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COMMISSION STAFF WORKING DOCUMENT Accompanying the document Proposal for a Council Recommendation on blended learning for high quality and inclusive primary and secondary education

SWD/2021/219 final

Brussels, 5.8.2021

SWD(2021) 219 final


Accompanying the document

Proposal for a Council Recommendation

on blended learning for high quality and inclusive primary and secondary education

{COM(2021) 455 final}


Commission Proposal for a Council Recommendation on blended learning
for high quality and inclusive primary

and secondary education

Commission Staff Working Document - June 2021

Education and Training

Commission Proposal for a Council Recommendation on blended learning for high quality and inclusive primary and secondary education

Commission Staff Working Document

June 2021


1.    Introduction    

1.1    About this document    

1.2    Why a Recommendation on “blended learning”?    

2.    Blended learning and educational change    2

2.1 A history and a vision of blended learning    2

2.1.1 What is blended learning?    2

2.1.2 Why rethink the blend of environments and tools with established practices of school site learning?    5

2.1.3 What is the history of blended learning?    7

2.1.4 How many varieties of approaches can a blended learning approach integrate?    9

2.2    Key Competence development and blended learning    2

2.3    A blended learning approach by schools as part of the wider learning community and education system    5

2.3.1 Whole School Approach    5

2.3.2 Schools as Learning Organisations    7

2.3.3 System organisation and feedback loops    8

2.4    Teachers and school leaders: moving to a blended learning approach    31

2.5    Learners and blended learning    2

2.6    Glossary of terms    7

3.    What has been learnt from European education stakeholders    3

3.1    Stakeholder groups and modes of communication    3

3.2    Main findings during the consultation process    6

3.2.1    Design and management of learning    7

   Environments: where learning takes place    8

   Tools: types and access    5

   Tasks: how learning takes place    8

   Assessment in blended learning    90

3.2.2    Supporting teachers    95

3.2.3    School leadership: creating the appropriate school climate and culture    104

3.2.4    Well-being of staff and pupils    9

3.2.5    Inclusion and targeted support to learners    15

3.2.6    Quality assurance and building evidence for future development    26

4.    Supporting the development of blended learning within primary and secondary education    34

4.1    Challenges for implementation    35

4.1.1 Clear vision and co-ordinated approach by the whole of the system    36

4.1.2 Developing a legal basis for enabling and supporting blended learning    38

4.1.3 Infrastructure: the need for investment    39

4.2    European frameworks – competence and strategic guidance    40

4.3    European tools that support the broad school education community    45

4.4    Monitoring and evaluation of developments in blended learning    49

4.5    European funding for developing blended learning in primary and secondary education    50

5.    A framework for Blended Learning    53

1. Introduction


1.1About this document

This Staff Working Document is designed to accompany and support the Recommendation on blended learning for high quality and inclusive primary and secondary education.

It provides research evidence and other information as a basis for both the legal text of the Recommendation and its subsequent supportive actions. It is also, as far as possible at the time of writing, a practical guide/handbook to help stakeholders understand the full potential of this topic and to support real and positive change across systems and across Europe.

The document describes a vision for blended learning in school education from the perspective of the Digital Education Action Plan 2021-27 and European Education Area: its key ideas on inclusion and on Key Competence development as part of high quality school education. It describes how these ideas are connected to the concepts of a blended learning and innovation and change in education. It also provides a glossary and further explanation of relevant terms (see Chapter 2).

In order to support the statements of the Recommendation and to support action stemming from its adoption, this document accompanying the proposal for a recommendation discusses recent evidence from research together with European stakeholder opinions and experiences (see Chapter 3). Examples of existing policies and projects supporting blended learning are provided. However, given that this is an evolving field in school education – particularly in the context of school site closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic – it should be acknowledged that new evidence and perspectives are constantly emerging.

The document also outlines considerations for legislation and a number of existing EU frameworks and tools that can inspire and support change at school, regional, national and EU level, together with suggestions for monitoring and evaluating future developments (See Chapter 4).

Finally, based on the evidence and examples provided in the other chapters, the document presents a framework for blended learning outlining a set of challenges and examples of good practice on 10 specific areas (see Chapter 5).

1.2 Why a Recommendation on “blended learning”?

It is the vision and the commitment of the European Union to improve the quality of school education: its inclusiveness, the capacity of teachers and school leaders, and the governance of school education systems. 1 All learners should have the opportunity, supported by school education, to achieve their full potential and develop a broad range of competences for their current and future life in society.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to widespread school site closure and a necessary embracing of certain forms of distance and online learning, labelled “Emergency Remote Teaching”. It demonstrated the capacity of systems to be flexible and inclusive with embedding different learning environments and tools. Stakeholders, who were consulted for the preparation of the Recommendation, pointed to the opportunity to build on these experiences and not lose any positive effect of the current momentum of change. The actions taken by European education systems in 2020-21 demonstrated that rapid adaptation and innovation in education is possible, with the emergency response triggering new legislation for some systems, as well as more autonomy and guidance to authorities and school leaders at the local level. Some schools and systems have also developed new stakeholder partnerships, with parents, local and regional communities, business, NGOs, and cultural organisations.

However, there were shortfalls from a lack of readiness of school education, including Vocational Education and Training, systems and stakeholders to take advantage of different learning environments and tools. These include low levels of digital competence and a lack of sufficient resources (adequate tools, infrastructure, and time) to prepare and offer alternative ways of learning. Science and arts, physical education, and VET were heavily disrupted, given their focus on practical tasks. Existing inequalities in learner opportunities and progression have been exposed further, and new inequalities have appeared. 2 The European Commission is committed to investing in recovery from the pandemic in the knowledge that education systems have a desire and a need to improve their resilience, to cope and adapt with changing circumstances in the future.

There is a need, a desire and an opportunity to build on this knowledge and experiences, draw lessons from the experiences made during the pandemic, and explore the full potential of blending learning environments and tools that, if sustained, can provide young people with an education that prepares them for a rapidly-changing and complex world. 3 . The challenges for the design of school education remains the same as before the pandemic: how to build meaningful learning experiences in different environments and for pupils of different ages, abilities and circumstances; how to support broad competence development appropriate to learners’ needs for today’s and the future global society; how to support well-being; and how to support teachers and schools to be innovative in terms of their own organisational and pedagogical approaches, for the benefit of all learners. In order to meet these challenges and improve capacity, a blended learning approach requires a coherent approach by the school education system as a whole within a culture of continous improvement.

List of examples

EXAMPLE A: Comprehensive School Giovanni XXIII of Acireale, Italy

EXAMPLE B: Makerspaces – guidelines for schools and case studies

EXAMPLE C: Digital simulation tools that enhance VET learning in a safe environment

EXAMPLE D: School for Circus Children, Germany

EXAMPLE E: Using online platforms to support communication between learning environments

EXAMPLE F: “Scholaris” portal for teachers in Poland

EXAMPLE G: Interactive mathematics by implementing blended learning

EXAMPLE H: Online learning to support learning in a native language or where there are staff shortages

EXAMPLE I: Youthpass for supporting and recognising non-formal learning

EXAMPLE J: Assessment of transversal skills: policy experimentation project

EXAMPLE K: Supporting school education and cultural partnerships in Norway and Latvia

EXAMPLE L: Portugal’s website “Support for Schools”, created in 2020

EXAMPLE M: Campus schools with a full-time distance learning option

EXAMPLE N: Websites for well-being at home – Luxembourg

EXAMPLE O: “Bednet” for pupils with a long-term illness and recuperation

EXAMPLE P: ‘iScoil’ for disengaged learners

EXAMPLE Q: Home-School Liaison Scheme (HSCL), Ireland

EXAMPLE R: Distance Learning Evaluation Tool

List of figures

Figure 1: Examples of designing for learning in new ways with environments, tools and tasks6

Figure 2: Timeline of distance learning in school education 8

Figure 3: Elements of a flipped classroom approach 20

Figure 4: Blended learning as a process including before and after learning events21

Figure 5: Blended learning approach as a spectrum of situations and opportunities2

Figure 6: The eight Key Competences for Lifelong Learning3

Figure 7: Eight areas for institutions to consider when developing a blended learning strategy7

Figure 8: The school as a learning organisation, as developed by the ET2020 Working Group Schools28

Figure 9: Three levels of design and implementation of a blended learning approach29

Figure 10: Eight steps to successful change 30

Figure 11: Learning and cultural identity transcends different environments36

Figure 12: Student drawings as part of the 2021 consultation survey51

Figure 13: Overlapping learning communities as a powerful environment for development54

Figure 14: Student drawing of a classroom with comfortable furniture and one device per student66

Figure 15: Percentage of households with broadband internet access, 2019 69

Figure 16: Tools used for Emergency Remote Teaching during spring 202071

Figure 17: SAMR model defining different levels of integrating educational technology 73

Figure 18: Parent's perceptions of children's learning skills during spring 202075

Figure 19: Percentage of individuals with “basic or above basic” digital skills among young people (16 to 19 years of age), 2019, as compared with the general population 76

Figure 20: Six learning types 79

Figure 21: Blended learning as a process of before, during and after the live/shared learning event81

Figure 22: Example of the process of developing a personalised learning plan for a student 86

Figure 23: The roles of different stakeholders in managing the learning environments88

Figure 24: Students with a higher sense of school belonging performed better in mathematics and science100

Figure 25: A perspective on teacher competence in blended learning103

Figure 26: Student concerns about getting poor grades because of online activities110

Figure 27: Five areas for adapting established quality assurance processes128

Figure 28: Considerations for a blended learning approach and ongoing school education development135

Figure 29: The roles and relationships between education stakeholders137

Figure 30: Schematic View of European Commission’s Digital Competence Framework for Citizens.140

Figure 31: Schematic View of European Commission’s Digitally Competent Educational Organisations (DigCompOrg) Framework.142

Figure 32: Schematic view of European Commission’s Digital Competence Framework for Educators143

Figure 33: Progression model of the European Commission’s DigCompEdu143

Figure 34: Framework for the Personal, Social & Learning to Learn Key Competence (LifeComp)144



Whilst early research, such as by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre , considered the “likely” impact of school site closures, emerging evidence is sometimes based on surveys to small samples of teachers asking about “perceived” gaps. Longitudinal data about pupil progression is not yet available for consideration on a European scale. What is consistent across this research is the variation in access to learning tools, contact time between teachers and pupils, and what is perceived to be a supportive home learning environment. It is this variation that is the basis for statements about “inequalities”.


Vegas, E. and Winthrop, R. (2020) Beyond reopening schools: How education can emerge stronger than before COVID-19. Available at  


Brussels, 5.8.2021

SWD(2021) 219 final


Accompanying the document

Proposal for a Council Recommendation

on blended learning for high quality and inclusive primary and secondary education

{COM(2021) 455 final}

2. Blended learning and educational change

2.Blended learning and educational change 

This chapter defines blended learning in the context of the Recommendation and describes what it can look like in school education. It describes a vision for school education from the perspective of the Digital Education Action Plan 2021-27 and the European Education Area: its key ideas on inclusion and on Key Competence development as part of high quality school education. It describes how these ideas are connected to the concepts of blended learning and innovation and change in education. It also provides a glossary and a further explanation of relevant terms.

2.1 A history and a vision of blended learning

2.1.1 What is blended learning?

A blended learning approach can be applied in a variety of combinations, as appropriate to the age, capacity and circumstances of the learners and intended learning outcomes. Blended learning in formal education happens when a school, educator or learner takes more than one approach to the learning process:

·Blending school site and distance learning environments

·Blending different learning tools that can be digital (including online) and non-digital

Using their professional judgement, teachers and schools will select and facilitate the use of these as part of engaging and effective learning tasks that support broad competence development.

Regardless of the age of the learner, and regardless of whether the teacher and pupils are in a shared physical space or not, the teacher is a constant and critical presence in the learning process. They design the approach and select the blend of environments and tools; they explain the tasks; they are active in the tasks when appropriate; and they review the learning progression after the tasks.

Blended learning can be an approach at the micro level - in a single learning process with a group of learners - , the meso level - a strategic approach by a school to facilitate blending learning -, and the macro level – embedded as a system-wide approach. It may also be called a “hybrid” approach or a more specific term relating the environment or tool being used, such as “online learning”. 1   2   3   4   5   6   7  

Supporting blended learning, whether designing and organised at system, school or classroom level, requires more than addressing teacher and learner competence and their own use of environments and tools. It requires a coherent approach by the whole of the school education system encompassing: school leadership; learning design; teacher professional development and working conditions; the collaboration between schools and the wider community; infrastructure and resources; and quality assurance.

Blending school site and distance learning environments

Learning can be facilitated both on the school site and in other physical environments away from the school site (distance learning). This is not a new phenomenon in education but could be better and more systematically integrated so that all learners can benefit from its advantages, before continuing to learn and develop throughout their lives in a rapidly-changing world.

Doing so can help to increase the inclusiveness of school education, particularly due to its flexibility, such as better provision for education in rural and remote areas, including the outermost regions and island communities, and other circumstances where young people may not attend the school site full-time (traveller communities, young carers, learner’s own health issues, high performance training, or vocational training and paid work) or where specialised teaching staff are is not available locally. It can enhance competence development, due to the variety of learning approaches and environments it can engage with, including the outdoors, cultural sites, and various places of employment (work-based learning).

A blended learning approach recognises the value of school education as a collection of shared spaces for personal and social interaction, which itself is important for learning as a way of understanding and making meaning in the world. In a blended learning approach, shared-space learning – whether the same physical space or online - makes the most of the opportunity for interaction between pupils, between staff, and between pupils and staff.

Aside from broadening the scope of learning environments, a school that engages with practitioners with different expertise, and that promotes collaboration with the community, can encourage a shared responsibility for the development of young people – it is inclusive. This in turn can help young people to understand and be motivated by the relevance of formal education to their lives in society. It can support their broad competence development and increase their understanding of and engagement with local and global challenges, for instance those related to the environment and climate change.

All learning environments need to be safe and well-functioning, contributing to teachers’ and pupils’ well-being, as well as the learning outcomes. Physical spaces for learning, whether they are located on or off the school site, should be accessible to children with disabilities and from socio-economically disadvantaged areas and not lead to discrimination or segregation.

Blending different learning tools that can be digital (including online) and non-digital

For the purposes of the Recommendation, online learning is defined as that which takes place with the use of digital technology to connect different devices and to facilitate an interaction between the learner and: other learners; learning programmes and platforms; and other content as sources of information. When designed well and used effectively, this can improve inclusiveness and competence development, and can personalise learning.

Online learning may take place in any physical environment where a learner can use a device to connect to the Internet.  It can support learning in different contexts, including school site and distance learning, separately or in combination, and is therefore important in supporting blended learning. 

Digital learning tools do not always need to be connected to the Internet and can include: smart boards and projectors for collaboration in classrooms; mobile devices and laptops with applications for designing, exploring and sharing work; television and radio for following recorded programmes; and Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality tools and application for enhanced interactivity.

These can be complemented by a full variety of other learning tools (books, craft tools, analogue scientific equipment, and sports equipment) to create a varied learning experience and access to a range of content that can help to develop a broad range of competences.

Blending learning environments and tools within tasks

Of paramount importance to the learning design is blending environments and tools needs as appropriate to learner age, capacity, and circumstances, and the intended learning outcomes. For example, the decision to complement teacher-led with pupil-led tasks, and collaborative (group or whole class) tasks with individual tasks, are important factors in the way blended learning environments and tools can be effective for both younger and older pupils.

Blended learning has the potential to empower pupils to:

·become strong, independent and also collaborative learners and also have more ownership of their lifelong learning, which will help support a culture of lifelong learning in the future;

·have a more personalised approach to their formal education, with extra attention and support given to any areas that may be hindering progression;

·develop creative characteristics (curiosity, imagination, perseverance, problem-solving, critical reflection) and all Key Competences for Lifelong Learning 8 ;

·recognise their own particular talents and make links with their learning in non-formal settings;

·enjoy a healthy and active lifestyle, encouraging positive lifelong habits 9 ;

·recognise the relevance of this learning to their lives and develop a sense of agency as active European citizens.

2.1.2 Why rethink the blend of environments and tools with established practices of school site learning?

The vision of the European Education Area and of the Digital Education Action Plan 2021-27 is for school education that is fully inclusive – with flexibility, access, and engagement - and of high quality with meaningful learning experiences - that are personalised and relevant to the lives of learners. In order to achieve this, what are the advantages of blending learning?

Blended learning is a flexible approach that can support a project or course of study to progress whilst not requiring teachers and learners to be in the same physical space at all times. On a practical level, this is useful for times when attending a school site is not possible, or when other sites are more appropriate for the learning approach. It demands a careful consideration of the learning design. It requires decisions to be made about how and when to best use the different environments for independent study, collaborative enquiry, social interaction, and practical application of knowledge and skills. It encourages a review of what the school site is and can be for the learner and its community, and how school time is best utilised.

It can help to improve the inclusiveness of education, particularly due to its flexibility, if resources and school organisation allow. For example, there can be better provision for education in rural and remote areas, including the outermost regions and island communities, and for other learners who may not attend the school site full time: those part of traveller communities; young carers; those with health issues or residing in hospitals and care centres; those engaged in high-performance training (for example young athletes or performance artists); and those in vocational training or paid work.

“Blended Learning can raise student motivation, enthusiasm, and overall engagement while at the same time it can improve skills that are critical for the students’ future.” (Ministry representative)

The periods learning on the school site can both prepare and reinforce learning in other environments. However, these other environments do not mean that pupils are alone. Any time that pupils spend learning together, with or without a teacher or other learning facilitator, and on the school site or in other indoor and outdoor environments, are important for enhancing learners’ social skills, well-being and sense of community.

