Thematic Review of the Literature for Blend Learning Environments

Aleta May

EDET636 Impact of Technology on Learning

October 12, 2014

Thematic Review of the Literature for Blend Learning Environments

One theme that sprang forth unexpectedly to me was the theme of how students’ attitudes and self-assessments need to be considered within the pool of evidentiary data collected when an analysis of the impact of blended learning, in this case in the area of literacy skills, is investigated. In one article, the impact of learning on two groups; a blended e-learning (experimental group) and a traditional learning (control group); was compared. The typical focus was to compare groups based primarily on examining the achievement data. When the pretest and posttest included the average score (five items each for cognition and skill) and a self-assessment (six items) over two midterms (a five week interval), the authors found that “the average score on the achievement test for the experimental group was only slightly higher than that for the control group” (Chang, Shu, Liang, Tseng, and Hsu, p.9). Taken at face value, blended e-learning achievement test scores were not significantly better than traditional learning? However, when the results for self-assessment between the two learning platforms was compared, apparent differences caught the eye of the authors; students in the experimental group scored noticeably better in the areas of cognition especially and in skill, but not attitude. So the question is raised, “Why blended learning?” Given more than five weeks to adjust to the new blended e-learning environment, their attitude toward this style of learning will lead to higher motivation. Motivation leads to higher engagement. Engagement leads to retention of learning.

Even at beginning college levels, the issue of course engagement is being addressed via use of hybrid course design. There is a shift in emphasis from teacher-centered to student-centered pedagogy; this includes high school, and starting to begin much younger. If students prepare for class before coming (or attending online), there is time for students to collaborate with each other to solve problems, and discuss insights. These in class-time strategies increase engagement in subject matter (Foote & Mixson-Brookshire, 2014). The role of the instructor becomes facilitator of group discussion, managing course content, designer, and transmitting information from sources, between groups, or technology like video clips.

Side-by-side with the theme of engagement is the teacher’s functioning as one who promotes collaboration and knowledge sharing within well-planned frameworks. When planning for social technologies, for example, the teacher considers participation, interaction, and synthesis as vital components of planning for productive groups who collectively create and construct new knowledge (Agosto, Copeland, & Zach, 2013). With technology, time and distance boundaries disappear. Students are not always tied to the confines of face-to-face, brick and mortar or synchronous learning on a learning management system (LMS). Blogs and mobile devices like tweeting encourage ongoing discussion that is motivational for students. Social media like blogs encourages students to learn the perspective of others. English language learners (ELLs) have more time to translate their thoughts and share ideas when not pressured to immediately respond. A framework will encompass teacher participation, personalizing (like entering into a blog conversation), and simplifying or promoting learning. To captivate students, students need to feel in control and see a connection to their lives (Agosto, Copeland, & Zach). Engaging students into learning means that teachers need to avail themselves of technology that encourages integration of social technologies into their course design.

Planning instruction and gauging its impact means that students attitudes need to be considered, and there is a framework for quantifying their attitudes for reading in different environments, and utilizing both traditional and digital medium either to motivate and expand students’ use of both. The Survey of Adolescent Reading Attitudes (SARA), seeks to do just that. By self report, students rate their attitudes for academic and recreational reading, in print and digital media, on a “6-point scale from ‘very good’ to ‘very bad’” (Conradi, Jang, Bryant, Craft, & McKenna, p. 568).

Closely related to engagement is considering grouping strategies to build momentum through pace and support in small group (and sometimes individual) instruction. Technology is a logical mechanism for supporting students as they rotate between groups. There are supplemental reading programs that can focus students on learning word parts, morphemes (small units within a word that have meaning), building background knowledge such as through video clips, and other common, repetitive activities that free up teachers to work with small groups in deeper thinking activities (Cheung and Slavin, 2013). It is like adding an assistant to the room who motivates the student through games. Comprehensive programs for reading include the entire reading model so teachers can work in small groups and check on individual progress for planning purposes. When growth is noticeable, students are engaged. Small group instruction within a blended environment is one way to meet this goal.

