Is Blended Learning the Same as Technology-Rich Instruction?

Amanda Cunningham
Thursday, January 28, 2016 - 10:45am

There’s a lot of confusion around blended learning and technology-rich instruction. Many schools think that because they use computers in the classroom they are a blended school. Yet, “blended learning” and “technology-rich instruction” mean something quite different. 

Technology-rich instruction provides educators with a valuable tool to reinforce lessons, but the technology in itself does not facilitate student learning.

Blended learning, on the other hand, leverages technology to give each and every student a more personalized learning experience. Blended learning has been defined as a "formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online learning with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace, at least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home, and the modalities along each student's path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience."

Let’s take a look at how these two different instruction models work in a school setting.

Technology-Rich Instruction

Ms. Dawson, a 10th grade Spanish language teacher in Arizona, wants students to learn more about the day-to-day life in Spain. She creates a number of lesson plans about Spanish culture, but only gives students weekly assignments. Ms. Dawson also uses a language-exchange website to pair a Spanish native in Spain with each of her students in Arizona. For the entire semester, students spend thirty minutes of every Friday class in the computer lab writing an email in Spanish to their exchange partner. For the semester-end project, Mrs. Dawson asks each student to create an interactive PowerPoint presentation that describes the day-to-day life of a Spanish native who is roughly their same age.

Screen shot of Spanish letter for blended learning example

In this example, Ms. Dawson controls:

  • Where and when the students write the e-mails: the school computer lab on Fridays
  • The length of time students spend writing the e-mails: 30 minutes
  • The subject and delivery method of the final project: a PowerPoint presentation on the daily life of a Spanish teenager

Blended Learning

In a blended learning-modeled school, Ms. Dawson assigns a similar project—but now students use a software program that allows them access to all the Spanish culture lesson content that they will be working with for the entire semester. Students work at home three days a week, and they can choose when and where they write the emails to their language exchange partner. The only stipulation is that they email their partner at least once a week. Additionally, the students can choose what concepts they want to delve deeper into as long as they complete the core lessons and objectives that Ms. Dawson has specified for each week.

The other two days a week, students are on-campus.  During this time, Ms. Dawson supplements the online content with project-based group work involving Spanish speaking exercises or provides one-to-one assistance on a particular grammar concept. Ms. Dawson uses the reports based on the online assignments to personalize lessons for students who are struggling as well as for students who are excelling and need new challenges.

Blended learning example through picture of Middlebury Languages

In this example, students control:

  • Where they write their partner emails
  • Their pace when completing Ms. Dawson’s weekly lesson
  • How long they spend writing emails and working on other lessons and activities
  • What one-to-one assistance they need
  • How they spent their extra time and what topics they want to delve deeper into

The following chart highlights some of the key differences between blended learning and technology-rich instruction:

Technology-Rich Instruction Blended Learning
  • Teachers use technology as a way to supplement and reinforce what they are already doing
  • Teachers control  how the technology is used
  • Students can only work within constraints of the classroom technology options
  • Teachers must integrate technology-enabled lessons into established lesson plans
  • Teachers and students can only use technology-rich curriculum within a traditional brick-and-mortar school
  • Students have more freedom to explore passions
  • Teachers provide in-person instruction to supplement online instruction
  • Technology is used to deliver the curriculum
  • Lessons can be personalized based on student performance
  • Global resources are integrated into the curriculum without extra work for teachers


While these two methods may seem similar, technology-rich instruction and blended learning have significant differences in both the structure of teaching, the content used, and the outcomes for students.

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