Choosing and Using Blended Learning Software

What is Blended Learning in a Tutoring Program? 

Blended learning is a delivery mode that combines live instruction with digital learning tools for independent practice. High-quality blended learning supplements live tutoring (either virtually or in person) with adaptive software, which modifies the presentation of material in response to student performance to support student learning. For students, blended learning offers opportunities to practice independently through tailored activities that capitalize on different learning modalities – the ways in which students use their senses throughout the learning process to acquire new skills (e.g; kinesthetic, visual, auditory, and tactile) – and further individualize instruction. For tutors, blended learning provides a wealth of knowledge and granular data about student learning to help explicitly target their live instruction. 

Why use Blended Learning Software? 

Blended learning software serves a purpose:

  • Blended learning software supports instructional individualization. It allows tutors to assign specific practice to specific students in a data-informed way, giving students multiple “at bats” to practice the skills they need most.
  • Blended learning programs leverage centralization and automation to reduce tutor preparation time creating supplemental practice materials.
  • The programs can provide structure and guidance for analyzing data, reducing the intellectual workload and time required of tutors.
  • High-quality programs engage different sensory modalities for students, often leading to greater engagement with the content itself.
  • A blended learning program can reduce the frequency of tutor-student interaction while maintaining rigor, allowing the same number of tutors to serve more students without diminishing tutor effectiveness.
    • Research has shown that supplementing live instruction with effective blended learning software can reduce the amount of contact time between tutor and student and thus achieve similar results at a lower cost per student. 

Considerations for Implementing Blended Learning Software 

Before designing or selecting blended learning software for your tutoring program, you need to consider how your tutors and students will use it in practice. These use-cases will help you identify what you need from the software.

  • Before live sessions begin:
    • Tutors should be fully trained on how to use all relevant features of the blended learning software. 
    • In an in-person setting, student access should be restricted to required applications as much as possible to ensure that students spend their tutoring time on task. 
    • Students should be taught to navigate the software until they can do so independently.
  • During each live session:
    • Student performance data from their independent practice in the software should inform the live sessions.
      • If your Student-Tutor Ratio is Small Groups, students should be routinely regrouped based on their specific strengths and struggles as measured by the software’s data analysis tools.
        • One option for small group tutoring is for half of the students to work independently on the software while the other half work with the Tutor. The next session, the students switch. 
    • Students should still get adequate time with tutors, rotating between the software and live instruction.
    • Tutors should make direct connections between what students are practicing in the software and what they are learning in the live tutoring sessions, so that students recognize the importance of the work they do on the software.
  • After each live session:
    • The program should have a plan in place if students have limited access to digital resources at home or need ad hoc support (technological or pedagogical) while utilizing the software on their own. 

Considerations for Selecting Blended Learning Software 

Once you have decided to use blended learning software, you need to select an existing product or create your own. Whichever you choose, this checklist will help you evaluate the blended learning software you may be considering. No software is perfect; good programs will have some of these features but not others. Choose the combination of features that best help you meet your goals.

  • Does the software provide concise and actionable data to both the tutor and the student?
    • Does the software assess student progress in real-time, not just through formal assessments?
    • Do the software’s data analysis tools show which students have completed each skill area, which students require intervention, and which misconceptions were most common among a cohort of students?
    • Do these tools suggest instructional next steps for tutors and additional practice resources for students?
  • Will the software be engaging for students to use?
    • Does the software use gamification (e.g. leaderboards, experience points, unlockable achievements, etc.)?
    • Does the software facilitate productive peer-to-peer communication and collaboration?
  • Is the design of the software grounded in research and best practices?
    • Does the software use both content and pedagogical best practices (e.g., incorporating research-based practices for reading or math instruction, or incorporating best practices for immediate feedback on all responses)? 
  • Is the software’s curriculum implementation scaffolded, adaptive, and dynamic?
    • Can tutors select specific content for each individual student to practice?
    • Does the learning material adapt to each student’s strengths and struggles in a dynamic fashion?
      • Can students struggling with a particular skill receive scaffolding and additional support?
      • Are on-level and advanced students able to move ahead to challenging extension tasks?
      • Once students are placed based on initial assessments, does the software continue to adapt to their performance and provide tailored levels of scaffolding on each individual skill? In other words, does it provide truly adaptive instruction, or merely adaptive assessment at the outset?
    • Can students customize their own goals, pace, and/or learning path?
  • Is the software’s interface intuitive for both students and tutors to navigate?
    • Is the software accessible for all students, according to UDL and web accessibility guidelines?
    • Is the interface minimalistic, not overwhelming, for students and tutors? 
  • Additional features may seem like pure upside, but they're quite the opposite if they make your software so processor- or bandwidth-intensive that students' devices can no longer run it fluidly. Perfect software is not software to which nothing more can be added, but software from which nothing more can be taken away.

    Will infrastructure limitations (such as slow internet connections or old devices) prevent students from using the software at school or at home?
    • Don’t test your software in ideal conditions on nice new desktop computers connected to gigabit ethernet. Test it on the devices and internet connections that your least well-equipped students will use.
      • What devices will your least well-equipped students be using?
      • How slow will their internet be? How reliable will it be?
      • Consider all use cases, both at your students’ schools and in your students’ homes, before committing to specific software.
      • Can a five-year-old Chromebook connecting to the internet over a phone’s data hotspot run your software fluidly? If not, where will all your students get faster computers and connections?

Examples of Blended Learning Software

Below is a list of several blended learning software programs often used in tutoring. These examples have not been reviewed for quality, but illustrate the available characteristics of blended learning software and provide a sense of how each one works in practice.

Program Description Features
ALEKS Adaptive online assessment and learning system for grades K-12 (and higher education in math, science, and business).

Uses AI adaptive questioning to assess students’ knowledge of a subject (no multiple choice, only free response questions).

After assessment, provides students with topic choices based on prerequisite knowledge, then offers practice problems.

Periodically reassesses students during a course to evaluate retention.
Cignition Adaptive math game learning software for grades 3-7.

Students navigate through a virtual world, exploring math concepts through scaffolding, manipulatives, and tutorials.

Provides teachers with student diagnostic reports, standards/textbook alignments, assignment/grading tools, and concept-based interventions.

Tutors utilize student diagnostic data to deliver targeted online sessions.

Khan Academy Free online tutorials and interactive exercises in many subjects including math, science, humanities, ELA, and test prep.

Thousands of 5-20 minute instructional videos for learners to fill in gaps in their understanding.

“Coaching” tools for parents/teachers, such as a teacher dashboard with class summaries and student learning profiles.

Newsela Online “news-as-literacy” platform for grades 3-12.

Includes news and current events articles on a wide range of subjects, including myths/legends, science, literature, international affairs, etc.

Each article is available in 5 Lexile levels and includes both a quiz and a writing prompt.

Teachers can manage student assignments and track individual student progress towards state standards in the dashboard.

Subject-specific packages for ELA, Science, Social Studies, and SEL.

Woot Math Adaptive online math curriculum for grades 3-7.

Options for self-paced, teacher-led, and peer-to-peer curriculum, both online and in-person.

Features include instant data analysis, responsive grouping, adaptive learning, library of Open Educational Resources (OER) tasks, collaborative problem-solving opportunities for students, an online collaborative whiteboard, and subject-themed virtual “escape rooms.” 

Zearn Combines live math instruction and adaptive online lessons for grades 1-5.

Provides lesson plans for live and virtual instruction, student-facing digital lessons, and real-time progress and assessment reports.

Teacher tools include lesson guidance, webinars/training, pacing guides, and school/district reports.

Recommended Supplemental Backend Software for Tutors (Not Student-Facing)

While not student-facing blended learning software per se, this backend data analysis software is useful for tutors to use.

Program Description Features
Intervene Data Dash Data analysis program that automatically patterns incorrect answers on student assessments.

Data analysis and recommendations from formative assessments fit onto a single-page “Readiness Summary.”

Identifies students’ strengths/struggles and measures instructional effectiveness.

Automatically groups students based on misconceptions to allow for differentiated individual instruction.