Read 180 is a comprehensive program that promotes and capitalizes on small group instruction. The purpose of the program is to remediate students experiencing reading difficulties beginning where “a general stagnation in reading growth in the upper elementary and middle grades” (Kim, Samson, Fitzgerald, & Hartry, 2010, p.1110) occurs. This is also referred to as the fourth-grade slump where at this level of reading students transition from “learning to read to reading to learn the new” (Kim, et al., p. 1111). There is an array of areas of reading skills where the breakdown may occur. Since readers may need to repeat learning or fill in where gaps have occurred in the areas of word recognition or language comprehension abilities, this program addresses that need through blended learning while utilizing small group direct instruction, small group supported independent reading, and computer practice lessons that address students needs individually. This article is based on an experiment to study to find out what the effects of this unconventional blended reading program, referred to mixed-methods in this article, would be when compared to another district after-school program. Among other studies considered by this article, it is not uncommon to find that significant positive effects may be found in the third-grade, but not in the fifth-grade for fluency, reading accuracy, and comprehension. In this study only fourth-grade students had notable gains, and that may be due to increased time spent in reading instruction. The researchers, therefore, separated out scores for areas of reading (like reading efficiency, comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency). A finding that is very powerful when looking to see the impact on comprehension because of student engagement in reading is that the computer activities incorporating leveled text with comprehension accountability and videos that teach vocabulary, word study and background building produced compelling improvement. Students in this study were not taught vocabulary that has application across content areas, because the 30-minute whole group segment where this is normally taught was omitted. Including this segment may have produced greater gains in reading comprehension follow-up scores.

Looking beyond the Read 180 blended learning program, teacher-designed blended learning assimilates a variety of technologies that can benefit students in ways that engage them into deeper thinking that leads to high levels of comprehension; such as blog sites, You Tube video clips, and discussion boards and utilizing students’ mobile devices (Tucker, 2013). Small group instruction can be part of that blended model design, such as teaching students according to individual needs within mini-lessons with the teacher as facilitator. Teachers are able to maximize their instruction time, because they have time to analyze student computer data and plan without the added time usually spent grading papers (Ash, 2012, March). Data is available in real-time for teachers to access for each student. The result of accessing data is the ability of teachers to have the flexibility to use that learning-management system to plan for very direct instruction (Ash, 2012, October). To maximize instruction on a larger scale, some programs like Hybrid High School in Los Angelous, divides blended learning spaces into math/science and English/language arts/social studies groups (Ash, 2013). In this flexible model, individual instruction occurs through individual stations.

The blended learning plan may be set up as a flexible classroom. Flexible classrooms were developed in the Rocketship program in response to noted limitations when using a blended learning station rotation program (incidentally, station rotation is the design Read 180 follows). According to the designers and educators in the Rocketship program, station-rotation is too rigid, resulting in students who follow a plan, but do not spend much effort learning for themselves like they would in a more self-directed atmosphere (Herold, 2014, January). Through trying to expand a flexible and self-directed learning atmosphere within the Rocketship elementary school level program, the designers found that it was most effective in fourth and fifth grades. Further, in an article entitled, “Outside Public System, Blended Models Take Hold,” Herold found that among a private school group of schools, effective communication between educators is essential; so a consortium was created (2014).

One way self-directed learning is effective is when students use technology to build knowledge together. This occurs when an environment is designed augment collaboration between students, and between students and teachers. Students feel safe sharing their thinking from an affective stance when parameters are set within a blended learning environment for discussion. In Hew (2014), evidence-based practices are explored through a compilation of research to help teacher/designers find the right blend through use of a framework to set an environment for deeper and self-directed learning, exploration and discussions.

Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) must be planned. A questionnaire distributed to college students across five CSCL subject areas resultantly found that upholding both cognitive and social learning conditions for individuals and groups is not only important to building knowledge, but must be planned into the pedagogical structure when designing a course (Hernandez, Gonzalez & Munoz, 2013). At the center is CSCL; closely connected to this are the teacher, the student and the task facilitating and learning within an organization that utilizes technology that supports course/subject pedagogy. More specifically, Computer-Supported Collaborative Blended Learning (CSCBL) may be founded in scripts that are designed to consider “the space, the pedagogical method, the participants and the history (4SPPI). The 4SPPIces combine to develop strong targeted learning objectives and supply a conceptual model for educators to use when communicating with each other for course design (Perez-Sangustin, Santos, Hernandez-Leo, & Blat, 2012). Within this CSCL design, both quantitative and qualitative data can be organized and studied to guide future ventures and planning. The overarching reasons for using CSCL scripts is for improving learning outcomes (Sobreira & Tchounikine, 2012). Sobreira, P. & Tchounikine, P. (2012). Facilitating change, adapting script phases allows well thought out script editing. The script is a way to manage a teaching situation, but within a complex, multilayered setting. It provides a framework for students to collaborate within. When a blended learning environment is changed, the pedagogy of the original learning management system needs to be considered so that changes within student interaction planning is conducted in a way that upholds the macro-level script (Sobreira & Tchounikine, 2012).

This literature review is broad in scope, but it addresses specific concerns that need to be considered when conducting classroom research in a specific rural village setting using a pre-designed blended learning model for reading; particularly if the research leads the researcher to recommend changes to the model or modify and expand it to other learning environments in the seventh and eight grade students’ school day. Observations, interviews, a survey, and close analysis of computer test data will be conducted with an understanding of what the research already says about the various aspects of blended learning. Questions will be answered regarding how the comprehensive blended reading program impacts student engagement that leads to meaningful growth and learning.


~Ash, K. (2012, March). Blended learning mixes it up. Education Week, 31(25), 1-7.

~Ash, K. (2012, October). Blended learning choices. Education Week, 32(9), 1-5.

~Ash, K. (2013). Spaces for blended learning. Education Week, 32(25) 1-5.

~Agosto, D.E., Copeland, A.J., and Zach, L. (2013). Testing the benefits of

blended education: Using social technology to foster collaboration and

knowledge sharing in face-to-face LIS courses.  J. of Education for Library

and Information Science, 54(2).

~Chang, C-C., Shu, K-M., Liang, C., Tseng, J-S., and Hsu, Y-S. (2014, April). Is

blended e-learning as measured by an achievement test and self-assessment

better than traditional classroom learning for vocational high school

students? The International Review of Research in Open and Distance 

Learning, 15(2), 1-12.

~Cheung, A. & Slavin, R., (2013). Effects of educational technology applications on

reading outcomes for struggling readers: A best-evidence synthesis,


~Conradi, K., Jang, B.G., Bryant, C., Craft, A., & McKenna, M.C. (2013). Measuring

adolescents’ attitudes toward reading: A classroom survey. Journal of

Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 56(7). 565-576.

~Foote, S.M. & Mixson-Brookshire, D. (2014). Enhancing learning with technology:

Applying the findings from a study of students in online, blended, and face-

to-face first-year seminar classes. Currents in teaching and learning, 6(2),


~Hernandez, N., Gonzalez, M. & Munoz, P. (2014). Planning collaborative learning

in virtual environments. Media Education Research Journal, 42(21), 25-32.

~Herold, B. (2014, January). New model underscores rocketship’s growing pains.

Education Week 33(19).

~Herold, B. (2014). Outside public system, blended models take hold.

Education Week, 33(19), 1-5.

~Hew, K. F. & Cheung, W. S. (2014). Using blended learning evidence-based

practices.  Singapore, Heidelberg, New York, Dordrecht & London: Springer

~Kim, J.S., Samson, J.F., Fitzgerald, R., & Hartry, A. (2009). A randomized

experiment of a mixed-methods literacy intervention for struggling readers

in grades 4-7: Effects on word reading efficiency, reading comprehension

and vocabulary, and oral reading fluency.

~Perez-Sanagustin, M., Santos, P., Hernandez-Leo, D., & Blat, J. (2012).

4SPPIces: A case study of factors in a scripted collaborative-learning

blended course across spatial locations. Computer-Supported 

Collaborative Learning 7:443-465. Singapore, Heidelberg, New York,

Dordrecht & London: Springer.

~Sobreira, P. & Tchounikine, P. (2012). A model for flexibly editing CSCL scripts.

Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning 7:567-592. New York:

International Society of the Learning Sciences, Inc. and Springer

Science+Business Media

~Tucker, C. R. (2013, March). The basics of blended instruction.

Educational Leadership. ASCD/

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