2018 Blended Learning Studies: The Year in Review

In recent years, the concept of blended learning has become increasingly popular in employee training. It’s much more than a buzzword. This methodology—a hybrid of classroom lecture and self-guided (usually online video) content—is actually based on decades of findings from academic and scientific research. Such studies continue even now, with several dozen scholarly papers published every year. 

While the majority of this research never gets a mention in the countless blog articles seen by learning and development (L&D) professionals, these scholarly findings matter. Knowing what’s been tested, what has and hasn’t worked and why can help ensure the success of your own employee training program. So, to update you with the latest hard research into blended learning and related e-learning best practices, here’s a summary of 10 of the most notable and relevant studies from 2018. For your convenience, I’ve paraphrased the researchers’ abstracts, highlighted key findings that seem particularly pertinent to corporate L&D and provided links to the original sources so you can dive deeper.

1. How does blended learning affect exam results? 

Study title: Experiences in Introducing Blended Learning in an Introductory Programming Course 
Authors/source: Albrecht, Ella, Fabian Gumz, and Jens Grabowski (2018)
Summary: This study describes the authors’ experiences over three years, having created a blended learning course on Introductory C Programming using online self-paced videos and exercises/exams administered through a learning management system (LMS).
Key findings: Instructional videos make a great learning tool, but success depends on keeping students motivated through access to human tutors and interactive elements. Forcing participants to solve more exercises does not positively impact exam performance. Because LMS systems are unable to determine the reasons for errors, human tutors should be available to help learners identify their misconceptions.

2. How does mobile technology improve blended learning?

Study title: Blended Learning for Programming Courses: A Case Study of Outcome-Based Teaching & Learning
Authors/source: Wang, Fu Lee and Joseph Fong (2018)
Summary: This paper shares the authors’ experiences in using blended learning to teach programming courses at City University of Hong Kong. 
Key findings: Their evaluation showed that blended learning—especially when developed using an interactive approach, coupled with other teaching forms and delivered through mobile technologies—provides much more flexibility for both teaching and learning of computer programming, greatly improving students' academic results in the course. 

3. Do learners prefer and actually use online videos?

Study title: Videos Not the Magic Bullet for Online Teaching
Authors/source: Strong, Catherine (2018)
Summary: Based on six years of experience in delivering a university-accredited distance learning program, this paper examines the differences between students’ stated preference for choosing video compared to what form of content they actually used.
Key findings: As the paper’s author Catherine Strong says, “Contrary to many guidelines, students do not universally appreciate videos as part of their online learning.” While they favored having the flexibility to choose videos as an option, in actual practice, the majority chose text-based content instead of video. That’s because when looking for the most useful information, they can more quickly skim or search text documents than they can videos. Dr. Strong suggests that digital courses should expand to provide both text-based and video-based resources to satisfy broader learning styles.

4. What course environments do learners prefer?

Study title: Linkages between course status, perceived course value, and students’ preference for traditional versus non-traditional learning environments
Authors/source: Clayton, Karen E., Fran C. Blumberg, and Jared A. Anthony (2018)
Summary: This study assessed learners' preferences for course delivery via traditional classroom, hybrid or wholly online learning delivery and how these factors changed based on whether the courses were prerequisites, electives or core subjects. Students were also asked to justify their choice of learning format.
Key findings: “Overall, students preferred traditional classes across all course statuses and justified their choices by citing them as engaging and interactive,” say the authors. The status type or importance of each course did not significantly influence students’ preference in formats. In this study, students viewed lecture-based courses as more engaging and interactive than online/hybrid courses.

5. Does video production quality matter in eLearning?

Study title: Video in the Age of Digital Learning 
Author/source: Köster, Jonas (2018)
Summary: This book provides a thorough analysis of scholarly research to answer the question of whether increased production quality actually leads to better learning outcomes. Does video improve learner engagement and the instructional process or are the benefits merely extrinsic?
Key findings: “The assumption that high production value leads naturally to better learning outcomes is not supported by the current research,” says author Jonas Köster. However, high video quality may help satisfy corporate branding standards and the value expectations of paid consumers. Furthermore, he cites studies showing that stand-alone videos lack instructional value compared to hands-on activities or collaborative learning, recommending that video content be combined with more interactive experiences that stimulate the learner’s multiple senses. 

6. What video factors improve or hamper blended learning?

Study title: Using Videos in Blended Learning: Pitfalls and Success Factors
Authors/source: Wong, Billy Tak Ming and Beryl Yuen Yee Wong (2018)
Summary: This paper uses a review of empirical research to examine the use of live and recorded video in blended learning. The authors identify several factors that affect learning outcomes, including the types of videos and how they were used, and the benefits and pitfalls of using video in training.
Key findings: Video content benefits instructors and learners alike in many ways. Through dynamic visualizations and actual objects, actions, and scenes, learners can absorb more information than is possible from a text. Videos also motivate learners by providing more opportunities for interactivity. Live, two-way video-based communications greatly improve instructor-learner connections, providing a more personalized experience and helping instructors understand a learner’s reactions and emotions, enabling them to adjust the pace of a live lesson or add clarification as needed. Training outcomes are improved and learners feel more empowered if they have full control over their video, including the ability to pause, replay and skip through content. Pitfalls of using video in blended learning include technical challenges, extra time required (to create recorded videos and host live interactive sessions), camera shyness and risks to learner privacy. To improve effectiveness, videos should have the capacity for evaluation and timely adjustment to accommodate learner feedback and update content. 

