Can blended learning technology save money and accelerate learning?

The idea that technology can create greater efficiency and save money for schools is appealing, but the initial investment can be daunting for schools operating on tight budgets. So, does the investment pay off? Recent research studies and the experience of schools across the country offer some answers.

Does blended learning model save money per student? 

A paper by the Fordham Institute, The Costs of Online Learning, Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning, tries to answer the key question about digital learning: can it be better and less expensive? Researchers Tamara Butler Battaglino, Matt Haldeman, and Eleanor Laurans estimate the costs of blended-learning models and fulltime virtual schools as currently operated in the U.S.

They found that average overall per-pupil costs of both models are significantly lower than the $10,000 national average for traditional brick-and-mortar schools.  K-12 virtual schools costs were $5,500 to $7,100 per student, while blended learning costs were from $7,600 – $10,200 per student. While the numbers aren’t definitive, they do indicate that advancing educational excellence can be cost effective.

Estimated Cost Per Pupil Expenditures

Source:  Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning A Working Paper Series from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Jan 9, 2012

Is online learning cost-effective?

In a presentation by Fiona Hollands, PhD from the Center for Benefit-Cost studies of Education, Center for Technology and School Change found that significant cost savings are possible when learning is used to replace face-to-face instruction because of increasing student/teacher rations, the elimination of non-instructional services and faster completion of content. There is no conclusive evidence in K-12 blended learning in her work, but she essentially notes that more conclusive research is needed.

Is online learning boosting achievement in K-12 schools right now?

A recent article by Getting Smart echoes the need for further research, but provides many examples of K-12 schools that are effectively using blended learning and achieving notably higher academic performance. For example, Mooresville, NC schools have seen improvement of 20 points on state proficiency exams in the four years since they converted to blended learning.

Where can I find a summary of blended learning research?

If you’re looking for an overview of blended learning research, The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), in its Summary of Research on the Effectiveness of K-12 Online Learning reviews the literature. Their conclusion is that the preliminary research shows promise for online learning as an effective alternative for improving student performance across diverse groups of students. They too stress the need for further large-scale studies.

Can blended learning reduce costs without sacrificing quality?

In a 2012 study of blended learning in secondary schools, a 2012 study by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology, Understanding the Implications of Online Learning for Educational Productivity,found that online learning can improve educational productivity through nine pathways:

  1.  Broadening access in ways that dramatically reduce the cost of providing access to quality educational resources and experiences, particularly for students in remote locations or other situations where challenges such as low student enrollments make the traditional school model impractical; 
  2.  Engaging students in active learning with instructional materials and access to a wealth of resources that can facilitate the adoption of research-based principles and best practices from the learning sciences, an application that might improve student outcomes without substantially increasing costs; 
  3.  Individualizing and differentiating instruction based on student performance on diagnostic assessments and preferred pace of learning, thereby improving the efficiency with which students move through a learning progression; 
  4.  Personalizing learning by building on student interests, which can result in increased student motivation, time on task and ultimately better learning outcomes; 
  5.  Making better use of teacher and student time by automating routine tasks and enabling teacher time to focus on high-value activities; 
  6.  Increasing the rate of student learning by increasing motivation and helping students grasp concepts and demonstrate competency more efficiently; 
  7.  Reducing school-based facilities costs by leveraging home and community spaces in addition to traditional school buildings; 
  8.  Reducing salary costs by transferring some educational activities to computers, by increasing teacher-student ratios or by otherwise redesigning processes that allow for more effective use of teacher time; and 
  9.  Realizing opportunities for economies of scale through reuse of materials and their large-scale distribution. 

While more definitive research needs to be done on a national scale, initial research and the evidence offered by schools using blended learning are positive.

If you’re interested in learning more about how blended learning improves outcomes in classrooms, read some of our effectiveness case studies.