Blended Learning

What is a Blended Course?

placeholderBlended learning is defined as the thoughtful fusion of face-to face and online learning activities in a purposeful and pedagogically valuable manner (Picciano, 2006; Vaughan, Cleveland-Innes & Garrison, 2013).

At Western, blended courses have both face-to-face and online instruction, as well as on-campus exams. These course offerings are clearly identified by designated section 200 numbers in the undergraduate academic calendar and lecture timetable.

In the identified blended courses, at least 30% of student learning integral to the course occurs in the online interactive learning environment. For example, in a half (0.5) course at the undergraduate level, at least 8 of the required 26 contact hours will occur online.

The Evidence

Blended learning as an approach to course design is an emerging trend in higher education. The strategy is increasingly being adopted in the design or redesign of university courses in recognition of the transformative potential such a design can have upon teaching and learning (Garrison & Kanuka, 2004).

Benefits to Students

On average, online learning components produce stronger student learning outcomes than solely face-to-face courses, and blended approaches demonstrate the greatest advantage to this end in comparison to purely online courses (Means et al., 2013). Benefits to students found throughout the literature include:

  • enhanced student engagement (Adekola, Dale & Gardiner, 2016; Leger et al., 2013)
  • increased flexibility with their learning (Adekola et al., 2016; Murray et al., 2016)
  • improved opportunities for social integration, peer/teacher support, and knowledge sharing (Bower, Dalgarno, Kennedy, Lee & Kenney, 2015)
  • increased participation, learner satisfaction, and enhanced sense of community (Bower et al., 2015).

While students may initially be skeptical of blended courses, they soon recognize the value of blended approaches and express desire to take other blended courses in the future. Murray et al. (2016) found that, at the end of a blended Engineering course, 85% of students expressed desire to take future blended courses. This was despite the fact that only 5% initially believed they would have a successful learning experience.

Benefits to Instructors

In general, blended approaches afford instructors the tools to better engage with their students, with positive implications for course experiences (Garrison & Kanuka, 2004). A study by Napier, Sonal & Smith (2011) found instructors who blended their courses reported:

  • creative management of out-of-class time that benefitted instructors’ schedules
  • improved quality of interaction with students
  • opportunity to play with teaching strengths and technology in creative ways.

Redesigning for Blended

Taking a blended approach can put increased time demands and stress on instructors (Graham, Allen & Ure, 2005). Institutional partnerships that offer a supportive framework for course redesign alleviate the pressure of the process by helping instructors to navigate curricular and technical concerns (Brown, 2016).

See also:


If you need individual support in developing a blended learning course, please contact the CTL eLearning team.


Adekola, J., Dale, V.H.M., and Gardiner, K. (2016) Student transitions in blended learning. Paper presented at the Stirling Learning and Teaching Conference 2016: Changing Places: Student Transitions in Higher Education, Stirling, UK.

Bower, M., Dalgarno, B., Kennedy, G. E., Lee, M. J. W., & Kenney, J. (2015). Design and implementation factors in blended synchronous learning environments: Outcomes from a cross-case analysis. Computers & Education, 86(C), 1–17. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2015.03.006

Brown, M. G. (2016). Blended instructional practice: A review of the empirical literature on instructors’ adoption and use of online tools in face-to-face teaching. Internet and Higher Education, 31, 1-10. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2016.05.001

Garrison, D. R. & Kanuka, H. (2004). Blended learning: Uncovering its transformative potential in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 7(2), 95-105. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2004.02.001

Graham, C. R., Allen, S., & Ure, D. (2005). Benefits and challenges of blended learning environments. In M. Khosrow-Pour (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology, First Ed. (pp. 253-259). Hershey, PA. doi:10.4018/978-1-59140-553-5.ch047

Leger, A., Godlewska, A., Adjei, J., Schaefli, L., Whetstone, S., Finlay, J., et al. (2013). Large First-Year Course Re-Design to Promote Student Engagement and Student Learning. Toronto, ON: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.

Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., Baki, M. (2013). The effectiveness of online and blended learning: A meta-analysis of the empirical literature. Teachers College Record, 115, 1-47.

Murray, S. L., Jones, K. L., & Phelps, J. A. (2016). Blending the best of both worlds: Overcoming skepticism in a hybrid engineering course. Quality Approaches in Higher Education 7(1), 31-37.

Napier, N. P., Sonal, D., Smith, S. (2011). Transitioning to blended learning: Understanding student and faculty perceptionsJournal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 15(1), 20-32.

Picciano, A. G. (2006). Blended Learning: Implications for Growth and Access. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 10(3), 95–102.

Vaughan, N. D., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Garrison, D. R. (2013). Teaching in Blended Learning Environments: Creating and Sustaining Communities of Inquiry. Edmonton: Athabasca University Press.