What Is the Difference Between Online, Blended, and Virtual Learning?

CEO and founder of Innovative Educator Consulting

Want to gain a stronger foundational skill set and knowledge regarding what this new online and blended learning is really all about? Then let’s dig in and see what it can look and feel like from our end user’s perspective: our students, our educators, and our parents.

Online learning is a teacher-led program in which content and instruction are delivered completely online. Instruction may be synchronous (participants interact in real time) or asynchronous (communication is separated by time, such as e-mail or online discussion forums). Students are enrolled in a school district and may access content from multiple settings—in school and/or out of school buildings.

Blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns: at least in part through online delivery of content and instruction with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace; at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home; and the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.   

Virtual and online school is a full-time program in which students are enrolled in a virtual, online, or “cyber” school and receive all content, instruction, and support online. The virtual, online, or cyber school is typically responsible for its students’ scores on state assessments.


The Blended Learning Rotation Model

One of the best online learning models I have seen so far is called the Blended Learning Rotation Model. It provides an opportunity for students to rotate between differentiated learning modalities, at least one of which is online learning. Other modalities might include small-group or full-class instruction, incorporated with personalized and student-centered group projects, and individual skill building and remediation tutoring. 

Catlin Tucker from California schools documents an impressive virtual station rotation model of how to infuse online and blended learning lessons, activities, and individual student sessions to maximize personalized learning amongst large and small large groups of students. It takes the best of face-to-face collaborative teaching practices and strategies, and blends them with instructional creativity to focus on a learner-centered innovation approach, which is by far my favorite model. 

The blended learning rotation model has proven benefits:

·       It frees the teacher to work with small groups of students.

·       It makes differentiating instruction more manageable.

·       It creates smaller learning communities within the larger class.

·       It encourages communication and collaboration among students.

·       It shifts the focus from the teacher to the learners.


Virtual Station Rations

This blended learning rotation model truly provides the how, the why, and the flexible structure to personalize the learning experience for students. It also provides the necessary access, equitable learning experiences, and resources to reach and meet every student of every ability. It can be infused with SEL check-ins, activities of building a community of compassion-based learners, and differentiated learning instruction amongst whole groups, small groups, and individual coaching and mentoring sessions.

Related toolkits

Learn more now with materials from these toolkit and resource collections: