Musings on Blended Learning Research

By Charles Graham, Chuck Dziuban, Norm Vaughan.

The aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting widespread adoption of blended learning has necessitated a rapid and radical rethinking of the teaching-learning transaction. The pandemic resulted in a forced test of the potential of blended learning. The possibilities and constraints associated with this approach to learning were in many ways unfairly put to the test as many educators lacked a research-based framework to guide the redesign of their courses and programs. The Blended Learning Research Perspectives series (2007, 2013, and 2021) fills this void by providing a variety of frameworks for researchers and educators in higher education.

In 2018 we published an article in the International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education titled, “Blended learning: The new normal and emerging technologies” (Dziuban, 2018). In this article we highlighted the trend that for many universities, blended learning (or the combining of online and in-person instruction) is becoming the new normal. The global pandemic of 2019 ushered in an era that has accelerated the use of online and blended approaches. Institutions where blended and online learning were already part of the culture had an easier time making the adjustments required by the pandemic.

We believe that there is a need for more research related to effective blended learning. If researchers are looking for a place to start, they might consider reviewing some of the trends as represented in the Blended Learning Research Perspectives series (2007, 2013, and 2021).

BL Topics and Trends

A quick scan of the titles and topics within these volumes shows some consistent areas of research interest such as a concern with student outcomes, institutional issues, faculty issues, and applications of blended learning in broad international as well as primary and secondary contexts. A new area that emerged in the 2021 volume is the area of adaptive learning. Researchers at the University of Central Florida (UCF) have been doing quite a bit of work in this area based on the foundation article by John Carroll, “A Model of School Learning” (1963) that contends that if learning time is held constant (as in semesters) then knowledge acquisition will be the variable and learning inequity will be perpetuate. Essa and Mojorad (2020) through extensive numerical analysis validated Carroll’s assertions. Further the Research Initiative for Teaching Effectiveness at UCF demonstrated that replacing non traceable predictive variables with surrogates that respond to instruction substantially improves the adaptive learning process. (2020).   

BL Theory Development

One indicator of a maturing research domain is the development of frameworks and theory within the field that help move the conversation forward and provide a common vocabulary and shared direction for the community to build knowledge around. “Originary” frameworks are developed specifically for the blended learning domain and imported frameworks are developed in another domain and are applied to the blended learning domain. A chapter from the third volume titled, “Exploring Definitions, Models, Frameworks, and Theory for Blended Learning Research” identifies four areas where blended learning researchers have begun to establish originary theories or frameworks specific to blended learning:

  • Instructional Design/Course Design 
  • Institutional Adoption and Implementation
  • Faculty Teaching and Experience
  • Student Learning and Experience

BL Research Cautions

A final caution for those planning to do blended learning research. The term blended learning is an umbrella term for lots of different instructional approaches.  The one thing that all of these approaches have in common is that they combine two different modalities – Online + In-Person. The modality and the medium of instruction are important physical dimensions of the learning context, but we know from years of research that it is instructional method (or pedagogy) that has a direct impact on learning. 

(The video below is a brief introduction to media, method, and modality.)

This is important for blended learning researchers because there is a temptation to lump all types of blended learning together when the methods in the blended models and approaches are quite different.  An article titled “A Question of Blended Learning: Treatment Effect or Boundary Object?” (Dziuban et al., 2020) addresses this issue using as an example an often cited meta analysis for blended learning. An analysis of the comparison of methods used across the online and in-person modalities for the studies in the meta-analysis show a broad range of different instructional methods and often a lack of detail about the specific methods used. In practice these course mode comparisons ignore the often encountered problem in linear models where the within group variance is greater than the variance between course mode groups causing difficulties for meta analytic comparisons.  

So here are a few rules of thumb to think about as you begin research related to blended learning.

  1. Definition of Blend. Clearly define what you mean by blended learning. 
  2. Quality of Blend. Adequately specify the physical and pedagogical elements of your blended learning model. 
  3. Quantity/Scope of Blend. Adequately specify the scope of your blend. For example, is the blend prevalent throughout the whole course or is it just in one activity? Is the blend at the program or institutional level?
  4. Treatment Effect. Avoid using blended learning as a treatment effect.


Dziuban, C., Graham, C.R., Moskal, P.D. et al. Blended learning: the new normal and emerging technologies. Int J Educ Technol High Educ 15, 3 (2018).

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