Blended Learning

U.S. schools have more computers than ever. But what are they doing with all that (expensive) technology?

A show-stopping school of innovation today can quickly devolve into tomorrow’s has-been.

Keeping track of who’s doing what in the diverse field of blended learning, which mixes online and in-person education, isn’t easy. There are few sure things in life, but the lightning-fast rate of change in education technology is a given.

The Blended Learning Universe and its new website,, offer a solution for schools and those who want to track local trends. It has assembled a database of more than 300 profiles (and counting) from 175 schools districts in 38 states.

“We want to capture the changes people make over time – it’s a process,” said Julia Freeland Fisher, director of education at the Clayton Christensen Institute, the San Francisco-based nonprofit think tank that advocates for blended learning, and that launched the Blended Learning Universe project.

“The goal here is not everyone needs to reinvent the wheel,” she said, referring to the need for schools to learn from each other.

And the new website isn’t a one-sided conversation. Educators may connect online with each other in a format reminiscent of LinkedIn or Facebook. The online networking function for the Blended Learning Universe is novel. The website includes features to allow schools to update their information as they continue to change. This website builds upon previous work at the institute, which has long been known for its work in producing profiles of innovative schools.

A growing number of organizations are documenting how technology is changing teaching and learning. For example, Digital Promise, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that promotes research-based technology use in education, runs the League of Innovative Schools network. And Education Reimagined, a project of the Washington, D.C.-based Convergence Center for Policy Resolution, has started sharing profiles of these types of schools.

The adoption of computers in schools and colleges has advanced rapidly in recent years, outpacing the volume of computers available in other industries, including health care, according to a new report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. More than nine out of 10 schools now use computers, an increase of six percentage points from 2003, according to the report. The number of devices in schools increased 71 percent from 1999 to 2012, a rate that is notable because it is twice the increase seen in other non-residential buildings.

And, believe it or not, the number of devices available in schools might be even higher – the report said these numbers are probably an undercount. Smartphones and tablet computers, popular choices in many schools, were not included in the report.

That sounds like impressive progress in bridging the digital divide in schools. But remember this: A technology-rich school isn’t necessarily a quality school. Discovering what teachers, students, parents and school leaders actually do with those devices matters.

After all, a computer that’s used simply as a machine to type homework assignments or fill in electronic copies of the same old worksheets is just a fancy (and expensive) typewriter.

This story was written by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter to get a weekly update on blended learning.

Add Comment
comments powered by Disqus

Nichole Dobo

Nichole Dobo is a reporter and the blended learning fellow. Her work has been published in the Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic's online edition, Mind/Shift,… See Archive