Since its creation in 2013 through 2020, the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute (MVLRI) at Michigan Virtual published approximately 20 research blogs and 75 research reports. This total does not represent everything published by MVLRI but rather only those publications including original research on K-12 blended and online learning. The nearly 100 resources represent research conducted internally by MVLRI staff, research conducted by partners at universities, colleges, and educational organizations, and covers a vast range of topics including, but not limited to, K-12 online best practices, online student motivation, K-12 blended teaching and professional development, and K-12 special populations.
This body of work is extensive, and while there is tremendous value in each individual publication, there is also value in how that work fits with other similar research and the narrative that emerges from the collective understanding. Toward this end, MVLRI sought to identify, review, and synthesize the original research published in the past 6 years. Again, not every blog or report published via the MVLRI.org website was included, only those containing original research.
Out of the synthesis of resources, 10 main themes emerged. Each theme is presented individually in the interest of brevity. A full reference list is provided at the end of this document noting the resources that contributed to this report.
Resources for inclusion in the synthesis were identified through the MVLRI.org website in the “Publications” and “Blogs” sections. All published blogs and reports were assessed to determine if they included original research. Those that did were included for synthesis. Once the approximately 100 resources containing original research were identified, each blog or report was reviewed and given up to three keyword tags. The following fields were also completed for each of the 100 resources: what we already know about the topic of research, what the resource adds, and implications for policy and practice. Resources were then thematically grouped and keywords were refined and combined. For example, K-12 online program evaluation and quality was combined with K-12 online program policy because although distinct, the themes were related and spoke to many of the same concepts and conclusions.
Once the 10 thematic categories were identified, the resources within that category were reviewed again, both for accuracy in interpretation and to determine its relationship to other resources in the same category. Out of this process, the core findings and practical implications were identified. What is presented below is the synthesized understanding from the original research included. Because of the process, not every finding of every resource could be included, rather resources were reviewed to form a broad understanding of each theme and to identify what MVLRI has contributed and learned in the 6 years since it was formed.
K-12 Blended Learning Core Findings
- Research on K-12 blended learning and K-12 blended learners with disabilities is lacking.
- K-12 learners report some initial struggles with blended learning, particularly around self-regulated learning.
- K-12 teachers have overall positive perceptions of blended learning, much more so than learners do.
K-12 blended learning is a diverse and vast field of research. MVLRI has sponsored or conducted limited research in this area on different sub-topics including blended learning and learners as well as learner, parent, and teacher perceptions of blended learning and blended learning effectiveness.
Research in the area of blended learning and learners with disabilities is limited and more work needs to be done in this area to understand how to best support learners with disabilities in this type of learning environment (Rice & Dykman, 2014). Even with limited research, we do know that curriculum that is thoughtfully designed and done so in accordance with Universal Design Principles has the potential to help all learners, including those with disabilities, more effectively learn course content (Rice & Dykman, 2014). Specific requirements of accommodations for learners with disabilities in blended learning environments and online course design requirements vary widely by state (Rice & Dykman, 2014).
Teachers tend to have a much more positive view of blended learning than learners (Werth, et al., 2016). When learners were asked about blended learning environments, they responded that they desire more communication, particularly face-to-face communication. Learners also reported feeling overwhelmed when they had multiple classes using multiple LMS platforms (Siko, 2014). When asked whether blended learning increased their engagement or excitement, responses were split with some learners indicating that it did while others indicated it did not (Werth, et al. 2016). The same was true when asked if the blended learning classroom built a sense of community among the learners in the course (Werth, et al., 2016). It seems, based on these limited results, that blended learning, like online learning, presents many non-academic challenges. While blended learning may solve some academic/content problems, in doing so it may create new challenges to be aware of during program design and implementation.
Learners did report some positive perceptions of blended learning including feeling like it increased (or at least didn’t decrease) communication between teachers, learners, and families (Stimson, Freidhoff, & Kennedy, 2014; Werth et al, 2016). Learners also reported that while the amount of self-regulation required by blended learning was difficult, initially it did lead them to learn better time management (Siko, 2014), increase their ability to find helpful resources, and encourage them to take more responsibility for their own learning (Werth et al., 2016). Learners also noted increased access to resources, greater independence, and greater understanding alongside the increased responsibilities of learning within a K-12 blended learning environment (Stimson et al., 2014).
K-12 Blended Learning Practical Implications and Actionable Resources
- Michigan Virtual has conducted little research, as has the larger field around K-12 blended learners with disabilities. This is an area where more research is needed to understand the unique challenges K-12 learners with disabilities face in blended learning environments. Adhering to Principles of Universal Design is a good first step in ensuring all learners can access course content; however, there is wide variance in how programs are required to accommodate K-12 learners with disabilities in their blended courses.
- K-12 blended teachers reported more positive perceptions of blended learning than do learners, who articulate self-regulated learning as a challenge in the blended environment. As discussed in K-12 Online Learner Motivation, self-regulation appears to be an area of necessary development and growth for online and blended learners. This is an area in need of further research, particularly to determine learners’ apprehensions around blended learning, and how to best address and support K-12 blended learners.
Rice, M. & Dykman, B. (2014, December 17). More studies needed on blended learning for students with disabilities. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/blog/more-studies-needed-on-blended-learning-for-students-with-disabilities/
Siko, J. (2014, October 20). Parent and student perceptions of blended learning. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/blog/parent-and-student-perceptions-of-blended-learning/
Stimson, R. S., Freidhoff, J. R., & Kennedy, K. (2014). Supporting online learners: Michigan mentor program case studies. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/supporting-online-learners-michigan-mentor-program-case-studies/
Werth, L., Werth, E., Curtis, H., Kellerer, P., Kellerer, E., Reberry, S., & Walker, N. (2016). Transforming rural K-12 education through blended learning: Student perspectives. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/transforming-rural-k-12-education-through-blended-learning-student-perspectives/