What is the difference between Technology Integration and Blended Learning?

This is an essential question and important to ask and answer early in any program rollout. Knowing the difference helps target behaviors and outcomes you desire. Not knowing can result in technology being discounted without fair evaluation.

Tech Integration vs. Blended Learning

The best graphic on the relationship between these two is from Anna Otto an Online Learning Coordinator in Adams 12 school district in Colorado. It shows that Blended Learning relies on Technology Integration. Technology Integration does not equal Blended Learning. And that Tech Integration is sometimes  independent of blended learning.

Anna goes on to talk about the philosophy of her district in her blog post. It is essential that an educational organization craft and base strategies on a shared definition of blended learning.

Most definitions of blended learning are derivations of  The Christensen Institute’s definition. The definition of blended learning in their widely recognized 2013 publication:

Blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online learning with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace and at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home

Essentially, blended learning is only blended learning if time (schedule or duration), place, path, or pace are modified from the traditional school experience. Many examples of technology use which are not actual blended learning only require the teacher to modify how s/he teaches; they do not meaningfully impact how the student(s) learn.

Example of Tech Integration

One of the most honest voices of reason about education generally and technology integration specifically comes from an anonymous twitter account, the Blunt Educator. This Twitter account is irreverent in the classic Teacher’s Lounge fashion. The author of this account also writes a blog. The second post School Day Chapter 2  details a failed attempt to integrate technology. Many educators identify with such disappointing attempts. What is most revealing is that neither the teacher nor the students gain anything by this futile attempt.

Adding technology to a lesson may provide short-term engagement bumps, but how much work does it cost the teacher? Is learning time/effort is recovered by the teacher or student? And finally, could the same lesson have been carried out with less expensive and/or more effective techniques – not technology-based? Because just using technology is not an example of either blended learning or technology integration. Tech integration is a thoughtful application of technology where it makes a difference in a lesson.

The clearest framework for looking at technology integration is the SAMR model. {Check out my post: Three Things about SAMR} Minimally, and least impactful, is a substitution of a technology tool for a traditional tool or method. The next step enhances a lesson further but is still not transformational. Once technology in the lesson enhances  –  beyond what it could be without technology  –  you have true tech integration.

Why is the difference important?

The difference is important because one philosophy is applied to no impact, and maybe a detriment to a lesson or classroom, while the other could expand the duration and depth of students learning. The return on investment of blended learning may be exponential while the return on investment of low-level or poor tech integration could even be negative!

Promoting Tech Integration is only likely to provide positive results when tech integration is at the higher levels of SAMR. This happens less frequently than the lower levels and requires more investment. Investment may be in devices, teacher support, and teacher time on creation/implementation. Promoting Blended Learning does depend on technology, but not exotic, new technology and can provide an immediate return on the investment at most implementation levels.

Which is the better philosophy to promote?

The ability to integrate technology into classrooms is an important skill, where blended learning is a philosophy in creating and sharing content with students beyond traditional classroom spaces and times. Technology Integration has a lower entry point and can appeal to more educators than Blended Learning. Blended learning potentially has a longer reaching impact, and certainly is less costly to implement and professionally develop.

When you look at the SAMR model, technology integration can be casual or transformational; Blended learning should always increase choices, time & place of learning for students.

You should decide for yourself the proper philosophy to promote, but I encourage you to return to the above graphic. This is a rare graphic which captures the relationship between Tech Integration and Blended Learning.