Blended Learning vs. Virtual Learning in Career and Technical Education

May 30, 2024
Blended learning virtual learning Edmentum article

Career and technical education (CTE) opens doors to opportunities beyond the classroom, and students know it. It’s no wonder these programs are gaining momentum in schools and districts. However, getting resources in place to provide the full breadth of CTE options students seek is a big undertaking for administrators. No matter where you’re at, online programs can help fill gaps and stretch resources. 

Here, we’ll look at two different delivery methods for utilizing online programs for CTE—blended learning vs. virtual learning—and weigh the pros, cons, considerations, and use cases for each. And remember, it’s always possible to utilize both models concurrently in your CTE program!

CTE in a Blended Learning Environment

As defined by the Christensen Institute, blended learning refers to a formal education program in which a student learns in part through online learning with some control over time, place, and path and in part through a more traditional brick-and-mortar, supervised classroom. Leveraging a digital curriculum like Courseware to enhance your CTE program is a great approach when:

1. You have staff with experience and credentials in CTE fields.

Many CTE instructors have a professional background in CTE fields, and they come to teach later in their careers. If you already have staff members with this kind of industry experience and the credentials to teach in that CTE subject area (or you have the budget to hire new staff), leverage their expertise! These teachers can offer students hands-on instruction and guidance in CTE fields by using a digital curriculum as a core instructional resource. They can also spearhead initiatives to start CTE-related student organizations and connect learners with mentorship and internship/externship opportunities in the community.

2. You already have a well-established CTE program.

If you already have a strong, successful CTE program in place and are at the point of looking to expand, trying out a blended learning approach can be an effective strategy. By utilizing a digital curriculum, your staff can teach more courses across a wider range of subjects without being overwhelmed by an increased workload.

3. You want to appeal to a broader range of students’ learning styles.

At this point, it’s a widely accepted reality that the traditional classroom doesn’t work for every learner. CTE, with its focus on real-world application, appeals to many students for whom this is the case, and taking a blended approach can make for an even better fit. Offering students the extra level of flexibility and personalization that blended learning offers, along with the in-person interaction it promotes, can help your CTE program reach more students and lead to more successful outcomes.

4. You want to focus on several specific CTE Career Clusters or Career Pathways.

CTE is a broad field—as outlined by Advance CTE, there are 16 different Career Clusters® and 79 individual Career Pathways. Realistically, the vast majority of schools and districts don’t have the resources in terms of staff and funding to serve students interested in all of these different options, but providing outstanding access to a few is much more attainable. 

If you have several staff members with experience and credentials in two or three Career Clusters, that’s a great base to build a specialized program. Lean on digital curricula to build out specialized offerings, then focus your program staff’s energy on developing high-quality project-based learning, meaningful community partnerships, and vibrant student groups.

CTE in a Virtual Learning Environment

Unlike blended learning, virtual learning refers to instruction that is in no way bound by a brick-and-mortar building. Virtual learning in CTE differs from the traditional classroom through the physical media that links administrators, teachers, and students. Students have much more control over time, place, and pace of learning, and they have no in-person component to their classes. Partnering with a virtual learning provider like EdOptions Academy is a great approach for your CTE program when:

1. You have limited budget and staffing resources.

Finding qualified staff for a CTE program can be difficult—these teachers typically have a combination of training and professional experience that can be hard to come by. If you don’t already have certified CTE instructors on staff and your recruitment budget is limited, fully virtual courses can be a great alternative.

2. You have a small population of students interested in CTE courses.

In smaller schools and districts, it can be a challenge to offer students all of the courses they are interested in taking, especially when their wish lists frequently don’t align with standard course offerings. Elective courses that only a few students are interested in taking are simply not worth the resources it takes to offer as in-person courses. Fully virtual courses can be a great, cost-effective alternative to offer those CTE courses that just a small group of students are asking for. And, even better, when a handful of students want a completely different course next year, virtual courses provide the flexibility to pivot your offerings.

3. You want to offer options across a broad range of CTE Career Clusters and Career Pathways.

If you already have an in-person CTE program in place but are interested in expanding, virtual courses can be a great way to experiment with new and different course offerings without investing a lot of time or resources. Work with a virtual course provider to expand your catalog and see what offerings pique students’ interest and lay the foundation for a broader brick-and-mortar CTE program.

4. Your students require a high level of flexibility.

Some students are juggling a lot of responsibilities, including work, family, childcare, and health concerns. For these students, flexibility is key to making school work within their busy lives. Virtual CTE courses can help them explore career interests or even work toward valuable credentials and certifications in fields they’re already gaining experience in—all at their own pace, on their own schedule, and with the personalized support of high-quality online instructors.

Blended Learning vs. Virtual Learning for CTE: Final Thoughts

When considering blended learning vs. virtual learning for career and technical education, there may be no one best choice; the ideal setup likely comes down to your and your students’ needs. Regardless of your decision, we’re here to help you take the next step with your CTE program.

Count on Edmentum for the resources you need to get started. Edmentum offers both middle school exploration and focused high school CTE courses, spanning 42 multiyear career pathways across 12 nationally recognized career clusters. Browse our full course catalog and learn more about how Courseware and EdOptions Academy can support your blended or virtual initiative! 

And, if you’re interested in practical planning and CTE implementation tips, check out our interactive workbook, Career and Technical Education: Designing a Successful Program.

This blog was originally posted in February 2019 and has been updated.

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