Blended learning has the potential for teachers to redefine their practice using a range of tools, including digital technology, where learners can engage in self-directed learning around issues that are meaningful to them. This embraces the contemporary educational perspective that students are not merely passive receivers of information and the teacher is not the only facilitator. Tools that facilitate greater student autonomy in the learning process can stimulate and support student agency (sense of own competence), personalised learning, and intrinsic motivation. Where relevant tools are used, it can also support the development of digital competence 10 .

Figure 1: Examples of designing for learning in new ways with environments, tools and tasks

Ultimately blended learning has the potential to transform educational experiences for young people 11 by allowing learners to take more responsibility for their own learning before and after a live classroom session. Blended learning is a way to move towards a competency-based approach where the learner is in the centre 12 . For teachers, blended learning allows for valuing all learners, differentiating and personalising teaching.

The ability to support learners with specific needs through blended learning was already evident before the COVID-19 pandemic 13 . However, lasting and widespread change or transformation will require a collaborative approach, where policy makers, curriculum designers, education researchers, teacher educators, teachers, and pupils themselves engage constructively in developing new understandings and designs for how teaching and learning can better serve the needs of all learners.

Blended learning has been mostly used in tertiary education and business training, as well as some schools in remote areas 14 . However, it can also be effectively implemented in mainstream school education if a number of factors are taken into consideration. 15 It is important that the strategy of the school and the design by the teachers as professionals is based on what is best for the learner; that there is clear understanding of and rationale for the embedding of different learning environments and tools; and that the learning process is carefully planned, created and monitored with feedback to inform future learning design and school development. 16

2.1.3 What is the history of blended learning?

There is a long history of the blending of different environments and tools in education. This is linked partly to the development of tools for communication, but also cultural shifts in who is given responsibility for education and ideas about how learning should ideally happen.

Over the centuries, those designated the role of “teacher” have included: philosophers; military leaders; sports and intellectual pursuits trainers (in “gymnasiums”); those in religious orders, using part of the religious buildings as a “school”; educated individuals teaching the children of wealthy families in their large homes; skilled workers taking on young apprentices; and, latterly, graduates with a teaching qualification working in a building specifically constructed for the purpose of educating all young children in the local area.

Distance learning - learning away from the school building(s) - has a long history and cannot be classified as “new”, even though it still may not yet be considered mainstream or integrated in a coherent or strategic way into school education. Classic examples where the pupil is physically remote from the teacher or institution range from correspondence courses in the 19th century, to Australian School of the Air, and to an array of radio and television programmes for young learners, which were – and are - designed to be watched together at school as well as remotely. Here school education has clearly taken advantage of advancements in telecommunication and today, with the Internet, there is the possibility to go further with such learning approaches.

Distance learning where the pupil is physically remote from the school site but may still interact with a teacher or mentor. This can include swimming lessons or other sports instruction and field trips (one day, one week), and work-based learning, which are all well-established in school education. Online learning has a more recent history and, like full distance learning courses, has been more firmly established in higher education and adult learning before being introduced into school education. 17  

Figure 2: Timeline of distance learning in school education 18

The integration of different learning tools is also not new. The integration of books can be traced back to the invention of the printing press in 1436 and the more recent shift from blackboard, to whiteboard, to interactive smartboard is also well documented. 19

There is a lack of research evidence of schools or systems which have an established and full-embedded approach to blended learning as it is described here, although what exists has explored instructional design, teacher and pupil interaction, learning outcomes, attitudes, and the use of technology. 20 Nevertheless, plentiful evidence can be usefully found regarding the separate elements, such as on effective practice in:

-Modifying learning environments inside and outside school classrooms;

-Vocational education and training and work-based learning (including extra-curricular placements and volunteering);

-Using digital tools to personalise learning and access information in different ways (including virtual reality and game-based learning);

-Project-based learning (which is typically more pupil-led, in small groups or asynchronous);

-Alternative education provision (home schooling, hospital schools, rural and remote including the outermost regions and island communities, settings);

-Higher Education.

The existing research evidence on blended learning and its separate elements is explored further in Chapter 3.

Evidence specifically from school education is emerging and is likely to expand rapidly following the experiences during school restrictions, which will be invaluable to the field.

There is no clear evidence on “how much” of any particular learning environment is beneficial, and the complexity of the learning process and contexts means that there can be no “one size fits all” ideal. However, more deficits may exist in either solely distance or school site education compared with blended learning, which combines both approaches. 21  

2.1.4 How many varieties of approaches can a blended learning approach integrate?

Variations in learning design are potentially infinite. This should be seen as a positive for the ability to design for all learners, rather than a cause for concern.  22 The concept of blended learning supports the adaptation of the learning design for different groups of learners with different needs.

Whilst a “curriculum” – whether based on traditional subject domains or on competences developed across subjects – can be a singular reference point for all schools and teachers within a system, the learning tools and environments can be embedded and combined in different ways as best fits the needs of the learners.

When designing a blended learning approach for courses of study, the approach selected by a whole school, subject department, or individual class teacher may have a number of different characteristics. 23 It will depend on factors such as: the age of students and their capacity to work in and with the selected environments and tools; the curriculum content and goals; the availability of appropriate infrastructure (for example, computers, connections, places to study) as well as competences of teachers; and the schools’ own culture in terms of their attitudes towards different learning tasks (how learning takes place, including assessment).

The extent of time spent in distance learning and in on-site schooling, will vary depending on the extent of student autonomy and teacher- or other mentor-led activities. Whilst this can be strictly defined – as it has been during pandemic restrictions – schools may also be given free choice in terms of this variable.

Figure 3: Elements of a flipped classroom approach 24

In what is more commonly known as a “flipped classroom”, pupils may acquire preliminary knowledge at home or remotely – for example, via books or online research - and teachers use school lesson time to facilitate the application of that in practice. 25 This approach may be taken whenever appropriate in a course of study and relies on all pupils having adequate opportunity to develop knowledge and skills in both environments. 26 The particular feature of “flipped” is that learning happens before, and potentially after, the lesson (classroom) application.

Blended learning invites a consideration of a learning process that extends both before and after a structured learning event, or “lesson”. It can allow time in the live event for discussion and working with learners who need extra help; time being a precious commodity in education. As described above, it can also encourage the learner to take ownership of the whole process, albeit collaborating with others (teacher, peer, parent, and support staff) at different stages. It potentially reduces the likelihood that teacher-pupil knowledge transfer will dominate the learning process and establishes the “before” and “after” stages as being equally balanced according to learner input. It may be assumed that the more the learner is required to take ownership of the process, the more “relevant” the learning can seem to the learner, and thus the more they are likely to be motivated in their learning.

Figure 4: Blended learning as a process including before and after learning events 27

A blended approach may also be described along a spectrum of less-to-more time spent learning at distance compared to on the school site.

For learners that are able to learn more independently (depending on their age, confidence and competence), some time - hours, days, weeks - can be spent learning at distance. The role of teacher is then to provide support, feedback and instruction on a needs basis while students work through course curriculum and content. This gives students a high degree of control over their learning and supports their self-directed and goal-oriented learning. This may include taking elective courses provided by other schools, or internships in the workplace, that are of particular interest to the student and can be included in a flexible schedule “a la carte”. For the teacher and the school staff as a whole, it is important to consider how the monitoring and structuring of the learning process can be effectively provided whilst avoiding increased teacher workload or that certain learners miss out on vital additional support.

There may be more rare situations where the majority of learning takes place at distance, and pupils only attend school for occasional group or individual sessions with a subject teacher or learning mentor (across different curriculum areas). This does not require daily school attendance and may be useful for: students who, for instance, due to illness or professional contracts cannot attend school every day, or when their home is very remote from the school site; and when schools cannot have all students in their premises at the same time..

The opportunity to have this flexibility will depend on the capacity of the learner to work independently and with the appropriate support from another. It may be assumed that younger learners need more support but this is not always the case as many factors contribute to the capacity of learners to thrive in different environments and with different tools.

Figure 5: Blended learning approach as a spectrum of situations and opportunities

2.2Key Competence development and blended learning

The Council Recommendation on the Key Competences for Lifelong Learning 28 describes the eight competences (each comprising knowledge, skills and attitudes) needed by everyone for personal fulfilment and development, employability, social inclusion and active citizenship.

The Key Competences are: literacy; multilingual; mathematical and science; digital; personal, social and learning to learn; citizenship; entrepreneurship; and cultural awareness and expression.

The framework integrates a view of education as a continual, lifelong-process with high-quality education and training on an on-going basis. Likewise it encourages a variety of learning approaches and contexts for continual learning through diverse experiences. This includes finding the most appropriate way to assess and validate competences.

Figure 6: The eight Key Competences for Lifelong Learning

Competence-oriented education focuses on the outcomes of learning processes, as well as on the fact that learning happens in a diverse range of contexts. Competence-oriented education is regarded as advantageous in a time when the knowledge base of our societies is developing at an immense speed, and the skills required need to be transferred to, and developed in many different societal contexts. A blended learning approach encourages a step further towards learning experiences in environments and with different tools that are believed to support broad competence development.

There is a strong connection between the pedagogical and organisational principles associated with competence-based education 29 and a blended learning approach:

ØIt requires a flexible approach to teaching and learning that moves away from the concept of the educator as the single 'knowledge authority' and allows the use of a variety of learning approaches to scaffold the progression and growing independence of each learner – of any age - according to their strengths, needs and interests;

ØIn order to support the capacity of “learning to learn” which underpins the lifelong development of all competences, learners need to have an active and equal role in the creation of the learning process. This calls for more participatory methods in learning, where the learner is active in a task rather than passively receiving information, and may even be involved themselves in decision-making on the learning content, approaches and organisation;

ØDiversity of learner needs should be matched by differentiated learning support systems, to provide targeted and individualised learning when necessary;

ØLearning is a social event and often organised in groups where learners are dependent on each other and learn with or from each other. The nature of competences also means that attitudes – often socially-constructed – are being developed alongside knowledge and skills. In order to support competence development, learning environments need to be safe and respectful, with a concern for the well-being of all educators and learners. Online learning and the use of connected digital devices, in particular, may need close monitoring to ensure the safe engagement by young people. This social and often collaborative nature of learning also presents an added challenge or complexity to the assessment of individual learner progression, meaning that the ability of a learner to self-reflect as part of team work is even more crucial;

ØInquiry-based and project-based learning can support competence development by setting up an open inquiry based on a problem. The learner is then required to draw on a broad range of knowledge, skills and attitudes, and follow a cyclical process of design, creation, reflection, and adaptation, complementing this with the input of other individuals. This approach is also well-suited to blended learning where learners embark on a longer process of discovery, drawing on a rich mix of experiences and environments.

ØCollaboration inside the school settings, as well as outside with a variety of partners is essential for quality competence development. Collaborative and cross-discipline teaching and learning within learning settings, for example through projects, team teaching and learner-led activities, improves engagement and learning outcomes in a range of competences. This calls for a more distributed leadership 30 and management where education and non-education staff, learners and others are more involved in the learning process and may propose, coordinate or lead activities and projects. This approach not only requires different education, training and learning settings to network and create partnerships with each other but also establish cross-sectoral cooperation with external actors such as business, arts, sport and youth community, higher education or research institutes 31 . Such broad partnerships and networks can provide rich learning environments, but need to be built through a long-term strategy based on trust and common objectives.

Taking these points into consideration, the key competence of “Personal, Social and Learning to learn” itself is important to support the development of all other competences and even more so within a blended learning approach. The development of this key competence is required from an early age.

The Key Competence “Personal, Social and Learning to Learn” is described further in Chapter 3 and the detailed competence framework is presented in Chapter 4.

Blended learning prompts a review of national and school curricula because the expectations set down for learner competences can have a direct impact on the design of the learning process, including assessment 32 and vice versa.

“Consideration should be given to the role that blended learning – both at school and in distance settings – and the use of both digital and non-digital [tools] can play in delivering better education al outcomes … Curricula should meet the individual needs of learners … equipping them with the breadth of skills … such as creativity, collaboration and problem-solving, which are critical for children to succeed in the 21st century.” (A European education foundation)

2.3A blended learning approach by schools as part of the wider learning community and education system 

2.3.1 Whole School Approach

A blended learning approach, combining school site and distance learning environments and a variety of tools, should involve a close collaboration between a wide range of cross-sectoral stakeholders and the community at large. 33 This is aligned with the established concept of a ’Whole School Approach’ 34 that enables schools to respond adequately to new and complex challenges and will help move from isolated examples of effective practice by individual teachers or teams of teachers to continuous, and sustained, change across the school as a whole.

Effective blended education requires a shared and well-communicated long-term vision of the objectives of the blended approach. Coherence with broader school strategies is also needed,for example, alignment with the overall mission statement of the school, its digital learning strategy, and its well-being actions).

As an example, the European Framework for Digitally Competent Educational Organisations takes a whole-institution approach to learning support by technology and could also be equally applicable to the design of a broader blended learning approach. The Framework considers that effective digital learning strategies requires action in the following areas:

·Leadership & school governance practices;

·Teaching and learning, reflecting on the roles of staff and pedagogical approaches, including revisiting where and when learning takes place;

·Professional development;

·Assessment approaches;

·Curricula content;

·Collaboration and Networking;


See Chapter 4 for more on the European Competence Frameworks

A more recent model from the Embed Erasmus+ project 35 , developed for higher education but also applicable for the school sector, sets out eight areas which could be considered for an institution to develop a blended education strategy: institutional support; strategies; sharing and communities; professional development, quality assurance; governance; finances and facilities (see Figure below).

For each of these areas three levels of ‘maturity’ are detailed. For example, regarding professional development an ‘ad hoc’ level is where only a small number of workshops are offered to teaching staff, whereas at a ’strategic level‘ all staff are systematically provided training in blended learning design and facilitation. A wide portfolio of courses are made available and teachers are recognised for their professional development activities.

Figure 7: Eight areas for institutions to consider when developing a blended learning strategy

2.3.2 Schools as Learning Organisations

For the school, adopting a blended learning approach requires a strategic approach to teaching and learning integrating various factors: learning environments (home, online, school, workplace, other), competence development process (lifelong learning and professional); affective domain (motivation, satisfaction, discouragement, frustration), and people (learners, teachers, parents, and other staff). 36 For this reason, it is important to consider blended learning within the ongoing development of the whole school and all of its associated stakeholders.

The concept of “schools as learning organisations” – developed by the ET2020 Working Group Schools on the basis of OECD research - is a useful frame of reference that can help schools and systems plan for and manage innovation and change. This is the concept of a school community that encourages and enables teachers and school leaders to improve both their pedagogical and their organisational practices concurrently through local collaborative research, networking and continued professional development. Developing the capacity and role of teachers and school leaders is essential for schools to provide a clear strategic vision and leadership that guides and fully supports teaching and learning, and which enables effective communication with other practitioners and stakeholders. Such schools do not exist in isolation; they are linked and embedded within a learning system where decision-makers can learn from the developments that are taking place in and around schools. 37

Figure 8: The school as a learning organisation, as developed by the ET2020 Working Group Schools 38

2.3.3 System organisation and feedback loops

Improving the access to and experiences of learning, including well-being, and the broad competence development of all learners, should be the central pursuit of school education policies. Therefore, it is prudent to examine what is needed at school level and, at the same time, the conditions that can be created by national policies.

Systems will need to reflect on their current standards, procedures and regulations and amend these, where required, to better meet the needs of all stakeholders within the system. The Recommendation acknowledges that effective blended learning, even in individual institutions, requires a flexibility or significant fundamental change across the education system and its support mechanisms (legislation and frameworks, resources, professional development, quality assurance).

The governance of school education

Understanding school education as a learning system directly responds to the challenges of complexity and improvement as it is based on collaboration and communication between horizontal and vertical connections. Horizontal connections may be between regions, between schools, or between a school and the wider community. They may be based on formal or more informal arrangements. Vertical connections are often hierarchical, such as between a school and the inspectorate. There are degrees of authority in these relationships, the level of which can influence how the work is initiated and carried out.

Strengthening and exploiting these connections helps to organise collective intelligence in order to understand and act upon what is - and what needs to be - happening in different parts of the system. Networks and feedback loops are particularly important mechanisms for this. A learning system promotes a long-term step-by-step approach to school education development, with piloting, reflection and feedback, in order to ensure the sustainability and legacy of education policies. 39 In a similar way, a system approach to blended learning can be understood at three levels: the macro (national or regional), meso (school strategy or programmes of study) and micro (teacher learning design):

Figure 9: Three levels of design and implementation of a blended learning approach

Evidence and feedback to support change

A whole-school approach to blended learning also needs to be grounded in evidence. It is essential to gather, analyse, interpret and use a range of qualitative and quantitative data to create a holistic picture of school and student readiness for blended learning and proceed to develop clear strategies on this basis.

School leaders have a key role to play in raising awareness, motivating and involving all staff as well as the school’s parents and students in developing a shared vision for blended learning. The role of parents, especially for supporting primary school pupils, cannot be underestimated. Broad stakeholder engagement can promote transparency, trust, shared responsibility and ongoing reflection on how to improve on a continuous basis. Policy makers can also play a key role in promoting collaboration within and between schools on blended learning. Schools may also build bridges with wider communities including researchers to support school-level blended learning and to develop their capacity to work systematically with quantitative and qualitative data.

Figure 10: Eight steps to successful change  40

School self-evaluation has emerged as a key mechanism to support whole approaches to change and innovation. With a strongly-held belief in Europe that school autonomy leads to increased quality 41 , schools may have greater responsibility for student outcomes, and more latitude to tailor responses appropriate for the school’s own context. School self-evaluation and the diagnosis of school needs, insight and understanding followed by action for improvement and review can be effective in implementing a blended learning approach.

