The Future of Blended Learning is…

The future of blended learning is that it is just learning.

The future of blended learning will not confine students to one platform, LMS or digital tool.  According the George Siemens in Learning Management Systems: The wrong place to start learning, “Essentially, most LMS platforms are attempting to shape the future of learning to fit into the structure of their systems, even though most learning today is informal and connectivist in nature” (2004).  As on online teacher and online graduate student, I have been able to experience firsthand the way in which various learning management platforms shape dialogue and discussion.  It is true that the future of blended learning will be defined by “our ability to capitalize on technological developments will most assuredly be founded on our understanding of a worthwhile educational experience” (Garrision, 2008, p. 1). Ultimately learning that is placed in a real context, that encourages critical discourse and that allows for continuous reflection facilitates deep and rich learning.  Therefore it is the role of educators to access a variety digital tools in order to design learning tasks and experiences that allow for deep and rich learning to take place (Garrison & Cleveland-Innes).

Recently, at the ULead Conference, I had the opportunity to hear Abdul Chohan speak about his school Essa Academy in the UK, a school that could be considered on the forefront of the future of blended learning.  According to Bonk, Kim, & Zeng (2006) the future of all learning will be strongly influenced by mobile devices, ubiquitous access to connection, and a demand for learning at any time, any place and any pace.  At Essa Academy we are given a glimpse of this future as students access digital tools that are simple and reliable to both access content, explore ideas and to demonstrate their understanding.  The key to this approach is that the school offers students access to or allows students to bring their own devices that are mobile, not just portable.  The differentiation between mobile and portable devices is an important one.  At Essa, all students are given an iPad to be used both at school and at home.  The school uses both a flipped classroom and a blended learning approach, offering students access to their course material online at any time through iTunesU and allowing them to take their mobile devices home with them so that learning can continue beyond the school hours.  According to the department of education who audited Essa, “teachers use well students’ access to hand-held technology to promote investigative skills and to ensure that students reflect on their learning” (Ofsted).   Essa Academy offers us a glimpse into the future of learning.  When asked if he considers his school to be a blended learning school, Chohan replies that Essa is “just a school where learning happens, blended or flipped.” Garrison and Vaughan agree with Chohan that in the future “there will come a time when the blended learning distinction will dissolve as a useful label.  The reason is that all learning will be blended to some degree” (Garrision, 2008, p. 15).  I think schools like Essa Academy and many others show us that the time has come.  The future of blended learning is that it is just learning.


Bonk, C. J., Kim, K., & Zeng, T. (2006). Future directions of blended learning in higher education and workplace learning settings. In C. J. Bonk, & C. R. Graham (Eds.), The handbook of blended learning: Global perspectives, local design (pp. 550-567). San Francisco : Pfeiffer. Available online from

Drysdale, J.S., Graham, C.R., Spring, K.J., & Halverson, L.R. (2013). An analysis of research trends in dissertations and theses studying blended learning. Internet and Higher Education. 17 (April), 90-100. PDF Format

Garrison, D.R., Cleveland-Innes, M. (2005). Facilitating Cognitive Presence in Online Learning: Interaction is Not Enough. The American Journal of Distance Education, 19(3), 133-148.

Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N. (2008). Chapter Eight: Future. Blended Learning in Higher Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. PDF Format

Siemens, G., (2004) The wrong place to start learning.  Available from: < [Accessed 17 July 2014]

Essa Academy:

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

4 thoughts on “The Future of Blended Learning is…

  1. macoldpuppy says:

    Hi Laurel! I totally agree with your vision of the future of Blended Learning will happen when we all realize that “Learning is Learning”.
    I don’t totally agree with the Essa Academy example based on my own daughter’s 1to1 iPad, integrating of moodle (LMS) and lack of connection between school learning environment and home. I have not seen an increase in “learning” as a result of my daughter having an iPad 24 hours a day – actually she is not allowed her ipad in her room, so that number is actually lower.

    It’s your title sentence that really gets to the point of “Blended Learning” – “The future of blended learning will not confine students to one platform, LMS or digital tool. ” I think in my daughter’s case – the content is confined to an LMS and she has a limited ability to demonstrate her evidence of learning. The evidence is determined by teacher activity creation in moodle,.

    By creating iTunes courses – students will have access to content, anytime and anyplace. BUT – in the video, when they say, “The iPad has revolutionized my teaching” I cringe. Is it really about the tool? Instead – I listened more to the creation of iBooks – and the teachers that spoke about changing and adding to their content.

    So the learning happens as a result of access to content – which would support Open Educational Resources.

    However – what I didn’t hear in this video, or see any examples in your post, is any evidence of student creation of content or student voice. That greatly concerns me – because although Essa is obviously trying to exemplify “Innovative Change in Education” – I saw teacher directed learning, teacher created content and limited collaboration in online environments. iPads were used for finding content – not creating new learning opportunities?

