While schools have been offering online classes for the past few decades, they've slowly added another learning method into the mix that gives students more control over their own learning: blended learning.
This method allows students to move at their own pace along personalized education pathways that combine face-to-face and online education components. In 2008, a handful of high schools started incorporating blended learning into their efforts as they considered what the future of learning could look like and how they could empower their students.
Over the last eight years, blended learning slowly spread across the country where schools sought to overcome traditional limitations of class time and specific course subjects that were available.
"This is really about changing the instructional model to be able to ensure opportunity and also high levels of success for all students," said Susan Patrick, president and CEO of iNACOL.
For example, Spokane Public Schools in Washington set out to increase its on-time graduation rate, particularly for at-risk students. Through the district's On Track Academy, students follow an individualized learning plan designed to take them to a technical, associate's or bachelor's degree. Many of these students had fallen behind or were missing skills and knowledge in specific areas.
A more personalized program gives the academy's 280 students the support they need, and in 2014, the academy graduated 90 percent of its students — just one of many blended learning efforts that helped the district improve its graduation rate by nearly a quarter since 2008, according to a July iNACOL report.
In a look at blended learning's progress from 2008-2015, the report highlighted at least four lessons from a number of schools that have been trying this different way of educating students.
Start with clear education goals. Use well-researched instructional models. Personalize learning so that students can improve their academic achievement, make up or move on to more advanced work, and direct their own learning. Help teachers transition to this different environment by providing professional development in a blended, personalized format. In the next decade, blended learning will become even more focused on personalizing learning for students with the help of adaptive learning programs and increased data collection.
"We're going to see blended classrooms that are really able to pinpoint the needs of the learner," Patrick said, "but also put powerful tools in the hands of instructors."