7. Does integrated feedback improve blended learning?

Study title: Analyzing productive learning behaviors for students using immediate corrective feedback in a blended learning environment
Authors/source: Chen, Xin, Lori Breslow, and Jennifer DeBoera (2018)
Summary: The researchers developed a computer-based, immediate feedback tool (a simple “checkable answer” feature that included assessment tasks, homework problems, reading questions or weekly quizzes). They studied how learners (using video lectures, forums, and other online educational materials) interacted with the simple feedback tool and how those interactions influenced their learning outcomes.
Key findings: This study found that learner interaction with a corrective feedback tool was positively correlated to performance. Learners who got the correct answer on the first try and therefore bypassed the feedback tool actually performed worse, with a 25% variance in cumulative grades. The authors conclude that the added engagement provided by immediate corrective feedback reflects a productive study strategy and can significantly predict higher overall performance.

8. Does blended learning work better than traditional lecturing?

Study title: Higher academic performance at an Asian University: replacing traditional lecturing with blended learning
Author/source: Jones, Kevin Anthony (2018)
Summary: This five-year research project explored the effects of introducing online blended learning in an attempt to counteract learners’ poor academic performance corresponding to their low attendance of purely face-to-face lectures. Covering two software engineering courses, the experiment compared traditional lectures (using the same solitary instructor) to a blended learning program. The blended learning program eliminated all live lectures but instead used a mix of videos, digitized reading materials, pre- and post-learning assessments, practice exercises with feedback, weekly surveys, with face-to-face elements in the form of study groups, presentations, formative assessments, and other peer interactions.
Key findings: Overall, blended learning resulted in higher attendance and better test scores.  “The mean of academic performance achieved in blended learning is higher (statistically significant) than that in traditional lecturing,” says the researcher, Kevin Anthony Jones. From these results, he suggests, “Traditional lecturing can be eliminated from higher education without diminishing the learning. Attendance is increased significantly and appears to be a very effective deep learning approach.” There were exceptions. Learners from China and India experienced a drop in academic performance. Jones surmises this may be due to a “digital divide” in the online technology (computers and infrastructure) available to these students. Furthermore, with blended learning videos, learners’ critiques of instructors tend to decline compared to face-to-face lectures.

9. Can blended learning enable early prediction of success?

Study title: Applying Learning Analytics for the Early Prediction of Students' Academic Performance in Blended Learning
Authors/source: Lu, Owen H.T., Anna Y. Q. Huang, Jeff C.H. Huang, Albert J. Q. Lin, Hiroaki Ogata and Stephen J. H. Yang (2018)
Summary: This study used analytics and educational big data approaches to predict learners' final academic performance in a blended learning course. Data analyzed consisted of video-viewing behaviors, out-of-class practice behaviors, homework and quiz scores, and after-school tutoring. 
Key findings: The results show that learners’ engagement with the content, exercises and mentoring of a blended learning environment, final academic performance could be predicted when only one-third of the course had elapsed. Furthermore, the blended data set combining online and traditional critical factors (including face-to-face mentoring after class) resulted in the best learner performance.

10. Do learners perceive some models of learning as more valuable?

Study title: Blended learning: the new normal and emerging technologies
Authors/source: Dziuban, Charles, Charles R. Graham, Patsy D. Moskal, Anders Norberg and Nicole Sicilia (2018)
Summary: This study addressed the implications and offered predictions for the use of common communication technologies (for example, mobile) for blended learning in higher education. The authors compared withdrawal rates for face-to-face and online courses and considered issues of access, performance and students’ perception of their learning environments. 
Key findings: The authors found that learners’ perceptions of quality and value were not correlated to the modality or perceived content relevance. “It seems clear that blended learning is the harbinger of substantial change in higher education and will become equally impactful in...industrial training,” the authors conclude. “Blended learning, because of its flexibility, allows us to maximize many positive education functions.”

Study in Progress

Most of 2018’s research on blended learning sprang from universities. This isn’t surprising, because just like corporate L&D departments, such institutions have a profound need to provide educational options that are not only engaging but effective at achieving the desired learning outcomes and with maximum ROI. Just as a learning culture is important for all companies, instructional designers especially can benefit from seeking out and reviewing the latest scholarly research into eLearning and other educational aspects applicable employee training.  To learn more about blended learning and how it can help your organization, download our white paper, Why Blended Learning Is the Fastest Way to Close Digital Skill Gaps now.

About the Author

Dan BiewenerDan Biewener

With 15 years of experience teaching and developing instructor-led training and video-based e-learning curricula, Dan is currently Director of Training Research at Simplilearn where he conducts and compiles research on the latest content and training best practices. Backed by his degree in Speech Communication and numerous certifications in Digital Marketing and aviation technologies, Dan brings insights from both sides of the training process.

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