    Essa is an amazing example – and its physical learning space looks like a place anyone would want to learn in….but as I watched the video – I wanted to know how they were able to go from a 20% completion rate to 100% course completion rate. Is it really because of iPads? What kind of professional learning opportunities were teachers offered? What kind of community support did they have? Were funds for the new building based on completion rates or based on pedagogical vision,rust and faith in professionals or research?

    I saw some great examples of “What we could do” by using an Essex model (which Is till don;t completely understand- and I know I wasn’t at the presentation…)…but I am still searching for “How we can do it”.

    Also – all the research you cited is focused on HigherEducation – wouldn’t it be great if we had more research in K12 blended environments?

    What do you think? Is it about access to learning? tools? Access to content? Pedagogy?

    Essa’s obvious success just challenges me to ask more questions about how they got there…so I thank you for your post, because now I need to learn more:)

    Verena 🙂

  2. laurelbeaton says:

    Thank-you for taking the time to reply, Verena! I know this is a topic that is near to your heart! The problem with a short blog post is it doesn’t tell the whole story. When Essa speaks about iPads revolutionizing their teaching, I don’t think they mean the tool at all. I think having access to simple and reliable mobile technology has forced teachers to shift the way in which they design learning. Teachers no longer build a worksheet that they use for several years. Instead, students have access to learning any where but more importantly, students are using the tools on their iPads (like Explain Everything) to create and demonstrate their understandings. Abdul Chohan speaks about teachers as designers of learning and students as creators of knowledge. At Essa, students explore their community, create new knowledge and use tools to create learning opportunities. Essa, like your daughter’s school, used to use Moodle or other LMS and realized that learning was much more connectivist and collaborative that an LMS allows for. The school wanted students to be able to take their learning with them anywhere, even when they finish a course or leave the school and that is why they landed on iTunesU as a platform. I think there is much more to the Essa story than the Apple video shows.

    Great questions and provocations, Verena! We all have lots to learn…thanks for pushing my thinking!


  3. suhayl says:

    Hi Laurel,

    Great post. In fact, Abdul and I were having dinner when he opened twitter to see your tweet to him about whether it was blended or flipped. I have been thinking about it today and I don’t think it can be classified as “just learning”. If we stand behind that, we are in essence giving permission to remain content with the status quo. I can use that exact phrase to say that traditional, worksheet-centric learning is just learning as well. To some degree, classifying forms or more innovative or learning as just learning gives staunch traditionalists an argument.

    If we classified 21st century skills as just “skills” or curriculum re-designed curriculum as just “curriculum” would be a definite understatement.

    During the course of conference, I had the privilege of managing Abdul’s schedule/agenda. And if I were to be honest, I selfishly booked about 6-10 hours of one-on-one time with Abdul to gain some more insight into Essa Academy. Many of the concerns Verena brought forward were what I asked.

    A few things that I would like to point out:

    It’s obviously difficult to portray a clear video of all the happenings in Essa through a 4 minute video. I don’t know if you stayed afterwards Laurel, but Abudl was showing what students were having students create in Showbie (videos, animations, to presentations).

    Verena, I wonder what you don’t agree with in terms of a 1:1 environment? No one ever says that technology is the solution. What it does do, is amplify good or bad pedagogy. If sound practice is lacking, technology will only amplify that.

    Abdul mentioned some great ideas that he implemented to extend the learning environment beyond the classroom, to the community and home. Technology was the medium through which he engaged parents, and got them on the front lines in order to support their child.

    Laurel, if you ever want to have a conversation regarding any of the above, I’m often in your area. As a matter of fact, I was looking for you after Abdul was done his session, and you had already left.


    • laurelbeaton says:

      Thank-you for the comments (sorry I didn’t see your name in the post)!

      I am sorry for the delay in responding as the notification ended up in my junk folder! It sounds like you were very fortunate to get some time to Abdul to glean some insight on Essa. I did attend Abdul’s workshop which I found very informative. I left with many ideas of how to use simple and effective technology to shift they in which we design learning. I was very pleased to hear Abdul stress that the technology was essential for making the shift possible but that pedagogy always is the focus. Technology is the tool (or plumbing). I agree with your completely that a 4 minute video created by Apple or a short blog post written by me will never be able to capture entirely the philosophy and approach to learning at Essa. What I do know is that what Abdul shared resonated greatly with what I believe about education. I was grateful to have heard his message.

      I would love to connect sometime to talk more about these ideas and hear what else you learned in your time with Abdul. You can reach me at and we can schedule a time to connect either face to face or with technology.

      Thanks again for taking the time to respond to my blog…the dialogue is so essential to shift our thinking and practice!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: