As Blended Learning Gains Steams, This K-12 Funder Aims to Get Key Pieces In Place

Blended Learning is one of the most popular K-12 projects among funders who support education programs. It's not hard to see why, since nearly all of us can remember feeling bored in school because we were either behind or ahead of our fellow students, and the idea of using technology to personalize learning is very appealing. Of course, combining online and traditional classroom instruction holds the promise of stretching educational resources in an era of tight budgets. 

As we've reported, many funders who made their fortunes in the tech industry are particularly excited about blended learning. But so are more traditional education funders, like the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.


For all the funder enthusiasm, though, blended learning is still in its formative years; consequently, the research has yet to reach definitive conclusions on its impact. Among other things, successful use of this approach to K-12 learning requires quality educational materials, just as traditional classroom instruction does. To ensure the availability of such materials, Hewlett recently awarded a $2 million grant to the Learning Accelerator to help create open educational resources (OER) aligned to state learning standards in reading and math.

The Learning Accelerator is a Bay Area nonprofit organization that works to implement high-quality blended learning programs in U.S. school districts. It is also a member of the K-12 OER Collaborative, a state-led collaborative supported by leading education nonprofits and OER developers. Learning Accelerator announced 10 content developers that will work with the collaborative to develop prototype content for review in the summer of 2015.

Participating states in the collaborative include Arizona, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin. Because most of these states have adopted the Common Core State Standards, it seems likely that the materials developed under this initiative will align to those standards, leaving open the possibility that materials from this initiative could be scaled for use in other states that have adopted the Common Core.

Curricular material is a big business, with school systems spending more than $8 billion a year on textbooks and other resources. The Hewlett-funded work by Learning Accelerator and others in the K-12 OER Collaborative represents an opportunity for schools to acquire less expensive content for one of the most popular new approaches to K-12 instruction.

For Hewlett, the funding to Learning Accelerator is the latest in a series of grants awarded by this funder to support research, content development, and support related to blended learning. In the past few months alone, the Hewlett Foundation has funded work to build greater educator engagement with OER, material development by Expeditionary Learning, and platforms to enable better use of blended learning materials.

Although research on blended learning has yet to produce sufficient evidence to conclude whether it improves student achievement, it has found that successful blended learning depends on successful implementation, including teacher training and the availability of quality materials. With grants such as this one to Learning Accelerator, Hewlett appears to be putting at least one of the pieces for success in place.

Related: This Funder Wants to Know What Works in Digital Learning