School self-evaluation has been shown to lead to greater sensitivity about areas in need of improvement. 42 It is found to lead to more frequent and open consultation about the quality of education and more classroom visits by the school leader. The process of school self-evaluation allows teachers to develop a perspective beyond their own classroom, particularly when they are involved in decision-making. In addition, policy makers can also provide various tools, guidelines and approaches, adapted to local contexts and needs, which can support schools in their self-evaluation and organisational development. Human and financial resources and time also needed to be made to conduct effective school strategies for blended learning.

To support schools in gathering evidence and designing a blended education strategy, the free online SELFIE self-reflection tool could be of direct use. SELFIE (Self-reflection on Effective Learning by Fostering the use of Innovative Educational Technologies) was developed by the European Commission in cooperation with education authorities and other experts and was tested extensively with schools prior to launch in 2018. The tool – which has now been used by over one million students and staff in 74 countries - is designed to help schools embed digital technology into teaching, learning and student assessment, with a focus on learning and pedagogy rather than technology per se.

More information on the SELFIE tool for schools and teachers is given in Chapter 4

2.4Teachers and school leaders: moving to a blended learning approach

The Recommendation – and the research evidence it is based on – recognises that combining effective school site teaching and facilitating flexible distance learning 43 for all pupils in a way that functions as a coherent pedagogical approach 44 requires a high level of competence of teachers and school leaders. This needs to be coupled with clear guidance, some degree of autonomy, and sufficient time and other resources to create an appropriate learning design in advance.

The Recommendation does not intend to instruct how schools must organise teaching and learning, nor how all teachers must facilitate the learning process. Given the diversity of circumstances surrounding school education, it is not possible to construct a “one size fits all” approach. However, there are principles that can be understood and generally applied within a blended learning approach.

Key role as designers and change agents

Teachers and school leaders have a key role as change agents at school, local and regional, or national level.

The prior experience and current competence (knowledge, skills and attitudes) of the teacher will have a significant impact on the effectiveness of their own individual, their school’s, or their system’s approach to blended learning not least because of their empathy for the learners, colleagues and other members of the local community. This aligns with the understanding that teachers are not merely passive facilitators of learning, rigidly following a prescribed curriculum, but are designers, constantly adapting their own approach based on the needs of others – some with a strong capacity for more provocative change and innovation.

Enabling school change requires strong leadership by school leaders and school heads who are informed about, willing, and able to co-construct an appropriate strategy, which may include the integration of technology.

Conditions for change

Encouraging teachers and schools leaders to be change agents requires a level of autonomy for schools to make some of their own decisions about their strategy for a blended learning approach. Not every situation or opportunity can be predicted or planned years in advance; hence schools and their staff need some liberty with guidance to act as they see appropriate for their learners in any given context.

It also supposes some autonomy in learning design and curriculum content, if the kind of principles outlined above (see 2.2 About Key Competence Development) are to be realised in practice.

Teachers and school leaders as change agents must also possess a “sense of agency”. In other words, they must have the motivation and confidence (“efficacy”) in themselves, the competence, and know that they have the capacity (freedom bestowed by others) to act.

Implications for Initial Teacher Education (ITE) and Continued Professional Development (CPD)

Within a move for change must be a recognition of teachers as individuals and supporting them to adapt to various situations and to deal with the challenges that they encounter.

Naturally, teacher professional development opportunities (courses, network discussions, projects, mentored reflections, self-assessment tools) need to be adapted with both the design principles of a blended learning approach and individual teacher needs in mind.

Initial Teacher Education is a crucial phase to consider as each yearly intake of teachers need to be prepared for adapting their practice in any number of ways. Like digital education, designing for a blended learning approach (blending different environments and tools with tasks) should not be a separate idea or module in teacher professional development. It should be embedded in any reflection on learning design – and therefore should be a part of both Initial and Continued Professional Development.

If a blended learning approach is seen as a useful approach in a state of emergency, teacher professional development – as well as school development plans – may also usefully include some element of preparing alternative approaches in times of need.

The role and work of teachers and school leaders is discussed in more detail in Chapter 3.

2.5Learners and blended learning

The main focus of any learning process is the learner and therefore, when designing within a blended learning approach, their needs, their expectations, their backgrounds and special characteristics should be identified and considered carefully. 45  

“Scaffolding” learning

Blended learning, by diversifying the environments and tools, can alter the relationship between teachers and pupils – and between pupils and the learning content – if the appropriate learning tasks require that the teacher is not always giving direct supervision. Such a deliberate shift can give learners more control over the time, place, path, and pace of the process. It can create new learning experiences that are flexible and personalized, customized to the needs and the circumstances of the individual learner or groups of learners.

However, this is not to say that the teacher is completely absent from the learning process. This is a misinterpretation of the concept. Regardless of the age of the learner, and regardless of whether the teacher and pupils are in a shared physical space or not, the teacher is a constant and critical presence in the learning process. They design the approach and select the blend of environments and tools; they explain the tasks; they are active in the tasks when appropriate; and they review the learning progression after the tasks. Understanding what the learner can do with and without assistance from others is the essence of Vygotsky’s “Zone of Proximal Development” 46 and the “scaffolding” described by Bruner 47 whereby there is a “role played by the teacher, parent or more experienced peer in providing … support.” 48

One claim is that learning without constant close supervision (for instance with some online or distance learning) may be more suitable for older students and adults, where learners have more control over time, place, path, and/or pace 49 , however, younger pupils and those needing additional learning support may struggle to learn independently. This may seem obvious: with experience and higher levels of competence, one assumes the learner can manage their own progress. However, there are many more factors that influence learning, some of which are described by pupils themselves in the student consultation conducted in 2021 (see Chapter 3). Indeed, the challenge of and antagonism between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in teenagers is well-known and researched. 50 Therefore, assumptions about age and capacity to achieve defined learning outcomes should be treated with caution given that a 10-year-old boy may be more motivated to complete a learning task than a 15-year-old girl depending on their personal circumstances.

Designing learning requires serious consideration of the necessary support for learners who require additional assistance: those with special education needs and those whose personal circumstances may have a negative impact on learning outcomes if the learning is to take place in a different environment or with different tools.

There are specific needs relating to the learning task and overall learning process, including:

-Working both with peers and independently when necessary with a sense of agency (confident that one has the competence and freedom to act);

-Managing the learning process for oneself or on behalf of others;

-Communicating ideas and asking for assistance when needed, either in person or via communication tools;

-Trusting and collaborating with others in the wider school community, for example cultural sector professionals or work-place mentors;

-Carrying a sense of learning and development across a number of different occasions, recognising how one has developed and where to progress next.

A core idea of the Whole School Approach (see 2.3.1 above) is that learners - like any stakeholder group in education - do not exist in isolation; they are shaped by social interactions with the people around them. Therefore, just as important to designing learning for the individual learner is reflecting upon the needs and influences of their peers, teachers and school leaders, parents, other learning facilitators inside and outside of the school, and any other supportive person.  

Specific needs relating to environments and tools

Aside from the learner needs described above, there are those specifically related to environments and tools within a blended learning approach, including: 

·gradually building an appropriate level of familiarity and competence with chosen environments and tools as part of the learning strategy;

·appropriate levels supervision or support in the distance environment, depending on the pupil and the task; 

·access to appropriate tools for the task, including digital devices;  

·a safe and secure online experience for pupils of all ages when connecting with digital devices.

Empowering learners to actively participate in their learning process has been defined as an understanding that digitally competent teachers develop – or need to develop 51 . Ensuring access to digital resources and learning activities for all students, using digital technologies to address diverse learning needs and capabilities, using digital technologies to foster learners’ active and creative engagement in their learning and using digital resources and tools, online learning environments and platforms to ensure students' learning within and beyond the classroom, are essential elements that can facilitate the development of a blended learning approach.

The digital competence of teachers and learners is discussed further in Chapter 3.

Learner well-being

The pandemic increased a long-standing concern for the physical, mental and emotional well-being of young people, not merely their progression through the statutory school curriculum. All young people should be supported to enjoy a healthy and active lifestyle, encouraging positive lifelong habits, and have the opportunity to participate in a range of sports and other physical activities, which enhance motor skills and boost mental and emotional well-being. Young people also need support for their mental and emotional well-being during learning, including learning tasks under increased pressure, understanding safe and responsible online behaviour. Support is also needed for those learners who spend extended periods of time away from peer or school staff support.

Benefits of blending environments for the learner

Different learning environments can give access to facilitators with different expertise, to tools that are not available on the school site, and to cultural spaces not normally encountered by learners in their daily lives. These environments and tools take on new meaning or interest to the learner simply because of being outside of the school and inside another societal space.

Different learning environments might be needed in emergencies, such as public health crises or natural disasters, but a more structured and planned-for approach has the potential to be a viable alternative in other situations where learners cannot access education and training buildings (for example, to reach geographically isolated regions, to support students with long-term illness, to supplement teaching or fill curriculum gaps).  

The potential for inclusiveness via blended learning and the reality during the COVID-19 pandemic left systems with a paradox. Entire groups of learners, including those from rural remote areas, including the outermost regions and island communities, migrant and refugee children and other learners from disadvantaged backgrounds, risked being excluded from “scaffolded” learning. An analysis of the open public consultation on the Digital Education Action Plan 52  confirmed that the COVID-19 pandemic deepened already existing inequalities in terms of disadvantaged groups and minorities having access to tools (both devices and Internet connectivity), as well as learners with special educational needs lacking the individual support they might usually receive from the school. 

Nevertheless, there are certain groups of learners from mobile communities, such as Roma, Gypsy and other Traveller communities, whose attendance on the school site and access to structured learning can be interrupted. Carefully designed distance or blended learning programmes could improve these young people’s educational experience and attainment and increase future educational opportunities for them and their other family members. 53  Blended learning has also been found to be an effective approach to address the learning challenges in students with special needs and a promising intervention to enhance learning of students with disabilities. 54  

Figure 11: Learning and cultural identity transcends different environments

2.6Glossary of terms

The terminology and descriptions hereunder are given for the purposes of the Council Recommendation and this document. Many of the terms have been discussed and agreed by national representatives and are used in European Commission publications. It is accepted that they may vary across other publications and in other contexts.

Beginning teacher

Early career teacher who carries out wholly or partially the tasks incumbent on experienced teachers, and are remunerated for their activity. Normally this period includes training and evaluation, and a mentor providing personal, social and professional support is appointed to help new teachers within a structured system. Depending on whether the teacher has already achieved their formal qualification, the phase can last at least several months up to two years.

Blended learning

This is the design and facilitating of learning both on the school site and in other physical environments away from the school site (distance learning) and the use of different learning tools (digital, which can be online, and non-digital). It can be an approach at the micro level - in a single learning process with a group of learners - , the meso level - a strategic approach by a school to facilitate blending learning -, and the macro level – embedded as a system-wide approach.

Collaborative learning

When learning is collaborative it involves interaction between learners – either facilitate or not by a teacher - where the members of the group are helping each other to progress in the task as well as themselves.

Competence (Key Competence)

Competences are defined as a combination of knowledge, skills and attitudes, where:

-knowledge is composed of the facts and figures, concepts, ideas and theories which are already established and support the understanding of a certain area or subject;

-skills are defined as the ability and capacity to carry out processes and use the existing knowledge to achieve results;

-attitudes describe the disposition and mind-sets to act or react to ideas, persons or situations.

There are eight Key Competences for Lifelong Learning.

Continued Professional Development (CPD)

(also Continuing or Continuous) This is the learning that education professionals (teachers, school leaders and other education staff) engage in at any stage of their career to enhance their pedagogical and organisational practice.

COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic, also known as the coronavirus pandemic, is an ongoing pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern in January 2020 and a pandemic in March 2020. 55

Digital technology

A digital device, method, or system, created by using scientific and engineering knowledge.

The application of this knowledge for practical ends, as in digital communications and social media.

Digital tool

A digital device used for a particular purpose or learning outcome.

Disadvantaged learners

Those whose family, personal, social, or economic circumstances hinder their ability to learn in formal and non-formal settings.

Distance learning

Where the learner is not on the school site/campus.


Learning that is facilitated electronically. This term is typically interchangeable with online learning (see below).

Formal, non-formal and informal education

Formal education is intentional, organised and structured. It is usually provided in schools, colleges, universities and other formal education and training institutions, and leads to recognised diplomas and qualifications.

Non-formal education takes place through planned activities (in terms of learning objectives and learning time) where some form of learning support is present, but which is not part of the formal education and training system.

Informal education results from daily activities related to work, family or leisure which is not organised or structured in terms of objectives, time or learning support.

Independent or individual learning

When learning is independent or individual, it can happen at any time and the learner is acting independently of the teacher or other learners. They are not necessarily lacking interaction as there may be some form of communication, for example to clarify or respond to part of the task verbally or via text.

Initial Teacher Education (ITE)

A period of formal study in order to gain a recognised qualification and be employed as a teacher. This is typically offered by education departments in universities or independent teacher education institutions.

Learning design

The theory and practice of designing, developing, using, managing and evaluating processes and resources for learning. The instructional design process goes beyond simply creating teaching and learning materials and it is based on carefully analysing how students learn and what content, methods and tools will most effectively help them achieve a specific set of learning outcomes. It consists of determining the needs of the learners, defining the learning outcomes and objectives of instruction, organising and planning assessment tasks, and designing teaching and learning tasks to ensure the quality of instruction

Learning environment

The physical space where learning takes place.

Learning strategy or plan

The approach to the learning process, made up of one or more tasks. The strategy or plan may span a number of hours, weeks or whole semesters.

Learning task

An activity designed by a teacher for the learner to achieve specific learning outcomes.

Learning tool

The artefact that is used in order to undertake an activity for a particular learning outcome.

Online learning

Online learning is defined as education that takes place with the use of digital technology to connect different devices and to facilitate interaction of the learner with: other learners; learning programmes; and other sources of information. Online learning may take place in any physical environment where a learner can use a device to connect to the Internet.  It can to support learning in different contexts, including school site and distance learning, separately or in combination, in which case can be understood as a form of blended learning.


The method and practice of teaching. A teacher will develop their own pedagogical approach over the course of their career. It will be rooted in the teacher’s own cultural understanding of the learning process, particularly in regard to their own specialist competence area.

Professional development

The learning that professionals engage in at any stage of their career to enhance their practice.

School head

The most senior school leadership position - the person with overall responsibility for the pedagogical and administrative management of the school or cluster of schools. This role might also be referred to as ‘head teacher’, ‘school principal’ or ‘school director’. They can also be included in the broad definition of ‘school leader’.

School leader

One who holds a formal position of responsibility for the management of the school. School leaders are also “teachers”, as they are also still involved in learner development, both in and out of the classroom.

Schools as learning organisations

This is the concept of a school community that encourages and enables teachers and school leaders to improve both their pedagogical and their organisational practices concurrently through local collaborative research, networking and continued professional development. Such schools do not exist in isolation; they are linked and embedded within a learning system where decision-makers can learn from the developments that are taking place in and around schools.

Special Educational Needs

Learning problems or disabilities that make it harder for children to learn than most children of the same age.


Stakeholders are individuals, groups, or formal organisations that have an interest in and/or responsibility towards improving school education. They include students, parents, teachers, school heads, local authorities, social partners, employer organisations, researchers, non-governmental organisations, and others.

Student teacher

Persons undertaking a formal course of theoretical and practical study in order to qualify as a teacher.

Those leading such study are called “teacher educators”.


The role of the teacher combines pedagogical practice of the classroom with other tasks supporting the functioning and development of the school. They are responsible for their own professional development and that of their peers. They may also take on minor or temporary leadership roles – as project managers, peer mentors, or specialists in a particular competence.

Quality assurance

Quality assurance involves the systematic review of educational provision to maintain and improve its quality, equity and efficiency. It encompasses school self-evaluation, external evaluation (including inspection), the evaluation of teachers and school leaders, and student assessments.

Whole School Approach

This involves collaboration between all parts of the school. It needs a positive attitude towards working together between school leaders, teachers and all school staff, as well as parents, carers and the wider community.



 Hall, H., & Davison, B. (2007). Social software as support in hybrid learning environments: The value of the blog as a tool for reflective learning and peer support. Library & Information Science Research, 29(2), 163–187.




 Hrastinski, S. (2019) What Do We Mean by Blended Learning? TechTrends 63, pp.564–569.


Friesen, N. (2012) Report: Defining Blended Learning. Available at


 Bryan, A., Volchenkova, K.N. (2008). Blended Learning: Definitions, Models: Implications for Higher Education. Available at (accessed: 3.06.2020)


 Olapiriyakul, K., & Scher, J. M. (2006). A guide to establishing hybrid learning courses: Employing information technology to create a new learning experience, and a case study. The Internet and Higher Education, 9(4), 287–301.


Hrastinski, S. (2019) What Do We Mean by Blended Learning? TechTrends 63, pp.564–569. 


Council Recommendation on Key Competences for Lifelong Learning - 2018/C 189/01 -  


 As described by Commissioner Gabriel, in announcing the HealthyLifeStyle4All initiative, 23 March 2021.  


As set out in the 2018 Recommendation on Key Competences for Lifelong Learning  


 Terada, Y. (2020) A Powerful Model for Understanding Good Tech Integration. Available at  


iNACOL Blended Learning Teacher Competency Framework


See Hughes, G. (2007) Using blended learning to increase learner support and improve retention. Accessed at  

Also : Rivera, J.H., (2016) The Blended Learning Environment: A Viable Alternative for Special Needs Students, Journal of Education and Training Studies Vol. 5, No. 2; February 2017 Published by Redfame Publishing URL: . Accessed at :

Also: UNESCO (2016) Learning for All: guidelines on the inclusion of learners with disabilities in open and distance learning. Paris: UNESCO.  


Bacsich, P. (2012) Virtual schools and colleges providing alternatives for successful learning volume 1. Available at  


Review on Blended Learning: Identifying the Key Themes and Categories:  


Expressed by the Distance Learning Network: School education in its discussion on Blended Learning, 10 June 2020


 Hodges, C., Moore, S., Lockee, B., Trust, T., & Bond, A. (2020). The difference between emergency remote teaching and online learning. Educause Review, 27.  


 Infographic source: E-learning Available at  


 Marshall, S. (2020) Blended learning: a long-term shift in pedagogy. Blog for Higher Education Policy Institute. Available at  




Yu, Zhonggen. (2015). Blended Learning Over Two Decades. International Journal of Information and Communication Technology Education. 11. 1-19. 10.4018/IJICTE.2015070101.


Garrison and Kanuka 2004 makes this point,  


 Staker, H., & Horn, M. B. (2012). Classifying K-12 blended learning. Innosight Institute.


 Based on original graphic designed by K. Walsh, College of Westchester, NY and Flipped Learning Network. See and  




During school closure and partial re-opening, this approach was encouraged by the Belgium ministries of education: using distance learning as “pre-learning” in order to make best use of limited classroom time.


 Based on Liu et al (2017) Cloud-class Blended Learning Pattern Innovation and Its Applications, Proceedings of the 2017 International Symposium on Educational Technology, Hong Kong. Available at  


 Full text of the Recommendation:  


See section 5.5. (Learning environments and approaches) of the Key Competences for Lifelong Learning: Staff Working Document (2018) Available at  


 Distributed leadership in schools aims to better share tasks and responsibilities across the entire school community, encouraging teachers, non-teaching staff, learners or other stakeholders to take on leading roles in a particular area of expertise, assume responsibility and take initiatives as individuals or groups. It promotes teamwork, multi-disciplinarity and professional collaboration and enhances a variety of competences in all participants.


European Commission, 2015, Science Education for Responsible Citizenship, Report of the expert group on science education


 This paradigm shift is explored in detail by Fullan, M., Quinn, J., Drummy, M., Gardner, M. (2020), “Education Reimagined; The Future of Learning”. A collaborative position paper between New Pedagogies for Deep Learning and Microsoft Education.  


See the European Toolkit for Schools


 See European Commission (2015) A whole school approach to tackling early school leaving, s-groups/2014-2015/school/early-leaving-policy_en.pdf


Emded Erasmus+ project. For more see the website,strategies%20making%20the%20institution%20continuously


Yu, Zhonggen. (2015). Blended Learning Over Two Decades. International Journal of Information and Communication Technology Education. 11. 1-19. 10.4018/IJICTE.2015070101.




 For more on the concept of school education as a learning system, see the ET2020 Working Group report on “European ideas for better learning: the governance of school education systems”. Available at  


 Source: /8-steps-process-for-leading-change/  


da Cruz Martins, S., Albuquerque, A., and Capucha, L. (2019) “School autonomy and administration. Configurations and processes in Europe” in School Autonomy, Organization and Performance in Europe, ed. da Cruz Martins et al, Lisbon: CIES – Iscte (Centre for Research and Studies in Sociology)


 European Commission (2020) Supporting school self-evaluation and development through quality assurance policies: key considerations for policy makers. Report of the ET2020 Working Group Schools. Available at  


Stein, J., & Graham, C. R. (2014). Essentials for blended learning: a standards-based guide. New York: Routledge.


 Krasnova T. A Paradigm Shift: Blended Learning Integration in Russian Higher Education. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2015, no. 166, pp. 399–403. Available at:  





Vygotsky, L.S. (1978) Mind in Society, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press


Bruner, J. (1990) Acts of Meaning, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press


Ewing, R. (2016) Dramatic Play and Process Drama: Towards a Collective Zone of Proximal Development to Enhance Language and Literacy Learning. In Dramatic Interactions in Education: Vygotskian and Sociocultural Approaches to Drama, Education and Research, ed. Davis et al, London: Bloomsbury


 Staker H., Horn M.B. Classifying K-12 Blended Learning. Available at:  


 Çelçima, D. (2017) Adolescents and the challenges in their motivation, European Journal of Social Sciences, Education and Research, 4 (2), pp96-105


 SELFIE for Teachers  




See Hughes, G. (2007) Using blended learning to increase learner support and improve retention. Available at

See also Rivera, J.H., (2016) The Blended Learning Environment: A Viable Alternative for Special Needs Students, Journal of Education and Training Studies Vol. 5, No. 2; February 2017 Published by Redfame . Available at

See also UNESCO (2016). Learning for All: guidelines on the inclusion of learners with disabilities in open and distance learning. Paris: UNESCO.  



Brussels, 5.8.2021

SWD(2021) 219 final


Accompanying the document

Proposal for a Council Recommendation

on blended learning for high quality and inclusive primary and secondary education

{COM(2021) 455 final}

3. What has been learnt from European stakeholders

3.What has been learnt from European education stakeholders 

In order to support the statements of the Recommendation and to support action following its adoption, this chapter discusses recent evidence from research together with European stakeholder opinions and experiences.

Where possible, this Staff Working Document provides examples of existing policies and projects supporting blended learning specifically. However, it is not an exhaustive review of literature or project examples regarding teaching and learning in primary and secondary education. Given that blended learning is a constantly-evolving field – particularly in the context of school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic – it should be acknowledged that new evidence and perspectives are always emerging.

3.1    Stakeholder groups and modes of communication 

An ongoing dialogue with different education stakeholder groups involved is important in any change or reform process, not least with a blended learning approach that involves all parts of the school education system. This is important to recognise and value not just in the context of this Recommendation but also taking the work further at a national, regional, and local level in the future.

The European Commission has consulted with ministry of education representatives, European network organisations (of teacher educators, parents, students, employers, and trade unions), educators, school pupils, and other members of the public.

Various methods have been used to better understand the challenges and possibilities in this area:

·online meetings and webinars: allow different representatives to share and discuss experiences in depth, reacting in real time to each other’s views

·surveys to a targeted school education audience: asking a small number of focused questions to a specific stakeholder group gives voice to a large number of practitioners and generates useful data to understand needs and possible solutions

·public consultation: allowing a broad set of opinions to be expressed can help decision-makers see an issue from a range of perspectives

·research projects: primary research (generating new data) can help understand the impact of a current or new approach, which can be complemented by secondary research (reviewing previous research) can give light on recent developments in the light of new contexts.

In 2020, the Commission undertook a number of supportive and consultation activities, notably during the early months of the pandemic focusing on school site closure and reopening, for the Digital Education Action Plan, and at the start of the new academic year regarding ongoing school education development.

·The Commission hosted an online Distance Learning Network (April-June) with two subgroups - School Education and Higher Education - for Member States ministry representatives to exchange approaches on the continuity of education in their systems during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants discussed and shared approaches on key topics, including assessment and examinations, well-being, and quality assurance. Representatives also gave their input to “Blended learning in school education: guidelines for the start of the academic year 2020/21” which were published online in July.

·Exchange of information and ideas on online and distance learning took place via the ministerial videoconferences organised by the Council presidency, and at the levels of Directors General for Schools, Higher Education, and Vocational Education and Training, the ET2020 Working Groups, and European stakeholder network events.

·A broad public consultation took place on the Digital Education Action Plan 2021-27 between June and September 2020. The Open Public Consultation results 1 found that almost 60% of the respondents had not used distance and online learning before the crisis and yet 95% consider that the COVID-19 pandemic marks a point of no return for how technology is used in education and training. The new Digital Education Action Plan 2021-2027 outlines the European Commission’s vision for high quality, inclusive and accessible digital education in Europe. It is a call to action for stronger cooperation at European level to learn from the COVID-19 pandemic and make education and training systems fit for the digital age. One of the Action Plan’s two strategic priorities is fostering the development a high-performing digital education ecosystem, under which the Recommendation is proposed.

·Additional communication with stakeholders on this topic was undertaken in April and September 2020 in the form of two European online surveys via the Commission’s School Education Gateway platform, which highlighted the growing confidence of teachers and their capacity to innovate, but also still highlighted their urgent need for professional development opportunities.

·In August to October 2020, the Commission facilitated a series of online discussions with members of the ET2020 Working Group Schools (representatives of ministries and stakeholder organisations) specifically focused on blended learning in the current school education context.  

In 2021, the Commission undertook further stakeholder consultation via:

·two online workshops with Ministry of Education and European network organisation representatives;

·a consultation with over 100 school pupils 2 via the eTwinning community of teachers and schools: A short questionnaire was designed with 5 questions: 4 as a mixture of multiple choice and open text responses, and 1 drawing task. eTwinning teachers were invited to volunteer to complete the questionnaire with their students. The teachers also provided an initial analysis of the student responses by completing a teacher summary. These summaries were the main source of the Commission analysis, complemented by analysing individual student responses.

·inviting the public to comment on the broad description of the aims and key ideas of the Recommendation (“Roadmap”) with responses from international organisations as well as individual citizens.

Additional research that has taken place by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission includes:

·A survey focusing on families with children and how they perceived remote schooling activities (11 countries) 3  

· Interviews with teachers, school heads, other stakeholders in 5 countries 4

During 2020, many countries and international organisations, such as OECD, UNESCO, the European Distance and e-Learning Network, European Alliance for Apprenticeships, and the European Parents Association, held their own various events and research exercises, which the work on the Recommendation has benefitted from.

3.2Main findings during the consultation process

Through the different modes of communication listed above (section 3.1) the European Commission has explored with stakeholders these key questions:

·What are the opportunities for school education when adopting a blended learning approach?

·What are the challenges?

·How can blended learning as a concept be supported in a practical sense within and across national systems (i.e. how can it be not only better understood but implemented more in school education)?

From the open public consultation on the Digital Education Action Plan 2021-27, the majority of respondents from education and training across all sectors/levels were happy with the measures taken to ensure the continuity of education during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the level of satisfaction appears to be greater in higher education compared to other educational levels, especially compared to early childhood education and care, and primary education. 5 Therefore it was critical to explore all aspects of this topic in as much depth, and from as many perspectives, as possible in order to fully understand the challenges and opportunities going forward.

The discussions and findings fall into different thematic areas. All are interlinked and are b a core understanding of the school being a learning organisation within a wider community:

·Design and management of learning


·School leaders

·Inclusion and targeted support to learners

·Well-being of staff and pupils

·Quality assurance

The following sub-sections discuss the evidence regarding challenges and possible solutions within each thematic area.

3.2.1Design and management of learning 


This section provides recent evidence both about well-established approaches to the design of a blended learning approach, as well as the lessons learned from Emergency Remote Teaching in 2020, which can inform the approaches to design of blended learning.

There have been four decades of experience of designing online learning for schools, universities, vocational learning, individual and informal learning. At the school level, online programmes have been designed for a range of needs: as a replacement for mainstream schools, for elite athletes, to support school refusers, or those with difficulty in attending mainstream schools. Over the last 20 years there has been increasing use of blended learning as well as online learning in schools.

The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a sudden switch for a great many students from classroom learning to forms of online and blended learning necessitated by the crisis but the design of which was not always ideal (Emergency Remote Teaching 6 ).

When designing such blends, schools need to consider, at a minimum, the following ingredients 7 for their blended learning: learning environments – where learning will take place - ; and the tools that teachers and students will use – what types of devices and communication they use. These are embedded within the learning tasks that teachers and students will use – how learning will take place – in order to shape the learning design as a process towards intended learning outcomes.

This section takes an in-depth look at evidence supporting the following within a blended learning approach:

·Environments: where learning takes place

·Tools – types and access

·Tasks: how learning takes place


§Environments: where learning takes place

As blended learning takes place in a combination of -school site and distance 8 environments, schools may be (newly) responsible for both. Regardless of how public authorities (and legislation) define legal responsibility, all stakeholders need to benefit from both types of environment, and all types need to be functioning and accessible enough to support the learning experience to its full potential.

According to new research under development, valuing of out-of-classroom learning and ensuring equitable access to it is a common feature across all “high performing” systems. The challenge is an increasingly demanding curriculum but working in partnership with others (the work place, cultural and social organisations) is considered highly effective. 9  

“It’s hard to talk about silver linings in a pandemic … but … it gives us an opportunity to reflect on our practice and learn. And getting kids outside leads to more active, experiential learning. Most kids thrive on that.” (Perspective of an education consultant 10 )

Learning indoors on the school site

In a 2019 European survey on learning environments, two thirds of respondents thought that their school does not have an environment conducive to 21st-century education. Most classrooms are set up for 21-30 students and the most common seating layout is pairs of desks in rows. Respondents disagreed that changes to learning environments distract students or create stress for teachers but rather that innovation in teaching and learning is facilitated by the school’s learning environment. Most believed that it is possible to change the learning environment in their school and that there are simple, low-cost steps to do so. However, 8 out of 10 respondents agreed that ministries and regional/local authorities are not supporting schools enough in creating an optimal environment for modern teaching and learning. 11

“Education in which children have to sit still on a chair during a whole day is outdated and unhealthy.” (Teacher)

In the 2021 student consultation (see 3.1 above for details), students were asked what was good and not so good about learning in the classroom. Many students (from multiple schools) said they enjoyed being in the same space as fellow students and working in groups. Some considered it easier to ask questions to their teachers and peers when they are in the same (physical) place. For a number of students, learning in the classroom made it easier to concentrate and stay focused, although others considered it a more chaotic and noisy environment.

“Good thing is that you can ask [the] teacher if you don’t understand something; you meet and interact with your peers … sometimes it is too loud because of some who are not interested in learning or you get bored.” (Student responses reported by their teacher in consultation)

The constraints of the school timetable was a challenge highlighted by one teacher: “They have difficulties to do work at a specific time.”

Reflecting on when they learn in other places around the school (gym, library, playground), many positive factors were reported by students, such as fresh air in outdoors spaces, more team activities, and less stress.

“…it is good because the lesson is fun, interesting, motivating, exciting, training mind and body, they blow off steam, they have more space to move, they have access to books (other than course books).” (Student responses reported by their teacher in consultation)

As with classroom-based tasks, noise and distraction seem to be an issue for some students, whilst others feel these activities were too short and would need more time.

Learning outdoors

The COVID-19 pandemic restrictions brought renewed attention to the possibility and benefits of learning outdoors, and many schools around the globe actively planned to move learning outside of the walls of the classroom, notably in Denmark. 12

Germany today has over 1500 nature and forest kindergartens 13  where children are encouraged to play, explore and learn in a forest or other natural environment. The idea has been replicated in neighbouring countries, and today there are associations in the UK and Switzerland: Forest School AssociationChouette-Forêt, and Waldkindergarten  14 . It is believed that not only do forest kindergartens allow children to reconnect with nature, they also teach them how to play together, how to be inquisitive, creative and innovative, and how to respect their environment. 15

In the 2021 student consultation, a number of students (from multiple schools) said they were more interested and motivated when they were learning outdoors. Enjoying nature and fresh air were mention by a number of students to be a benefit.

“They like large spaces, discovering many things/places. They don’t get bored and feel free to act.” (Teacher report on student consultation)

A number of students said they found learning outdoors to be relaxing and good for concentration, although the presence of insects or cold weather were mentioned by some as negative factors.

“Learning in outdoor places seems to have human and social effects on the students’ behaviour: they said they can escape, be in peace, relax, learn in silence and have a maximum of concentration.” (Teacher report on student consultation)

Being closer to nature was a common theme in the survey picture task with some student pictures showing learning in an outdoors setting (gardens, trees, park, sun, flowers).

Figure 12: Student drawings as part of the 2021 consultation survey

Aside from the 2021 Student Consultation, there are pre-pandemic examples of school practice, such as from Italy where the approach to learning environments and tools was modified (see Example A, below).

EXAMPLE A: Comprehensive School Giovanni XXIII of Acireale, Italy

This school wanted to promote the active participation of students; foster inclusion; and nurture autonomy and a sense of responsibility. They adopted various approaches in re-designing learning environments and tasks:

• Outdoor schooling (nursery school): to stimulate sensory experiences by encouraging direct contact with nature.

• Bag-less learning (primary school): students only wear a light purse to hold their personal belongings and a notebook for homework tasks while school is furnished with various learning tools.

• Workshop rooms and flipped classrooms (secondary school): teachers personalise their working space in terms of furniture and other tools. In a flipped classroom approach, students prepare to lead their own class discussion by watching a pre-recorded lecture.  

Visits to other sites as part of the school day

Research and expert knowledge reveal that visits to museums can be powerful learning experiences. They are brought to life for children by specially trained museum educators and are highly engaging when collections are hands-on and are used by the children during the activities. Narrative is an important feature and where the activities fit into a storyline that is packed with details, it stimulates both engagement and memory. 16

When asked in the consultation about school trips to other sites, such as museums, factories or sports centres, a number of students said that the trips were stimulating and allowed them to learn new things in a different environment:

“[They] discover new things in a different place. New ways to learn … it is original.” (Teacher)

A number of students criticised, however, that the visits can also be boring, and they do not like the fact they needed to be quiet on these trips.

“The organization doesn’t help them to discover by themselves. They think they are not being able to walk around and to see what interests them most.”(Teacher)

Visits to farms can also be an enriching experience for young people. As part of their school education, pupils can be introduced to different animals, including facts about their natural habitat and their role in food production. They can develop a more tangible understanding of the importance of healthy eating habits and can healthy eating habits. They can also be introduced to issues such as local food chains, organic farming, sustainable production or food waste. These are recognised benefits of the European Union School Fruit, Vegetables and Milk Scheme. 17 There are numerous examples of farms and ecological centres opening up their sites for educational visits. However, equal access to these opportunities relies on sufficient funding, either regionally or nationally, and synergies between education and agricultural policies. Without these, the risk is that only those who can afford such visits, or who are situated near a facility that has received special education funding, will benefit. 18

Diversifying and opening up school and community facilities

A makerspace is typically a room or studio inside a school, library or other community building for making objects using tools. Theses spaces are open to people of different ages and skill level and have a variety of equipment that is not typically available in every home or classroom, including full sets of drivers and drills, 3D printers, laser cutters, and soldering irons for circuit boards.

