Female student smiling in class

What is a blended course?

A blended approach (also known as “hybrid”) integrates face-to-face and online learning.  A “flipped classroom” is considered blended learning and involves students getting a first exposure to course content on their own before class through activities such as readings or watching short lecture videos. Face-to-face class time is then devoted to interactive learning activities.

Why teach a blended course?

Moving basic content online (e.g., introduction to foundational concepts, definitions, theories) as out-of-class activities that students can do at their own pace provides more opportunities for active learning and collaboration during in-class time.

A blended approach can:

  • enhance instructor-student and student-to-student interactions
  • help to foster a sense of community (especially in large lecture courses)
  • allow students more control over when, where, and how to engage in the learning process
  • give students opportunities for hands-on work in class and for receiving feedback from instructors and TAs during class time

Example: Professor Chaitan Khosla and Lisa Hwang created an online “textbook” for Introduction to Chemical Engineering consisting of a series of modules (each corresponding to approximately 1 lecture) that allowed students to learn core content, review recall materials, view practice problems, watch videos (including screencasts of worked problem solutions and lab demos), as well as complete short “checkpoint” questions to test their knowledge of key concepts before coming to class. In-class activities included Just-in-time Teaching, Peer Instruction, Project-based Learning and Small Group Discussion.

Developing a blended course

When planning your blended course it’s important to begin with your learning goals and learning objectives. Focus on learning outcomes and identify the desired results: what do you want your students to know and be able to do at the end of the course? This will help you to tailor course materials, select appropriate teaching strategies and develop learning activities and assessments that seamlessly integrate into the learning experience.

Backward Design Model

Taking a Backward Design (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005) approach ensures that each aspect of the course is aligned with learning goals, engages students and provides the best fit for online and face-to-face time for students to achieve those goals.

Here are key questions to keep in mind when designing your course:

  1. Who is your audience?
  2. What are the learning goals?
  3. What are your learning objectives and outcomes?
  4. What types of content comprise your course?
  5. What are your learning objects and activities?
  6. What types of face-to-face interactions do you want to have with learners?
  7. What types of online interactions?
  8. What types of interactions do you want learners to have with each other?
  9. How will your assessments demonstrate that learners have achieved the learning objectives?
  10. What campus resources and technology support are available to students?

Big Ideas (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005)

This is the big picture – what enduring understandings are desired? How will students to be different by the end of the course?

Big Ideas and Learning Objectives Template

Characteristics of Big Ideas:

  • Have enduring value beyond the classroom
  • Point to ideas at the heart of expert understanding
  • Make meaning obvious to the learner
  • Help prioritize learning

Instructional Strategies for Integrating Classroom and Online Learning Experiences

An analysis of blended learning best practices and recommended instructional approaches (McGee & Reis, 2012) found that “while many instructional strategies are suggested for classroom and online environments, there is a consistent belief that both varied interactivity and prompt feedback are key to student engagement in blended courses.”

Forms of Interactivity

  • Instructor to student
  • Student to student
  • Student to others, materials or resources

An example of varied interactivity might include having students complete online tutorials outside of class, share their experiences in an online discussion and then present their ideas about what they have learned in class. Face to-face discussions are effective for clarification, application of knowledge and peer feedback. Some of the most valuable uses of in-class time include, giving advice, focusing content, brainstorming, pacing of studies and enhancing community.

Some active learning activities for in-class time include:

See Tools for Blended Courses for additional activities.

How to Communicate with Students

Blended class instructors have a variety of ways to communicate with students and facilitate student-to-student interaction. It’s important to consider what’s best communicated face-to-face and what is better suited to an online environment. Some of the most valuable uses of in-class time include, giving advice, focusing content, brainstorming, pacing of studies and enhancing community.

Tips for Helping Students Succeed in Your Blended Course

Communicating clearly to students about what is expected of them and how they can be successful is essential (McGee & Reis, 2012):

  • Communicate about the blended course design, expectations, and process

    • give clear instructions
    • develop manageable assignments
    • create relevant activities
    • highlight the importance of independent learning in work, time management, communication and study skills
  • Provide a face-to-face orientation that reviews the online components to help eliminate potential barriers for students
  • Give prompt and specific feedback
  • Clarify and reinforce the role of online discussions
  • Monitor online discussion while referencing them within the face-to-face meetings to confirm their value
  • Build community by fostering a sense of belonging, support and collaboration among students
  • Reinforce connections between out-of-class and in-class activities
  • Ask students for feedback using periodic Classroom Assessment Techniques and a mid-term Small Group Evaluation
  • Make modifications during and after the course based on student input

Tools for Blended Courses

Here are a variety of tools and resources to help you get started with blended course design:

The University of Central Florida offers a Blended Learning Toolkit that is useful when designing, building and delivering your blended course.

Simmons College provides many resources such as a Blended Course Redesign Schedule, Pre, During, Post-Checklists, Design Templates and Assessment Instruments.



Dee Fink, L. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences. An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. Nueva York: Jossey-Bass.
McGee, P., & Reis, A. (2012). Blended Course Design: A Synthesis of Best Practices. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 16(4), 7-22.
Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Ascd.

Case Studies

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Stanford Emergency Medicine: What Every Doctor Needs to Know

S.V. Mahadevan, Matthew Strehlow, Rebecca D. Walker
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Online Exploratory Environment for the Digital Humanities

Amir Eshel, Brian Johnsrud

Online Multimodal "Textbook" for Chemical Engineering

Chaitan Khosla, Lisa Hwang