Blending Learning: Blurring the line between on and off

Wendy Smolen explores the intersection of real world and digital play, looking at projects and products that balance screen time with physical play.
June 10, 2015

I’ve been thinking a lot about the intersection of real world and digital play. At every Sandbox Summit, and just about every other opportunity, I promote balancing screen time with physical play, inside with out, solitary with group. Now happily I see that that balance has evolved naturally. Maybe it’s survival of the fittest, or that the next generation of parents is more comfortable with technology, or maybe it’s the changing technology itself, but as today’s kids transition seamlessly from online to off to on again, so have the products that engage them. The scenarios are playing out across platforms and playgrounds; classrooms and chatrooms.

When MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) first appeared, most of us were apprehensive about online learning, even with such elite institutions as Harvard, Stamford and MIT supporting it. Some of the apprehension may have been warranted. A 2014 study, MOOCS: Expectations and Reality conducted at Columbia University revealed that although MOOCs are providing educational opportunities to millions of people around the world, most MOOC participants are already well-educated and employed, and only a small fraction of them fully engages with the courses.

However, Minerva, an accredited undergraduate program that combines virtual classroom lessons with real world experience—including residency—seems to have hit the sweet spot by blending online and offline learning. Just one year old, Minerva received close to 11,000 applications from over 160 different countries for the Fall 2015 entering class.

“We could not be more thrilled with the success of the first year,” shared Dr. Stephen M. Kosslyn, Founding Dean of the Minerva Schools at KGI. “The founding class students bonded as a tight-knit community here in San Francisco while being intellectually challenged by our curriculum and the array of co-curriculars designed to teach them to think critically, think creatively, and communicate and interact effectively.”

Another study at Carnegie Mellon University, where researchers tested how technology could best contribute to learning, concluded that young learners do up to five times better when instruction combines the real world with the virtual world. This finding speaks to the plethora of new and innovative products using blended learning.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Lyka’s Adventure, an innovative storytelling project that uses books, toys and apps to lead kids around the world and teach STEM concepts. Since writing about it, I had a chance to watch kids physically immerse themselves in the story during an Adventure Lab at the Children’s Museum of Art in NYC. What struck me most during the day was the collaborative spirit of the kids, and the natural curiosity they shared.

StoriedMyth, a different kind of adventure tale, ups the excitement with augmented reality. Kids read monthly stories and receive a real “tool” to help solve puzzles. Using AR, they discern whether they’ve solved it correctly. A little (AR) magic goes a long way.

Blended learning doesn’t just have to combine on and off line engagement. Put multi generations into the mix and you’ve created an even more powerful tool.

Brain Chase is an on-line treasure hunt developed to counteract summer slide, keep kids learning, and engage families in the process. The reward for completing the five-week “course,” first and best is a family trip to the exotic destination where the real treasure is buried, plus a US$10,000 scholarship. What parent wouldn’t want to be part of that adventure?

ChoreMonster takes the nagging out of chores by making them into a parent/child game. Parents create chores they want their kids to complete and assign each a point value. As kids complete them, they reap rewards, both real and digital, motivating them to keep playing…and completing. And parents to stay involved.

This list of blended experiences could go on and on. And I’m sure it’s going to get even longer as more developers, educators and parents recognize that our kids are now true bilingual speakers in 21st century engagement,  and the products that will be most effective need to speak their “language.”

Send your ideas to


About The Author


Brand Menu