Makerspaces - also known as FabLabs or Hackerspaces - are collaborative workspaces for making, learning, exploring and sharing and much of the literature describes a pedagogy of “creativity”, “informal”, “without pressure”, and “try-and-fail-and-try-again” 19 . They are open to children, young people and adults. The term refers to a variety of spaces that can be a gathering point for tools, people, projects and expertise. The concept involves participation, collaboration, information sharing and spontaneity. Makerspaces provide a welcoming space for learning new literacies, and developing new skills by exploring ideas, concepts and technologies. Three unique aspects of makerspaces can be outlined for education and training purposes in the future. Firstly, making activities naturally combine disciplines that are traditionally taught separately; secondly, while exploring real world problems individuals acquire new knowledge and create meaning from the experience; and thirdly, due to informal ways of social interaction in makerspaces, a diversity of flexible learning arrangements are created, e.g. peer learning and mentoring, peer coaching. 20

EXAMPLE B: Makerspaces – guidelines for schools and case studies

In 2020, the Interactive Classroom Working Group (ICWG) of European Schoolnet (EUN) published practical guidelines for school leaders and teachers. The guidelines have been based on research and experiences observed and analysed in projects conducted by the Italian Government's National Institute for Documentation, Innovation and Educational Research (INDIRE) in recent years. They were further informed by desk research and the experiences of schools in nine countries (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Switzerland and Turkey) that have created their own makerspaces as documented in the case studies below, which are based on interviews with the schools' principals and teachers.  

One such example is Base 1, is located within Forum Geesseknäppchena, a resource centre for work with youth in Luxembourg City, and situated very near to three secondary schools. During school hours it is visited by primary and secondary classes and outside of school hours it is open to the general public. The makerspace aim is “to provide a boundary free environment for students where they can evolve their own project ideas in a creative manner” provides students with opportunities to use equipment and materials that they may be unfamiliar with and also to learn new skills, such as coding and design.  

Whilst some teaching and learning may shift away from the school site, the school site may positively change its role in the community as a site for more than just young pupils and their teachers. Schools that have invested in community libraries, sports centres, and other shared facilities may have the capacity to promote extended-hours access to their premises for members of the wider community. Opening up school facilities outside of school hours for outreach and extra-curricular activities can be highly advantageous. It encourages community empowerment and helps to bridge the gap between schools and parents, particularly those who are unfamiliar with the school system.

In the 2021 student consultation, some students specifically referred to wanting more opportunities for school trips, engaging with professional speakers, and international projects.

The Council of Europe describes how the creation of learning opportunities in “overlapping communities” has important implications for educational institutions and the way they relate to other agents of education for democratic citizenship in society (see Figure 12, below). 21 This is based on the premise that “strengthening democracy means far more than encouraging participation in formal processes such as voting: it means advancing a form of association or “way of life” which has its roots in community and neighbourhood life and relationships.” 22

Figure 13: Overlapping learning communities as a powerful environment for development

“Collaboration is vital... The Recommendation should foster the creation of partnerships between private sector, national and local authorities, training and education providers, as well as NGOs.” (European association)

Learning from and managing VET and work-based learning

Blended learning is a widely established practice in Initial Vocational Education and Training. VET’s unique feature of requiring learners to apply the abstract knowledge gained in formal educational settings in a work-based context, makes it particularly suited for blended learning. 23 The most common blended approaches combine elements of digital-based distance learning for the theoretical part of the curriculum, with on-site time reserved for practical learning.  24 However, the COVID-19 pandemic revealed that the work-based learning component of VET lacked sufficient tools and processes to support practical learning at a distance from tutors, employers and site-specific equipment. 25 The reduction in access to practical experiences highlighted the known need for Vocational Education and Training to take further advantage of digital technology including digital devices and learning platforms, ePortfolios and Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality for simulations.

A survey on the challenges and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on vocational education and training 26  was undertaken by the Commission in March-May 2020 with the following findings:

-Several tools are available for supporting distance learning. However, in general, VET online material is less developed, as far as the practical parts of training and work-based learning are concerned;

-VET learners might be at a disadvantage compared to learners from other educational tracks, as more efforts are put into general school subjects, and less into typical vocational content;

-There is substantial disruption to the apprenticeship ‘supply chain’. Apprentices have largely discontinued their company attendance in the sectors whose activities have been shut down (e.g. restauration, well-being, tourism, and manufacturing). In some cases, discontinuation and termination of financial compensation, where applicable, increases the rate of drop-outs;

-Little capacity for employers to focus on training either for youngsters or for their employees over concerns for ensuring business continuity. However, some employers and training providers made best use of the confinement period to support the training of their employees and to accelerate deployment of digital learning systems and content;

-While it is a significant challenge for teachers and trainers as well as learners to adapt swiftly to this dramatic change, many stakeholders have mobilised themselves to help (VET providers, local governments, publishers, NGOs, companies, etc.);

-There is a strong call for a European online platform (which is safe, quality assured, multilingual, etc.) that would offer opportunities for networking and exchanging good practices and would provide digital solutions, also for work-based learning.

The 2020 report by the ET2020 Working Group on Vocational Education and Training 27 highlights the opportunity to change the way that learners learn. This includes by:

·Broadening the range and reach of learning experiences;

·Enabling students to contextualise and apply their learning in the real world by accessing learning opportunities outside the classroom;

·Facilitating communication, connection and collaboration beyond the immediate school or local community.

Recent research in Sweden 28 indicates that VET teachers can create continuity between the on-site school environment and the work place that VET learners are preparing for, but in some cases this is a demanding task that requires creativity significant amount of effort and problem-solving. Some teachers leave it to the student to make the connection but other teachers go to some lengths to modify the school site environment so that the link is made for the student. This is evidently an area of VET that still requires development.

Vocational education taking place in the dual contexts of workplace and school often lack the tools to fully exploit this potential. Nevertheless, digital tools are being developed 29 to support coordination between the student, VET institution and companies 30 and emphasise the importance of shared reflection. 31 Both the Council Recommendation on vocational education and training 32 and 2020 Osnabruck Declaration 33 contain extensive references to digitalisation.

“It is absolutely to be welcomed that vocational training has been explicitly included ... In this context, it is important to strike a sensible balance between online communication and presence. However, high quality practical training must take place physically. It can be supported by digital tools, but cannot be replaced by them.” (Member State Chamber of Commerce)

Evidence is growing of the benefits of incorporating elements of gaming and gamification into digital tools. The use of immersive simulations like virtual and augmented reality 34 also allow students to rehearse risky processes in safe and controlled conditions. Digital tools may also provide new ways of teaching and assessing learners 35 so that learning progression in the two environments can be seamless and more complementary. The Directors General responsible for Vocational Education and Training from all Member States, the European Commission, and other relevant stakeholders meet to discuss current topics and share effective practices in European education, and particularly the VET agenda. Digitalisation is one of the recurrent topics.

EXAMPLE C: Digital simulation tools that enhance VET learning in a safe environment

The teacher-led project VRhoogte is a prime example of using a VR application for learning. The project, funded by the Flemish government, has developed a high-quality VR training module for secondary VET students to learn how to work safely in high places, such as high-voltage pylons or wind turbines. Through the VR training module students can work and train a number of basic skills in a safe, interactive and challenging environment in preparation for the workplace. The module itself deals with scaffolding installations and construction. In addition to software and hardware, the project consortium is further developing a manual and training for schools and teachers so that they can transfer the module to their schools.

VRhoogte - Veilig werken op virtual hoogte, (2019). Available at  

Video about VRhoogte:

The central aim of the German project handlevr is to use VR technologies to promote the action-oriented learning of various techniques for applying individual layers of paint on vehicle pieces by trainees. The central tool for this project is a three-dimensional VR learning environment: the VR paint shop. It consists of an authoring tool for teachers as well as a VR training application and a reflection application for trainees.

The project is supported by a network of proven experts in the areas of developing VR applications (University of Potsdam), digitally-oriented didactics (Learning Lab of the University of Duisburg-Essen) and professional qualification and further training in the craft (ZWH e . V.). The application partner in the project is Mercedes-Benz Ludwigsfelde GmbH with a focus on the training of vehicle painters.  

Learning remotely full-time

Traditionally, most formal learning has taken place in a physical classroom but there are examples 36 of learning programmes taking place at a distance since the 1800s. Such courses were often referred to as “correspondence courses” and they were rooted in a communication style – writing and sending by post - which students adopted to engage with members of staff responsible for delivering the programme by distance. 37

While distance learning was originally associated with the world of business, such approaches were also adopted and adapted by the world of education and in particular by schools and universities. Some have described such approaches as “remote” learning 38 , for example where students continued their education remotely via the radio during the polio epidemic of the 1930s and where the telephone supported remote learning from hospitals long before video-conferencing. 39 There is a long history of technologies, such as television, supporting distance and remote learning in schools and other formal settings for well over a century. 40

Distance learning has been on the increase in higher education, particularly over the past 10 years, with an increase in the number of students learning remotely. 41 The development of the Internet and other software programmes have made it easier for learners to enrol in courses from anywhere in the world. 42

Perhaps less well known is that there has been a similar growth recently of full-time (or almost) distance learning school education. 43 There are a number of schools that offer supplemental education to students who are unable to access learning on-site. Students log-in from home or from their school to participate in an online programme that typically consists of a mix of synchronous and asynchronous learning events. This blend varies depends on the course and the course providers. 44

Such examples include “iScoil” in Ireland, where students who are not in mainstream education continue their education from home. 45 All of these programmes were in place pre-COVID-19 and allowed young people to engage in formal schooling remotely over the Internet.

On this topic the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF)’s rapid evidence assessment in 2020 46 , albeit largely based on other (non-pandemic) situations, concluded that:

·Teaching quality is more important than how lessons are delivered;

·Ensuring access to technology is key, particularly for disadvantaged pupils;

·Peer interactions can provide motivation and improve learning outcomes;

·Supporting pupils to work independently can improve learning outcomes;

·Different approaches to remote learning suit different tasks and types of content.

EXAMPLE D: School for Circus Children, Germany


The School for Circus Children offers education for professionally travelling, school-aged children. It was established in 2007 in Hilden, Germany, with online lessons taking place in real time, meaning that the learning group and the teacher log in to the virtual classroom at a certain time. Learning takes place daily with different students from different circuses, no matter where in the world they are located. The objectives of this school are:

- Support and extension of digital learning;

- Intensive preparations for the central final examinations;

- Individualised support and personalised learning;

- Inter-circus and group-based learning arrangements.

Within the projects of the school, students are encouraged to recognise their personal interests, abilities and dormant talents, familiarise themselves with the digital world, but also have fun with their peers, for example by playing online board games.  

Shadow education

“Shadow education” is a widespread phenomenon but has received relatively little attention in education research. Greater awareness of how students in all socio-demographic groups are engaging with this type of supplementary learning may be important for getting a better understanding of learning that occurs outside of classrooms but which is not “blended”.

“Shadow education” refers to private, fee-paying education with the aim of helping students succeed in formal education. It has reached mass levels internationally, and families at all income levels may invest in this type of supplementary learning to support their children’s learning and future opportunities. 47

Shadow education may include private tutoring, after-school studies, informal learning or leisure or culture (sports/arts), and other non‐academic extra‐curricular activities. Some programmes help students to develop more technical skills in students, i.e. for robotics, programming, Artificial Intelligence and Information and Communications Technologies (ICT). 48 Shadow education may also be is seen as a way for gifted students to fulfil their academic abilities and interests. 49

While this type of education is typically not supported by public funds, it is complementary to formal education and integral to the overall education system. 50 Providers range from private individuals to transnational franchises (e.g. Japanese Kumon centres). Courses are provided in a variety of venues (commercial settings, public school buildings, community centres, youth organisations, in students’ or teachers’ homes, libraries), and increasingly, tutoring is available online, including through video conference other internet-based platforms. 51 It is often focused on attaining high grades in summative high stakes examinations and, given that it requires a fee, raises questions about its contribution to an equitable education system.

Organisation of the school timetable

How the school day and working hours of staff are structured may benefit from review and increased flexibility. Changes to the timetable may be influenced by whether there is a need to synchronise learning i.e. having the teacher and full class in the same lesson (same physical space or online), meaning that they cannot be occupied elsewhere. Teaching and learning hours may also change when a significant number of pupils are not on the school campus (e.g. VET students on work placement or new crisis response that imposes confinement).

With health restrictions defining how many children could attend school at one time, some schools and systems used a rotation approach - for example, pupils being in school for two days a week - or a parallel approach – for example, having two timetables for online (off-site) and on-site learning. 52 Some established fixed timetables for online classes conducted at the same times as the pre-lockdown timetable to provide continuity and structure for learners. For others, the emphasis was on flexibility and enabling learners to engage with learning on their own terms.

Reducing class size or dividing into groups – not only for health reasons but also to engage in particular activities - may mean that additional teachers are needed to support teacher substitution. 53 Therefore there is a demand on the school staff and budget. A criticism of attempting a parallel timetable is that teachers are asked to direct their effort and attention in two places at once. 54

A blended learning approach may encourage an emphasis on interactive (e.g. discussion) or practical learning tasks when on the school site by using a flipped classroom approach to focus the preparatory learning at distance. In this case, timetable changes may benefit teaching and learning by offering longer (or double) lesson periods for extended practical or collaborative work.

The design of blended learning for different age groups may also be reflected in the timetable. For instance, younger pupils may have more teacher contact time or time on the school site compared to older pupils. At certain times in the academic year, for instance in the period before examinations, certain year groups may also be allocated increased teacher contact time.

Helping learners to manage the distance environment

It is important to provide learners with guidance and support to ensure they have a meaningful experience within different environments and with different tools. 55  

Consideration should be given to helping learners manage their own distance learning environment, by themselves or with peers: the choice of physical space, the atmosphere (e.g. whether to have background music, the company of others, and so on) 56 , and time management.

Self-regulation refers to an individual’s capacity to deliberately control thoughts, feelings, and actions and to orchestrate them in ways that support the pursuit of longer-term objectives, such as obtaining good grades or understanding the learning content, in the academic context. 57 As such, self-regulation predicts the probability with which these objectives are attained. 58 As learning predominantly in the home was entirely novel for most students in 2020 and, many of them experienced it as a major challenge and they struggled with structuring their learning and working on the tasks efficiently. 59 Students’ self-regulation may be assumed to have played an important role while adapting to this novel schooling situation. 60 Considering longer time frames and longitudinal data, students with better self-regulation abilities have been shown to achieve better grades and to obtain higher educational attainment overall. 61

Less independent learners will need to co-manage the distance environment with a supportive person. However, for all learners there is a need to develop their “learning to learn” competence 62 and their ability to manage their own learning experience. This may need to be systematically built up over time and in a shared space, in order to be able to apply their own strategies for learning in other contexts.

Remote schooling experiences during spring 2020 were studied through a survey with parents and their children (10-18 years old) in 9 EU countries (Austria, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Spain) in addition to Switzerland and Norway. 63 While the findings show that almost all children who participated in the survey were able to conduct some school-related activities using digital technologies, the findings also point to large variations in terms of how children were able to interact with their teachers in learning activities and how often children were in contact with their teachers through online means. In addition to learning activities provided by the school, parents also engaged in complementary learning activities with their children, for example by using free of charge online learning material and exercises, such as video recordings and online quizzes. Families voiced the need for better guidelines on how to support children with distance education activities and how to support the child psychologically during the confinement. Parents also expressed their need for more counselling and psychological support.

The school may encounter pupil issues of well-being, stress and emotional difficulties related to the distance (home or other) environment including lack of appropriate space for learning. European data on the proportion of children living in low-quality housing and with poor diets may give some indication of where learning outside of school may be very difficult. 64 Whilst such assumptions are not always fact, these circumstances are certainly of grave concern and may have worsened during the pandemic.

In the 2021 student consultation, some students said they enjoy the flexibility and comfort of learning from home. Some considered home to have a quieter more relaxing atmosphere than the classroom, such as being able to listen to music when learning, and with more freedom to manage their time.

“They can decide time for studying, they can follow their own rhythm/pace in studying” (Teacher)

As with other learning environments, noise can be distracting, in particular when other siblings are present, or simply the feeling of wishing to do other activities or spend time with family. A number of students report said they could feel more isolated from immediate teacher support.


 Available at  


From the initial list of volunteers, 7 teachers took part from 5 countries (EL, DE, FR, HR, IT) with a total of 104 student responses – 38 primary and 66 secondary.


How families handled emergency remote schooling during the Covid-19 lockdown in spring 2020 by Vuorikari, R., Velicu, A., Chaudron, S., Cachia, R. and Di Gioia, R., EUR 30425 EN, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2020, ISBN 978-92-76-24519-3 (online), doi:10.2760/31977 (online)


European Commission / Joint Research Centre (forthcoming) What did we learn from schooling practices during the COVID-19 lockdown? Insights from five EU countries


 There was strong support for the approaches taken during the first months of the pandemic among respondents from non-formal education, higher education, adult education and vocational education and training. The proportion of negative opinions was larger (around 30%) among respondents from early childhood education and care, primary education, secondary education and the residual education category.



 Presented by Michael Hallissy in the School Education Gateway webinar, “Blended learning: creating your unique blend”, 15 March 2021, with an Introduction by Mariya Gabriel, the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth. Recording available at:  


The distance learning environment is often assumed to be the home, but could include: public libraries, museums and galleries; farms and factories; parks, forests and waterways; cafes and other social spaces (often with free Wi-Fi), hospitals (in the case of sick or injured children), or sports centres and film studios (in the case of children on professional contracts). In the case of a pandemic or other crisis, some or all of these may be closed except for emergency access.


