What is a blended course?


The following definition of blended learning has been adopted by the University of Ottawa.

A blended course is designed such that some in-class time is substituted by equally meaningful online activities. 

This means that the in-class and online portions of a course are complementary and have been thoughtfully combined to meet the needs of the learner and the goals of the course. The online components are not an addition to a full course load but a purposeful substitution of some in-class activities.

To expand on this definition, there is also a limit to how many classes an instructor may place online. For a course to be considered blended, we require that 20 – 80% of a course be substituted by online activities. For example, in a 12 week course at least 2 face-to-face classes (20%) would need to be substituted with online activities to a maximum of 10 classes online (80%).

Course Structure

What does a blended course look like? The short answer is: it will vary. 

Much like a traditional course, the structure of blended courses will range to meet the unique challenges of the learning environment, course content, instructor preferences, and needs of the learner. Our definition supports this flexibility so instructors can make the right pedagogical decisions regarding their course redesign. 

The particular challenges of designing a blended course are in finding the right balance of face-to-face and online activities. The course structure should be created thoughtfully with the learner at the center of the redesign. Sessions should not be placed haphazardly online or in-class but rather complement each other to take advantage of the online or in-class medium. 

The course structures presented below are meant as informational; their purpose is to illustrate a sample of the divisions possible between face-to-face and online hours. We encourage anyone interested in redesigning their course(s) into a blended format to contact us at:

EN Website Diagram 1      EN Website Legend

EN Website Diagram 2

EN Website Diagram 3

Differences in Terminology 

There are various terms used within the research literature to describe what we have deemed a blended course. For example, similar formats have been called blended, hybrid, mixed-mode, and flexible learning. These terms generally act as synonyms for the blended format described in the “Definition” section above. 

As the blended format is relatively new, there are ongoing debates and discussions within the literature surrounding the parameters and definition of a blended course. Some of these synonyms act as ways to differentiate one researcher’s definition from the other. Consequently, individuals may see a variety of definitions for blended learning across different institutions and within the literature. 

For more a more thorough synthesis of the current research on blended learning see: “Preparing for the Digital University” by George Siemens (click here to access).