5. Capturing and streaming information
Videoconferencing technology has created a global classroom. Blended learning uses technology to create online content, capture class activities, further faculty research, evaluate student-presented activities and bring together groups for team assignments. Educational institutions will need to consider increased capabilities that ensure remote participants can easily share information with those in the room and creation of space that supports audio and lighting needs for video content formation. Digital and physical presences can complement each other and participate on nearly equal terms.

6. Coexisting high-tech and low-tech
Our research confirmed that analog tools-non-digital means such as static white boards and paper-are increasingly used in tandem with digital tools to capture, visualize and share thought processes. These traditional tools remain important for teaching and learning in the blended approach. Cognitive mapping research has shown that the physical process of writing and diagramming helps people learn and recall information. Schools will need to accommodate the parallel use of analog and digital tools in their design of space, which can be highlighted in our "blended village" classroom model.

Blended learning is not without its challenges. A major barrier that educators face is the lack of professional learning opportunities to best understand the goals and objectives of a blended learning initiative. In addition to this difficulty, current learning spaces are often not suitable understanding of what blended learning can offer and how it looks will help educators better prepare their spaces, content and interactions.

More than ever, classrooms and informal learning spaces must be highly flexible and support the emerging blended learning style that is the direct result of new technologies. As rapid development occurs and new technologies impact the ways that knowledge is transferred and embodied, the time is right to refine both the processes of education and the places where it occurs. Through innovation, it's possible to bring the best of technology-empowered learning into bricks-and-mortar schools. The results of blended learning can be positively transforming, for educators as well as their students, when pedagogy, technology and space all intersect.

You can read more on "Technology -Empowered Learning: Six Spatial Insights" and "Active Learning Spaces: Insights, Applications, and Solutions" by visiting

Photography provided by Steelcase



About The Author
Andrew Kim

is Senior Design Researcher for Steelcase. Kim earned a B.A. from Dartmouth College and a master of design from the Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology. He is responsible for applying human-centered design methods to support new market strategies and product development efforts. Contact or visit



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