National Centre on Education and the Economy in conjunction with the Australian Council for Education Research. Part of a panel discussion at the Educa Conference – Helsinki, 28-29 January 2021. Programme available at  





(14) ; ;  




Information about the EU School fruit, vegetables and milk scheme is available at  


Wetzels, H. (2020) “Changing the Way Children Learn About Farms & Food”. Available at  


Fourie, I. and Meyer, A. (2015) What to make of makerspaces: Tools and DIY only or is there an interconnected information resources space?, Library Hi Tech, 33(4). Available at  


 Vuorikari, R., Ferrari, A. and Punie, Y. (2019) Makerspaces for Education and Training: Exploring future implications for Europe, EUR 29819 EN, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. Available at:!xG98yQ  


Hartley, M. and Huddleston, T. (2010) School–community–university partnerships for a sustainable democracy: Education for democratic citizenship in Europe and the United States of America. Council of Europe Publishing. Available online at  


Ibid and Dewey, J. (1916) Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education. New

York: Macmillan


 Butler, J., & Brooker, R. (1998). The learning context within technical and further education colleges as perceived by apprentices and their workplace supervisors. Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 50, 79–96.


“Exploring Blended Learning approaches for VET” - project funded by Erasmus+ programme. 


 During the school closure, work-based learning was maintained in very few European countries (i.e. Denmark, Ireland, Sweden and Finland) and only in sectors where companies’ activities were still ongoing. Available at :



European Commission (2020) Innovation and Digitalisation: A report of the ET 2020 Working Group on Vocational Education and Training (VET). Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. Available at :  


: Mårtensson, Å. (2020): Creating continuity between school and workplace: VET teachers’ in-school work to overcome boundaries, Journal of Vocational Education & Training, DOI: 10.1080/13636820.2020.1829009


European Commission/Joint Research Centre (2020) “Adapting the SELFIE tool for work-based learning systems in Vocational Education and Training”: a feasibility study, pp. 12-14  


 Such as the Trialog App co-funded by Erasmus+ programme  


For example, digital technologies based on ‘Erfahrraum’ multidimensional pedagogical model (that emphasizes the importance of shared reflection processes to turn concrete experiences into relevant integrated knowledge) such as REALTO platform.  


  EUR-Lex - 32020H1202(01) - EN - EUR-Lex (


  osnabrueck_declaration_eu2020.pdf (


 Andrew McCoshan (2020) “Digital learning in VET: why COVID-19 is a wake-up call” School Education Gateway/European Commission. Accessed at :  


For example, in the digital simulation Simspray , learners can spray-paint as often as they like and get instant feedback, which is potentially more precise and detailed than is normally given to the learner.






Cuban, L. (1986) Teachers and machines: the classroom use of technology since 1920. New York and London: Teachers College Press


Grade Increase: Tracking Distance Education in the United States,  






Education Endowment Foundation (2020) Remote learning rapid evidence assessment. Education Endowment Foundation.


Gyōri, J.G. (2020). Shadow education—Opportunity for development. European Journal of Education, 55(3), 305 – 310


Kobakhidze, M.N. & Suter, L.E. (2020). The Global Diversity of Shadow Education. European Journal of Education, 55(3), pp.316-321


Kim, Y.C., Jo, J., and Jung, J-H., (2020) The education of academically gifted students in South Korea: Innovative approaches in shadow education European Journal of Education, 55(3), pp.379-387


Kobakhidze, M.N. & Suter, L.E. (2020). The Global Diversity of Shadow Education. European Journal of Education. 55(3), 316-321


Gyōri, J.G. (2020). Shadow education—Opportunity for development. European Journal of Education, 55(3), 305 – 310


 For example, in the US: and



Bates, T. (2020) “Why school boards need to listen to online learning professionals”. Online Learning and Distance Education Resources (website). Available at  



 See, for example,  


Duckworth, A.L., Taxer, J.L., Eskreis-Winkler, L., Galla, B.M., and Gross, J.J. (2019) Self-control and academic achievement, Annual Review of Psychology, 70:1, 373-399


Tangney, J.P., Baumeister, R.F. and Boone, A.L. (2004), High Self‐Control Predicts Good Adjustment, Less Pathology, Better Grades, and Interpersonal Success. Journal of Personality, 72: 271-324


Huber, S.G., and Helm, C. (2020) COVID-19 and schooling: evaluation, assessment and accountability in times of crises—reacting quickly to explore key issues for policy, practice and research with the school barometer. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 32, 237–270


Tangney, J.P., Baumeister, R.F. and Boone, A.L. (2004), High Self‐Control Predicts Good Adjustment, Less Pathology, Better Grades, and Interpersonal Success. Journal of Personality, 72: 271-324


de Ridder, D.T.D, Lensvelt-Mulders, G., Finkenauer, C., Stok, F.M., and Baumeister, R.F. (2012) Taking Stock of Self-Control: A Meta-Analysis of How Trait Self-Control Relates to a Wide Range of Behaviors, Personality and Social Psychology Review, 16(1), pp.76-99



Vuorikari, R., Velicu, A., Chaudron, S., Cachia, R. and Di Gioia, R. (2020) How families handled emergency remote schooling during the Covid-19 lockdown in spring 2020, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. ISBN 978-92-76-24519-3 (online), doi:10.2760/31977 (online)


Di Pietro, G., Biagi, F., Costa P., Karpiński Z., Mazza, J. (2020) The likely impact of COVID-19 on education: Reflections based on the existing literature and recent international datasets: JRC Technical Report. Available at


Brussels, 5.8.2021

SWD(2021) 219 final


Accompanying the document

Proposal for a Council Recommendation

on blended learning for high quality and inclusive primary and secondary education

{COM(2021) 455 final}

§Tools: types and access

Types of tool

The learning design can incorporate a full variety of learning tools – including books, craft tools, analogue scientific equipment, and sports equipment. All of this can create rich learning experiences that require - and develop - different competences.

Teachers may include the use of digital technology in their learning design to connect learners with: other learners; learning software; and other sources of information. This can improve inclusiveness, competence development and can personalise learning. Online learning can take place anywhere where the learner can use a device to connect to the Internet. Digital devices do not have to be connected to the Internet – for example using a video camera to make a film, or simply reading and writing documents.

A recent study examining the multimedia platform Shujazz showed that youth exhibited positive behaviour changes after receiving targeted content through comics, social media, and SMS. Building in student responses to these mechanisms has the added advantage of supporting critical data collection. 1

During 2020, numerous countries activated broadcast media (television and radio) to provide learning content and experiences for school pupils. 2 As this can be an effective tool to support content delivery to a mass audience, it can be considered inclusive. It may then allow teachers and schools to use other tools (or none at all) during interactive and expressive tasks – through speaking, writing, drawing, making - as part of a meaningful learning experience.

In the 2021 consultation, students were directly asked about watching a film or video as a task. The majority (77%) said that they would prefer to watch at home (47%) or both at home and school (30%), or school (23%). A TV or large PC screen is preferable (73%) and the students reported that this is because of the size of the screen and the ability to see and hear better. Some also appreciate the easy use of their own mobile devices to watch videos and tutorials which are informative and memorable.

Students were directly asked what tools they like to use if not using books and pens. The dominant response was a preference for using digital tools, such as a computer, tablet or mobile phone. They like to use the Internet, and referred to the use of digital tools for taking notes, doing quizzes and watching educational videos. Other, less frequently mentioned tools were: encyclopedias and maps, “realia” (real life objects), and other applications. They gave practical reasons for multi-function and lightweight tools to avoid having to carry around many heavy books. Their choice of tool is influenced by what they find “more interesting” and motivating. They like to use their phones. They like to be connected with others, which also includes looking at the same screen to discuss and work together, not necessarily individually. One student expresses a particular desire for manual tools for creating:

“I can touch, I can see, I can do and make in labs.” (Teacher reporting on student response)

Teachers also reported that many students express a preference for more use of devices, including a projector or interactive whiteboard, digital books. The students gave several reasons to support their desire for an increased use of digital tools:

·The Internet enables them to conduct more research and it is enjoyable. Many students (from different schools) referred to the amount of information that is available and easy to search for on a digital device and via the Internet compared to a book;

·Tablets and computers are simple to use and enables them to understand concepts more easily;

·Students are aware of the way software and the use of a keyboard can help them organise and express their ideas quicker and with greater accuracy. They refer to being able to “type faster than they write”, to organise content, and use a spell checker;

·Digital tools have a practical benefit of storing their work and having less to carry around in their heavy bags; 

·Digital tools are “normal” and schools should reflect the “workplace of the future”.

Some pictures showed comfortable classroom furniture and no heavy bag as resources are electronic (therefore lightweight). A number of pictures showed each student having their own device, which was described as beneficial.

Figure 14: Student drawing of a classroom with comfortable furniture and one device per student

Digital tools can also help teachers to accomplish daily classroom tasks such as grading, homework assignment, and collection of classwork, student discussions, parent interaction, attendance, and an online class calendar.

Effectively blending classroom-based teaching with distanced learning requires an easy method to share resources. When lesson plan and resources (i.e. videos, links, and audio) are available online, students can access them according to their own schedules and location. Learner Management Systems (LMS) can help to sustain contact with the teachers and the classmates, reduce paperwork, and ensure continuity in the education process. If children are allowed to follow their own programme they can more easily switch between different systems (host schools abroad, temporary home-schooling). Privacy and accessibility should be considered, especially where different teachers (sometimes from different countries) need to access to the data of one specific child. Research also highlights that further promotion and development of Learner Management Systems is needed to reap their full benefits. 3

EXAMPLE E: Using online platforms to support communication between learning environments

In Switzerland, REALTO is an online learning platform that aims to bridge between Vocational Education and Training contexts. Learners can use free mobile applications to capture learning experiences through photos, videos, audio, and texts in the workplace. Selected experiences can be shared with peers, teachers, and supervisors while other entries can be kept private.

In Latvia, MyKOOB is used for online school organisation and communication. The main goals are to increase parents' awareness of the processes taking place in the school, to structure children's school processes, to make it easier for teachers to prepare reports and to automate the daily work of the school.

Moodle is an example of a free, online Learning Management system enabling educators to create their own private website filled with dynamic courses that can support learning wherever the students and teachers physically are. It has a range of functions, including dashboard, forums, and file management, plus the ability to track student progress. It has many international language versions available. Testimonies from school leaders as early as 2008 describe how using Moodle has changed the pedagogy – the understanding and practice of teaching and learning – of the school.  

Access to tools

Digital technology, in particular those tools that can connect the learner to information and to other learners (and their teachers) via the Internet, open up new possibilities and opportunities. Many examples were witnessed during Emergency Remote Teaching. As blended learning often requires that learning tasks transcend different environments over a period of time it is likely to require online tools, as a way of recording and sharing ideas and experiences.

A blended learning approach will face similar challenges to some of those experienced by many schools during 2020, namely of ensuring equal access by all teachers and learners. The availability of appropriate IT devices, and Internet connection with sufficient bandwidth may be a challenge for economically disadvantaged families.

The challenge of ensuring access to tools is not restricted to digital devices. Anecdotal evidence during the pandemic shared on social media included examples of learners not having writing or drawing equipment at home and schools or local organisations sending “learning packs” of paper, pens and other resources to families who could not afford to provide them. 4

Over the past decade, concerns have also been raised repeatedly about the lack of adequate sports equipment and opportunities in some schools 5 , although European funding has supported many projects in Member States to address this. 6

In order to effectively embed the use of digital tools in the learning design, every teacher and learner, and anyone else supporting the learning process, will need access to dependable analogue and digital devices, a reliable infrastructure (including broadband and Wi-Fi for online learning) and knowledgeable support staff to assist teachers and learners to use online resources effectively.

Participation in blended learning requires access to relevant technology (e.g., computer or a similar device, reliable internet connection, but also a camera, microphone, a printer or a scanner) and skills to use the technology efficiently for learning purposes. To learn from home, students also need a proper learning environment at home; a comfortable space, such as their own room or desk, where they can concentrate on studying.

Figure 15: Percentage of households with broadband internet access, 2019 7

Available evidence suggests that families with children aged 15 or younger have, on average, better access to digital technology at home than the average household (see Figure 8), but there are still substantial inequalities based on socio-economic status 8 . Also, students from socio-economically disadvantaged families are less likely to have their own room and are more likely to live in a small space shared with other family members (ibid).

In the context of the COVID-19 crisis, ongoing concerns regarding unequal access to digital devices came to the fore. While connectivity has dramatically increased in recent years, according to Eurostat, 12% of households in the EU-27 still do not broadband internet access. 9  

During the COVID-19 pandemic some 826 million students (50%) did not have access to a computer at home, according to a study by the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) and the Teacher Task Force. 10 It is estimated that at the peak of the crisis, almost 1.6 billion children in 195 countries worldwide, could not access their classrooms. Around 706 million students lack internet access and 56 million live in areas not covered by mobile networks. Many countries had to quickly find effective solutions and television and radio have proven to be a good alternative in a context where connecting to schools and teachers is not possible via the Internet.

The use of digital tools in 2020

A survey on 8-18 years old learners during the COVID-19 pandemic “lockdown” in spring 2020 (Figure 15 below) shows that a variety of digital tools were used. The results show that more students had access to chat and video conferencing tools (e.g. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Hangouts, Skype, and WebEx) than to dedicated digital learning environments. Whereas video conferencing tools served the purpose of maintaining ‘face-to-face’ contact and live teaching sessions, it is worth noting that their pedagogical affordances are not extensive and they seldom encourage learner-centered pedagogical models. This has led to the belief that paying attention to learners’ screen time should become more central to remote schooling practices in the future to help achieve a better balance between screen time and off-screen activities. Focusing on distance learning practices that allow for better peer-learning and collaboration among learners, but also on inspirational off-screen activities, are also believed to be important.

Figure 16: Tools used for Emergency Remote Teaching during spring 2020

Evidence from the Digital Education Action Plan 2021-27 open public consultation (2020) shows that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, around 65% of respondents (across all levels of education) observed an increase in the use of distance and online learning. This happened both ‘in real time’ (e.g. live online classes) and ‘in one’s own time’ (e.g. watching videos of recorded lectures, consulting online learning materials, using MOOCs), with the former rising more than the latter. An increase in the provision of digital equipment/tools to study or work from home (e.g. tablets or laptops) and of learning content via television and radio was also observed.

Over half (around 57%) of respondents declared they had not used distance or online learning before the crisis, have done so during the crisis, while almost all (96%) respondents who already used distance online learning before the crisis plan to continue doing so after the crisis. Interestingly, around 80% of both teachers and education and training staff plan to take new initiatives/courses/training to improve their digital skills and competences in the future. Interactivity and user friendliness are consistently identified by learners, teachers, parents and education and training staff as the most relevant characteristic for online learning resources and content. Respondents from these four groups also place high value on the quality and relevance of the content, recognised by national authorities, and on the fact that the content should respond to the need to develop skills further and the needs of the labour market. 

Attitudes and concerns relating to the use of digital tools

The Digital Education Action Plan 2021-27 open public consultation (2020) revealed many of the attitudes and experiences of the education community. For blending the use of digital tools to guarantee more even, and better, pedagogical and social outcomes, three key issues arise:

1.Firstly, more work is needed to strengthen and streamline the availability and use of digital learning tools and activities for effective educational outcomes in the future. More screen-time and online activities do not necessarily equate with better learning. The use of conventional learning aids (e.g. paper-based textbooks, educational TV and inspirational educational off-screen activities) could form a key part of the education ecosystem in the future. Achieving an appropriate balance between screen time and off-screen activities is a question for the learning design – for competence development, equity (considering those with reduced access), and well-being.

2.Secondly, a teacher’s pedagogical practice and choice of learning task play a key role, too. Strengthening teacher digital competence is important, for example to improve distance learning tasks that allow better peer-learning and collaboration among learners. Self-assessment tools such as the forthcoming SELFIE tool for Teachers and the European Digital Competence Framework for Educators (DigCompEdu) can help (see Chapter 4 for more on these tools).

3.Measures should be in place to guarantee the safety of teachers and learners online. Data collection should be compliant with data protection rules. 11 The accessibility of proposed tools and content should be adaptable for learners with Special Educational Needs. This includes possible language-related obstacles for children whose home language is different to that of school. For the safety of learners, it may be necessary to review the set-up of secure passwords and logins as well as filters for the use of internet content. IT Infrastructure providers offer many security options and filters that allow educators to block problematic apps and websites. There is also an added responsibility to ensure adherence to data protection laws. When using software, schools will need to follow clear guidance on what access private organisations have to student and staff data.

“Thought needs to be given to the education technology market and how to make it work better for education.” (Vocational Education and Training expert)

During the open public consultation, teachers, education and training staff, education and training institutions, learners and parents (among others) were asked about their evaluation of the measures implemented by their education or training institution (or the education or training institution for which they are responsible) during the COVID-19 pandemic. Interestingly, the evaluation of such measures tends to differ across groups. Educators, and education and training staff tend to be more positive, while learners and parents are more sceptical. In fact, around 50% of leaners and parents declare the need for better interaction, instruction, guidance and communication from teachers and schools. Parents also report that their child(ren) had a particularly bad experience with motivation to learn, examination/assessment and feedback, and quality of online learning content (66%, 52.3%, and 49.1%, respectively). Education and training institutions also reported that they would have liked to have received more guidance on how to support mental health and well-being of staff and learners (around 40%) while teachers state that they would have welcomed more training and guidance on how to adapt the class material and teaching methodology to distance and online learning (around 35%).

Considering the future use of digital tools, there seems to be a consensus amongst experts and researchers that clearly identifying the purpose of using education technology is of paramount importance, with levels described in the “SAMR” model, developed by Puentedura:

Figure 17: SAMR model defining different levels of integrating educational technology 12

Nevertheless, the motivation or decision to use digital tools may be based on the availability of digital content. If the teaching materials themselves are not easily accessible or low/no cost, then the teacher or school may not be persuaded to blend the use of digital tools. School education systems are increasingly aware of this and have a range of online platforms 13 that signpost and collate information and teaching materials.

EXAMPLE F: “Scholaris” portal for teachers in Poland

Scholaris is a knowledge portal for teachers with free electronic learning resources tailored to all stages of education. The materials available on the portal are in line with the new core curriculum and compatible with all interactive whiteboards and other devices supporting the teacher's work, e.g. tablets. The portal aims to support teachers in preparing engaging and interactive classes by providing them with ready-made and tested educational materials. Using the portal is free of charge.

Scholaris is addressed to teachers of all stages of education (from kindergarten to upper secondary schools), but also to students who want to deepen their knowledge and develop their practice. Currently, the portal contains almost 28,000 interactive materials, helpful in the implementation of content from all lesson subjects, at various educational levels. These are lesson plans, exercises, texts, animations, slides, simulations, didactic games, and films. It offers resources tailored to the different needs of children and young people, including resources to help educate 3, 4, 5 and 6-year-olds.

Scholaris is a project implemented by the Education Development Centre under the Human Capital Operational Program, Priority III, Measure 3.3, Sub-measure 3.3.3, co-financed by the European Social Fund.

Scholaris is also part of the government programme to develop students 'and teachers' competences in the use of information and communication technologies - Digital School.

The competence to use digital tools

The qualitative analysis of the open-ended questions of the Digital Education Action Plan open public consultation gives a picture of parents overwhelmed, educators lacking competences and struggling to ensure a structured process while keeping up student engagement, learners lacking social/human interaction and, in some cases, missing devices and connectivity.

A survey found that during the spring lockdown 2020, the majority of parents estimated that their child had gained new digital competence in using digital technologies for online school activities (Figure 15, first row). 14 Attributes such as gaining autonomy in using digital technologies, being able to conduct various online schooling activities and being able to help others in digital activities are all encompassed in the progression of one’s level of digital competence. 15

Figure 18: Parent's perceptions of children's learning skills during spring 2020

Any web-based tools or platforms 16 should be suitable and relevant to pupils' age as well as intuitive and user friendly. Further, as regards digital skills, young people are in general more digitally competent, on average, than the general population 17 , but again, there are considerable differences among students based on the socio-economic situation of their parents. 18 Moreover, there is evidence that the socio- economic gap is greater for high-level digital competences (i.e., computational thinking) than for general computer literacy (ibid).

Figure 19: Percentage of individuals with “basic or above basic” digital skills among young people (16 to 19 years of age), 2019, as compared with the general population 19

Research into the eTwinning online community of European teachers and schools highlighted that teachers reported a greater confidence and competence than some of their (non-eTwinning) peers to cope with the transition to Emergency Remote Teaching, including increased online teaching. This is due to their familiarity with the tools that are regularly used by these teachers to engage in professional development and run their own projects with other teachers and pupils.

Similarly, research on the European Commission’s School Education Gateway Teacher Academy, which offers professional development courses and webinars, reports on the positive impact of participation in MOOCs. 20 Teachers reported to be more confident with digital tools and to make changes to their teaching practice that had a positive impact on the engagement and learning outcomes of pupils.

One Erasmus project (see example below) noted the lack of experience and understanding that teachers have with digital tools and created videos, eBooks and an app, MILAGE LEARN+, in order to support the blending of digital tools within mathematics.

EXAMPLE G: Interactive mathematics by implementing blended learning

The leaders of this European project began with the understanding that students are the generation of digital games and social networks and that, therefore, it is wise to consider the integration of digital media and mobile devices, allowing students to set personal goals, to manage educational content and to communicate with others in the right context. The project leaders also understood that low-achieving students that may struggle to learn the materials covered in class, can study and repeat the materials as many times as they may need to learn.

Worksheets of mathematics problems were organised in eBooks and in the app MILAGE LEARN+ that was developed. The project trained 140 teachers of mathematics in Portugal to use the platform and in 2018 reported that 11 000 students are using the MILAGE LEARN+ app. Around 2 000 problems and videos resolutions from the 1st to the 12th grade for mathematics are now available, as well as around 200 problems and videos resolutions for Portuguese, Natural Sciences, Spanish, English, French, Chemistry and Physics for different grades.

This was an Erasmus+ funded partnership project between Portugal, Spain, Norway and Turkey.

The project signed an agreement with the Portuguese High Commissioner for Migration to support 50 000 students from disadvantage backgrounds, and with the Portuguese Ministry of Education to disseminate the app in all schools in Portugal.

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR)

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) have the potential to help students to better visualise abstract scientific concepts 21 , such as the human anatomy or food chains, by rendering them as fully 3D models that can be overlaid over the real world. Students can interact, turn and study a model as much as they wish; teachers can then direct students to certain parts of the model, provide additional pointers or facts, and assign tasks based on the model – finding a human organ in relation to the position of the liver, for example. Through virtual headsets, students are also free to experiment with virtual chemicals 22 and see the results instantly. AR apps on mobile devices are also increasingly available, enabling learners to explore the solar system 23 , understand geometry in 3D 24 and learn the life cycles of plants. 25 Teachers can also create their own AR applications, such as scavenger hunt adventures 26 that incorporate group work and problem solving activities.

§Tasks: how learning takes place

Types of tasks

The environments - where learning will take place – and the tools – the artefacts with which learning is facilitated – are combined within learning tasks. As part of the design, schools and teachers use their professional judgement to consider what kinds of learning tasks are appropriate for their learners; how they will be embedded in a process; and how learning will be assessed.

Teachers need to consider the benefits of blending teacher-led and pupil-led tasks. They decide when it is best for learners to be collaborative in group or whole class tasks and when they might do individual tasks. Tasks might be, for example, about sourcing information, practising a skill, solving a problem, taking a quiz to see how far they have progressed, developing personal attitudes.

In the 2021 student consultation, some students pointed out that lessons should be used for interaction and explanations by the teacher. Even watching videos together can be enjoyable and can be complemented by discussion, the opportunity to ask questions, and “it’s a good way to share a point of view” (student opinion described by their teacher). They also recognise that they may need help to revise before an assessment. Some students mentioned the need for more “time to think by ourselves” and go more in-depth on some topics”. Students express a preference for even more group work.

When ask what they would like more of, a broad range of learning tasks were mentioned by students, including:

·Sport/ physical activities

·Oral comprehension, discussion and the opportunity to ask more questions


·Arts and craft work


·Reading and research work

Students are aware of what motivates themselves and others, referring to tools or tasks that are “more interesting” or more “useful for learning”. Many referred to engagement as supporting learning, particularly with hands-on activities.

Students are aware of the benefits of different learning tasks, acknowledging that group work can help them to be more creative and work with others.

“They think that by researching they learn more, discussing things they build vocabulary and defend better their opinions and competition e.g. in quizzes is much more fun.” (Teacher)

They reportedly respond well to different visual stimuli, such as content projected on a screen or part of a video. Students seem aware of the importance of a healthy lifestyle, saying that exercise is important.

Even though they made many suggestions in their survey reponses, some students said that they are happy with how learning was currently designed or that lessons are hard and they already work hard enough. On the other hand, some said that they would like to learn more, suggesting that, in the context of the survey questions, they felt that a different learning design might achieve more.

Designing the learning process

Figure 20: Six learning types 27

Varied tasks, such as described within Diana Laurillard’s six learning types 28 are already being considered by some schools who are in the early stages of developing a blended learning approach.

This work supports the opinions expressed by the students, as well as the concept of teachers as “designers” as well as “facilitators” of learning. 29

Teachers as designers is an idea also incorporated in SELFIE for Teachers 30 . In supporting teachers towards the development of their digital competence for blended learning approaches, an expert teacher (B2 proficiency level) has the capacity to analyse digital technologies based on their affordances and employ them in his/her learning designs to support distance learning, while a leader teacher (C1 proficiency level) can reflect on and redesign teaching and learning for distance learning contexts to ensure students’ active involvement in the learning process within and beyond the classroom (e.g. online learning, blended learning, hybrid learning, virtual labs, online collaborative tools, synchronous and asynchronous activities, individual and team work). Moreover, an innovator teacher (C2 proficiency level) involves his/her students through the whole process as well as engaging them in innovative activities, e.g. “My students and I contribute to exploring and finding innovative and creative solutions to real world challenges beyond our school”.

Empowering teachers to become learning designers and to additionally engage students in the design for learning as an additional benefit to the learner’s competence development 31 may be a desirable goal for a school or whole system.

There is a need to understand learning theories when reflecting on designing for learning. 32 It was believed to be the case that learning is seen as something which results in the personal acquisition of knowledge and skills. Rather less attention had been paid to other conceptions of learning, such as ‘learning as participation’ or ‘knowledge creation’. 33 Research suggests that these are important concepts to appreciate within blended learning given that learners may be engaging more in self-directed learning in combination with learning tasks where the teacher may take more of a lead or structured approach to introduce new concepts and skills.

If there is a system-wide need to support teachers in this design then opportunities for professional development will need to be identified, as was the case from the early stages of the pandemic. One of the obvious and prevailing concerns of teachers is that sufficient time – as core working hours – and resources for the whole school to develop, monitor, assess, and adjust strategies, and to deliver learning support, should be set aside for this important design aspect of their work.

Nevertheless, stakeholders believe that one of the main advantages of digital technology lies in its flexibility and capacity to allow learning at one’s own pace, as well as to implement innovative and engaging ways of learning and teaching (as stated in the Digital Education Action Plan open public consultation).

The learning event as part of the process

Figure 18 (below) shows how teachers can redesign learning so that the time they spend with students live, either in a classroom or in a virtual live online classroom, is no longer dedicated solely to content acquisition but is now reimagined for the purpose of dialogue and deliberation. In this way the live events, where the teacher and learners are together at the same time, can support more active forms of learning where students and teachers collaborate, deliberate and share their work with one another. Teachers are able to reduce the amount of time they spend on ‘delivering’ or ‘covering’ content in class and using the live sessions - either online, in class, or in another environment - for building understanding and relationships.

Figure 21: Blended learning as a process of before, during and after the live/shared learning event

Online opportunities

Some schools have been including online learning to enable students to engage with digital content on their own and or with peers during school site learning, or in advance of school-site lessons. Naturally, there has been an increase of this approach on a massive scale with restrictions on school-site learning.

Nevertheless, while the focus has typically been on simply combining school-site teaching and online learning by the same pupils at a distance, researchers call for a more “thoughtful fusion of … online learning experiences”. 34 The purpose is not to simply do more of the same kind of learning online that would be done together in the classroom. There is a growing expectation that online learning should enhance or improve the experience for the learner when working without connecting online and/or learning in a shared space 35 . It is noted that future research is needed to better understand the variation in the experience of the learning of the student in the blended learning context.

It is understood that, in an effective learning experience (one that achieves its desired learning outcomes), the content and activities of both online learning and other approaches are integrated with one another and work toward the same learning outcomes with the same content. The various learning experiences are synthesised, and may be designed to complement each other, and are planned or orchestrated to run in parallel. In terms of impact, many findings on blended online and off-line activities show an increase in learners’ ability to learn collaboratively, think creatively, study independently and tailor their own learning experiences to meet their individual needs. 36

“By experimenting with these different ways of teaching it becomes obvious that the students need, like any human being, but even more because their brains are in full maturity, to meet other young people to confront their way of thinking and above all to create links.” (Teacher)

A well-established use of online learning tasks has been in the field of languages education. According to the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), foreign language teachers are more likely than other teachers to use technology in their classrooms and as part of their lessons. 37 By integrating technology in their teaching, foreign language teachers are able to play a key role in connecting students and schools of other language communities. Both the eTwinning community and Erasmus programme have numerous examples of the use of the Internet to bring together classes from schools in different countries, to gain practice in using the language that is being learnt and to exchange other cultural information. 38

The European Centre for Modern Languages and its Professional Network Forum conducted a large Europe-wide study among language teachers in an attempt to draw conclusions about the future of language education based on lessons learned during the pandemic. As expected, the pandemic has had significant impact on timings, methods & techniques, phases of lessons, assessment, welfare (stress) and increasing gaps between those doing well and those falling behind. However, 55% believe they have been able to maintain the quality & variety of learners’ / students’ language learning experiences, and their achievement. The results point towards an equilibrium between the positives gained from the experience and the challenges still to be faced. The greatest single finding was on the positive lessons learned from adapting to change. 39

“I've learned that 1) teachers and learners can adapt to any environment when in need. 2) technology is an integral part of our daily lives and of education as well. 3) when we learn to use new methods of e-teaching, we have a great tool in our hands. Teaching can be motivating, interesting, pleasant, free of stress.” (Teacher)

Online learning can be beneficial where students wish to study a subject for which there is no dedicated teacher within the school. One such example is the Gaeltacht e-Hub Pilot Project in Ireland (see example below).

EXAMPLE H: Online learning to support learning in a native language or where there are staff shortages


The Gaeltacht e-Hub Pilot Project is a 3-year programme of the Irish Department (Ministry) of Education which began in 2019. The aim is to support students from the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking areas) to access subjects not available to them at school due to lack of a suitably qualified teacher.

In the pilot programme, Higher Level Physics was offered to students from eight Irish-medium schools, including three island schools. Two online teachers based in other (also Irish-medium schools) taught the classes online and the students were assisted by an e-Mentor at their school. The e-Mentor was always present during the lessons to support students and attended a weekly review meeting with the online teacher. Students also attended a practical hands-on learning day at the National University of Ireland, Galway to supplement their learning.

An independent review of the pilot project from March 20212 showed the experience of the pilot project to be highly successful. It commended “the strong blend of pastoral and academic support both online and in the classroom; and the well-established collaborative relationships for learning which have developed within the online learning environment”.  

The online teachers and e-Mentors worked collaboratively to prepare and manage class time and to update parents and other stakeholders. They adapted lesson plans and teaching strategies to meet the requirements of an online learning environment. According to the evaluation, there is potential for more extensive online collaboration across Irish-medium secondary schools in Irish-speaking areas and beyond.

Independent evaluation published 2021:  

Personalised and peer learning 

Blended learning, if appropriately designed, offers the potential to proactively support learners in their specific needs, increase their motivation and ability to work autonomously.

“It’s widely recognized that real and meaningful learning occurs in the classroom only when curriculum goes beyond rote memorization and lecture-based instruction. We believe that the same approach should be applied to distance learning.” (Perspective of an international education organisation) 40

Project Based Learning (PBL) is an opportunity to enable a learning experience to feel more meaningful and relevant to the learner. By its design it is active and student-directed. The basic principle of PBL requires students to work on a real-world and open-ended problem by solving projects over the specific period of time, while demonstrating their knowledge and skills. Finally, their solution or product is presented to an audience for critical peer feedback. By using PBL, students can have a better sense of how their developing knowledge and skills can be applied. 41 When designing learning, care must be taken to be realistic in terms of the individual’s capacity to manage their own learning if much of the work is to be at a distance or individually. 42

“It’s important to understand that my flipped classroom is not about videos at home and textbook work in class. It is about easing students’ anxiety by giving them time to work through problems with their peers and with me. It is about personalizing the learning space, building relationships with students and gaining their trust, and being there to support them when they need me the most” (Perspective of a school education researcher and teacher 43 )

Individualised learning plans – i.e. tailored to individual pupils - may help with achieving an effective complementarity of learning environments, tools and tasks for all pupils, as well as tailor individual support to pupils with Special Education Needs. This is part of the fundamental shift to student-centred learning that a blended learning approach can support.

Figure 22: Example of the process of developing a personalised learning plan for a student 44

Extra-curricular activities and non-formal learning

Research as shown that “extracurricular and other organized activities can provide a wide variety of experiences and more quality interaction among students and between adults and students in the school, which may become translated into better socioemotional wellbeing and learning outcomes in children.”

Non-formal learning is that which happens outside of the compulsory curriculum. The importance and relevance of non-formal learning is evident from the experiences acquired through youth work, voluntary work, and participating in cultural activities, including grassroots sport. Non-formal learning plays an important role in supporting the development of essential interpersonal, communicative and cognitive skills including among other things, creativity, that facilitate young people's transition to adulthood, active citizenship and working life. 45 Identification of new ways of learning includes better cooperation between formal and non-formal learning settings. 46

Nevertheless it is difficult to precisely track the impact of such non-formal learning because the development of competences is influenced in many ways during childhood. What is certain is that the opportunity to engage in non-formal activities are often uneven, between those families who are more affluent or aware of the benefits and those who are not. 47

Using a set of questions or a more developed tool, such as the EU’s Youthpass (see example below) may help to reflect on and formally or informally validate the competences developed.

EXAMPLE I: Youthpass for supporting and recognising non-formal learning

Youthpass is a tool to reflect on, document and recognise learning outcomes from youth work and solidarity activities. It is available for projects funded by Erasmus+: Youth in Action and European Solidarity Corps Programmes. It is a part of the European Commission's strategy to foster the recognition of non-formal learning, putting policy into practice and practice into policy.

Youthpass makes use of the Key Competences for Lifelong Learning in order to describe and frame each set of knowledge, skills and attitudes.

While creating their Youthpass certificate together with a support person, Erasmus+ Youth in Action project and European Solidarity Corps participants are given the possibility to describe what they have done in their project and which competences they have acquired. Thus, Youthpass supports the reflection upon the personal non-formal learning process and outcomes.

As a Europe-wide recognition instrument for non-formal learning in the youth field, Youthpass strengthens the social recognition of youth work.

“Non-formal education stresses the importance of enjoying learning which is fundamental to foster meaningful experiences … Non-formal education deploys assessment methods … mainly to support learning and develop skills in the learner as opposed to measuring performance.” (European student organisation)

The shared responsibility of parents and guardians

The involvement of parents in “homework” (additional tasks to complement or complete tasks done in school lessons) is not likely to be equal in all families 48 and one may assume the same to be true even after the long period of school-site closure. It is assumed that parental support was particularly necessary when students experienced self-regulation difficulties during learning, with parents having to fill in for teachers who usually provided extra support in classroom lessons. In the open public consultation for the Digital Education Action Plan, around a half of parents stated that they would have welcomed more regular interaction, instruction and guidance from teachers as well as more regular and clear communication, guidance and support from the educational institutions of their child(ren).

Consideration and transparent guidelines should be given to how much support/supervision is expected of parents and guardians. The level of support may depend on a range of factors: the educational level, language competences and digital skills of parents; time available (balanced with employment, several young children); and the relationship between parent and child. Extra support may be required where parents and guardians are less able to structure the learning of young children themselves, for instance where the parents do not speak the language of schooling to the necessary level.

Figure 23: The roles of different stakeholders in managing the learning environments

Actively involving parents and pupils themselves in designing/assessing/adjusting the learning tasks may help with the continuity between school site and distance learning environments. Strategies for active engagement may be offered by parent organisations. 49 One example is “The Parents’ Toolkit” (La mallette des parents), from France, which is not specifically about blended learning, but it addresses how parents can support their children’s learning, as well as how they can interact with their child’s school. 50

§Assessment in blended learning

Assessment practices shape teaching and learning and the focus of assessment at national and school level dictates which learning tasks and outcomes are valued as important and merit time and effort. 51  

Assessment includes:

·Formative assessment by the teacher of pupils, and by pupils of themselves (self- and peer assessment), in order to understand their progression, to identify further learning needs and to plan next steps;

·Summative assessment of pupils at the end of a period of study in order to establish an attainment level (a grade or description), typically done by the teacher and recorded by the school in a report which is shared with the pupils and their parents (or legal guardians);

·Summative assessment of all pupils of a certain age/grade in order to establish attainment levels in a range of subjects that will lead to awarding one or more “certificates” or “diplomas”. This may be done by the school, region or national system. It may include teacher grades. This type of assessment has added significance in that they can determine the next stage of the learner’s education: to study particular subjects at upper secondary level; to repeat a year; or the opportunity to enter further education and training or employment.

Questions were immediately raised in 2020 about both the pedagogical (teaching and learning) and managerial (process, resources, responsibilities) approach to assessment and final examinations. Experts argue that, with greater familiarity and acceptance of a variety of existing approaches, and with forward planning, assessment does not have to be postponed or only take place on the school site. In fact, changing approaches to assessment may bring about a more positive shift to self-directed learning and increase the self-evaluation capacity of pupils. 52

The experience of remote learning also highlighted the value and role of formative assessment. Students studying from home expressed concerns that they did not know if they were making sufficient progress. Transparency of expectations, feedback and opportunities to develop competences for self- and peer-assessment were valued. 53

“It is fundamental that students have their say in how to build resilient and equitable assessment systems they feel can adequately support their learning and measure their competences beyond notionism.” (European student organisation)

High-stakes assessments - for example, those leading to graduation - are typically monitored to ensure all students take examinations in the same or similar conditions and to prevent cheating. During the period of school closure, education systems felt unable to ensure these conditions. Many systems chose to base decisions for school advancement or graduation on teachers' summative assessments from months prior to school closure. There were several advantages to this approach -- including recognition of the value of teacher judgement, as well as the advantage of covering more curriculum requirements in a series of examinations over the year. However, systems rooted in a culture of final written examinations may find it difficult to change an approach that is assumed to be the most “fair” assessment of a pupil’s competences.

Assessment approaches should be appropriately aligned with curriculum. For example, assessment within a competence-based curriculum should capture information on the learners’ capacity to apply knowledge in a specific context, and gather information on processes used to address a specific task or solve a problem, as well as the outcome of that process.

EXAMPLE J: Assessment of transversal skills: policy experimentation project

Assessment of Transversal Skills in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is an innovative policy experimentation project implemented in eight EU countries and involving a partner network of 12 educational institutions. The project aims to provide teachers and students with necessary and efficient digital assessment approaches for the development of students’ transversal skills in STEM education.

Research and development is integrated in the design of the ATS-STEM educational project to allow decisions to be made based on the evidence gathered throughout the process. The objective is to analyse the possibilities of digital assessment in the implementation of teaching STEM skills and competences in European schools. The project includes a review of the latest digital tools for formative assessment in STEM education. The project activities have been affected by the pandemic restrictions but have also created a useful focus on tools to support distance learning.

ATS STEM is co-financed by the ERASMUS+ Programme (Action 3 – Policy Experimentation), where ministries of education are compulsory partners and national education agencies or education faculties essential development partners as well as pilot schools. The model will be developed, implemented and evaluated through a large-scale classroom pilot, leading to policy recommendations at national and European level for the further transformation of education.  

Discussions with education stakeholders in 2020 led to the formulation of guiding principles for assessment within blended learning 54 :

I.Transparency: whichever approaches – both in terms of what outputs may be included in the assessment and the method (by whom, calculation of marks) by which they are to be assessed - should have a clear purpose and be communicated in good time to those involved to allow for full preparation and to avoid anxiety. Learning Management System (LMS) software requires some investment but if designed appropriately, can help to better communicate and manage blended assessment processes, alongside many other areas, between the school, pupils and parents/carers. 55 Any use of digital tools will require a data management strategy that considers GDPR. 56

II.Fairness: the International Bureau of Education defines this as “the consideration of learner’s needs and characteristics, and any reasonable adjustments that need to be applied to take account of them. It is important to ensure that the learner is informed about, understands and is able to participate in the assessment process, and agrees that the process is appropriate. It also includes an opportunity for the person being assessed to challenge the result of the assessment and to be reassessed if necessary. Ideally an assessment should not discriminate between learners except on grounds of the ability being assessed." 57  

III.Equity: assessment processes and tools should provide all leaners with equal opportunities to demonstrate their competence and better understand their progression and needs. This means considering the parity of school site and distance assessment, as well as the parity of assessment approaches used by schools across the system, using moderation where appropriate. 58 The use of online examinations software may provide a trusted approach to formal summative assessment. 59

IV.Validity and reliability: validity in assessment refers to what is assessed and how well this corresponds with the behaviour or construct to be assessed. Validity is not simply the way in which [an assessment] functions, but depends on what it is used for and the interpretation and social consequences of the results. 60 Assessments are reliable if the results may be replicated (over time and across different sites). 61 These aspects are important to note if new approaches to assessment are being developed within a blended learning approach.

V.Self-efficacy: self-assessment by learners of their own progress, as well as peer assessment, can contribute to increased motivation and a sense of responsibility and agency in the learning process. 62 As part of ongoing assessment it can help the teacher understand what has been gained from initial (e.g. distance) tasks and design the next stages. By reflecting on a course, pupils are encouraged to consider the whole process, both at distance and on the school site.

VI.Familiarity: new assessment approaches should be gradually introduced into schools and the system to build the confidence and competence of all those involved. Nevertheless, this should not prevent necessary immediate change. Teachers and school leaders may benefit from professional development (networking, training) and guidelines, particularly regarding online assessment. 63  

VII.Regularity: a single assessment period at the end of the school year allows the maximum time for learner development and may be used to decide progress to the next stage; however, this relies on the alignment of many conditions. The curriculum may be usefully divided into modules that are assessed as they are concluded; an approach already used in some systems. 64 This may help the fluid movement between school site and distance learning over the course of a year of study and alleviate pressure of single assessment.

VIII.Diversity: a long-term strategy for blended learning requires the appropriate assessment of broad competence development, not just knowledge recall. Using Learning Diaries or Personal Development Plans can help track individual progression across school-site and distance environments, and inform a personalised approach going forward. Computer-Based Assessment (quizzes, games, ePortfolios) offers ways of understanding and evidencing learner progression that can be used both environments. ePortfolios also enable a range of competences to be assessed and with a degree of choice for the learner to build it in a way that motivates them – important for distance learning - and showcases their strengths. 65 They also allow for peer- and self-assessment. Blended learning requires a defined strategy for the assessment of practical skills. Videos (live and recorded) and online simulations may enable some assessment at distance, coupled with flexible opportunities for on-site (school or work placement) assessment. 66

IX.Flexibility: blended learning requires a flexibility that permits, for example, assessment to take place over a number of days – open assessment – or incorporate group as well as individual assessment, in the case of collaborative project work. Schools and teachers may be given some choice in the most appropriate type of assessment for their own subject matter and context. The use of some digital tools (for both school site and distance assessment) can also relieve the burden of grading by teachers and release time for other learning tasks. 67

Changes to Higher Education assessment in 2020 and 2021 may pave the way for changes in school education. Many universities are known to have developed established online assessment practices that were already familiar in distance learning courses. The benefits to using a computer for assessment included familiarity for the students and legible responses for the examiners. Whilst some students were unprepared for online examinations, they also positively noted the convenience and rapid feedback. Designing “open book” assessment (where notes and texts could be used) also placed more emphasis on the applied knowledge by the students, rather than what they could recall on the day. 68

3.2.2.Supporting teachers

Image: Adam Winger at

This section discusses the role of the teacher and the necessary support and working conditions for a blended learning approach to be embedded effectively.

Teacher decisions and conditional factors in learning design

For any pedagogical approach, teachers will be committed to designing a learning experience where all pupils can participate and reach their full potential. A typical defined boundary when designing the approach is the school “lesson”: a fixed period of time where teachers and pupils share the same physical or virtual space. Another typical boundary is the subject curriculum: expected learning outcomes for all pupils on defined topics. Combining school site and distance learning however requires a more holistic perspective, as the scope for bringing in other learning facilitators (typically other professionals or parents) and a personalised (learner-centred) approach potentially increases. Learning outcomes based on progression in various competence areas are potentially more likely to be valued than the time spent on a task, whilst ensuring that learners can develop all competences in a balanced way 69 .

The teacher’s decisions regarding the design of blended learning is likely to be based on: a) the requirements of the curriculum (which may or may not have changed to take into account blended learning approaches); b) the needs and capacity of their learners (including what learning support they have elsewhere); and c) their own capacity as a teacher; d) the general approach of the school that they are working in; and e) the available resources.





 Raza, S.A. et al (2021) Social Isolation and Acceptance of the Learning Management System (LMS) in the time of COVID-19 Pandemic: An Expansion of the UTAUT Model, Journal of Educational Computing Research, 59 (2), pp. 183-208. Accessed at  


For example, learning resource packs were sent to some disadvantaged families in the UK. See  


European Parliament (2016) Physical education in EU schools. Briefing Paper. Available at  


European Commission (2019) Sport 2019 – Description of the projects selected for funding. Available at  


Eurostat “Households with broadband access.” Latest data available at  


Di Pietro, G., Biagi, F., Costa, P., Karpiński, Z., and Mazza, J., (2020), The likely impact of COVID-19 on education: Reflections based on the existing literature and recent international datasets, p. 14-17. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union (2020), JRC121071, available at:  




 For guidance, see  


Original graphic available at  


A list of national sites with information and materials was published on the School Education Gateway in April 2020 to help teachers working from home to access online content:  


Vuorikari, R., Velicu, A., Chaudron, S., Cachia, R. and Di Gioia, R. (2020) How families handled emergency remote schooling during the Covid-19 lockdown in spring 2020, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. ISBN 978-92-76-24519-3 (online), doi:10.2760/31977 (online)


Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (2017). DigComp 2.1: The Digital Competence Framework for Citizens with eight proficiency levels and examples of use. Carretero, S.; Vuorikari, R. and Punie, Y. doi:10.2760/388


 See, for example,  


According to Eurostat’s Community Survey on the ICT use in households and by Individuals . Individuals aged 16 to 19 are the youngest age group for whom data are systematically available from all participating countries. Data on individuals aged 15 or less are available for a small number of countries.


 Karpiński,Z., Di Pietro, G., Biagi, F., Digital skills, test effort and socio-economic status: an analysis of ICILS 2018 data, forthcoming.


Eurostat data - Individuals' level of digital skills. Latest data available at:  


European Commission (2020) The impact of participation in Teacher Academy online courses on the practice and identity of teachers: a research study. Available at:  








ABC Learning Design method by Clive Young and Nataša Perović, University College London (2015) is licensed under CC BY NC SA 4.0.


Laurillard, D. et al (2018) Using technology to develop teachers as designers of TEL: Evaluating the learning designer. British Journal of Educational Technology, October 2018. Available at:,peers%2C%20at%20the%20concept%20and%2F  



SELFIE for Teachers  


Wasson, B. & Kirschner, P. (2020) Learning Design: European Approaches. TechTrends, 64. Available at:  


Ertmer, P. & Newby, T. (2008) Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features From an Instructional Design Perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 6, pp.50 - 72. Available at:  


 Paavola, S. et al (2004) Models of Innovative Knowledge Communities and Three Metaphors of Learning. Review of Educational Research, 74 (4). Available at  


Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N. (2008). Blended learning in higher education. San Francisco, CA:

Jossey-Bass. Cited in Cleveland-Innes, M. and Wilton, D. (2018) Guide to Blended Learning, Burnaby: Commonwealth of Learning .Available at:  


Oliver, M. & Trigwell, K. (2005). Can 'Blended Learning' Be Redeemed?. E-learning, 2. Available at:'Blended_Learning'_Be_Redeemed  



 Covacevic, C & Vargas, J (2020) How might the coronavirus crisis be affecting foreign language teachers OECD Education and Skills Today available at  


 Resources and examples on Erasmus+ and multilingualism can be accessed via  



Amporo, A. and Nabbuye, H. (2020) Taking distance learning ‘offline’: Lessons learned from navigating the digital divide during COVID-19. Availale at:  




Arnett, T. (2020) The blended learning models that can help schools reopen.  


 New South Wales Department of Education “Personalised Learning Pathways (PLPs) for Aboriginal students:

Guidelines”. Available at:  


Council Conclusions on the role of youth work in supporting young people's development of essential life skills that facilitate their successful transition to adulthood, active citizenship and working life (2017). Available at:  


Council conclusions on maximising the role of grassroots sport in developing transversal skills,

especially among young people - 2015/C 172/03. Available at:  


Metsäpelto, Riitta-Leena & Pulkkinen, Lea. (2015). The benefits of extracurricular activities for socioemotional behavior and school achievement in middle childhood: An overview of the research. Journal of Educational Research Online. 6. 10-33.


 Maša Đurišić and Mila Bunijevac (2007), Parental Involvement as an Important Factor for Successful Education, Centre for Education Policy Studies Journal - Slovenia, 7(3). Accessed at  


 National organisations or international, such as the European Parents Association and COFACE Families Europe  


 See “The Parent’s Toolkit”. Available at


NESET 2017 -  


Inge de Waars - Student Evaluation During and After COVD-19 – EDEN, Wednesday 22 April 2020.  


Looney, J. (2020). "The E2030 stakeholders’ surveys on challenges of curriculum delivery during school closure as well as reopening of schools". OECD, Paris.



See, for example, Alan Tait (Professor Emeritus of Distance Education and Development at the Open University, UK) Education for Development: From Distance to Open Education.


For a discussion with links to resources see, for example,  



The New Zealand Ministry of Education outlines the purpose, process and benefits of the moderation of assessment:  


See, for example, the SURF (Netherlands ICT education and research organisation) White Paper on Online Proctoring (the remote surveillance of examinations) -  


Wyatt-Smith & Joy Cumming 2009,  



Alfredo Soeiro (University of Porto, Portugal) - How to design and manage assessments for online learning – EDEN, Monday, 20 April 2020,  

See also Ireland’s National Council for Curriculum and Assessment Guide on Student Reflection:  


In a European survey (9 April-10 May 2020), 67% respondents reported that this was their first experience of online teaching.  


For example, Lithuania switched to a modular curriculum for VET in 2017, which enabled diplomas to be awarded in 2020 to those completing more than 50% of their overall course, despite the school closures.  


European Commission / Joint Research Centre (2013) -  


Discussed by expert representatives in the European Apprenticeships Alliance webinar series (May 2020)


European Commission / Joint Research Centre (2013) -


EDEN (2021) Webinar: Changing Assessment Due to Covid-19: Experiences and Impact. Recording available at:  


Susan Patrick Chris Sturgis (March 2015) Maximizing Competency Education and Blended Learning: Insights from Experts

Accessed at:


Brussels, 5.8.2021

SWD(2021) 219 final


Accompanying the document

Proposal for a Council Recommendation

on blended learning for high quality and inclusive primary and secondary education

{COM(2021) 455 final}

Competence in the design of blended learning

Teachers need a certain level of experience and professional competence to identify learning tasks that are complementary and coherent across learning environments. Designing for distance learning is not merely a case of replicating school site practice. Nor is the embedding of new tools as easy as using those that are more familiar.

In consultation, stakeholders highlighted that Initial Teacher Education programmes should reflect the needs of staff for blended learning design and prepare new teachers to design with such blends.

Given that teachers are likely to encounter an increasing number of new tools, they will need to continuously evaluate and update their own competences to ensure their own effectiveness in designing and facilitating learning 1 . It is not sufficient that the teacher him/herself is able to understand, make informed decisions about, and use the various tasks for learning. He/she also has to be able to support their learners to engage with and be capable of managing their learning within a blended learning approach, including how to use technology and diverse learning resources in productive ways 2 .

Assessment processes and tools should be coherent between school site and distance tasks and give all pupils sufficient opportunity to demonstrate and understand their progression and future needs (see section 3.2.1 on the Design of Learning). Teachers may need additional professional development support in this specific area or may have designed approaches as part of their recent experience of remote teaching that could help the development of their school and other schools in this respect.

Stakeholders emphasised that the confidence and competence of teachers go hand in hand, particularly regarding the use of digital tools.

If a teacher has developed particular expertise, they may be encouraged to take a leading role amongst their peers. This may also lead to greater motivation as a professional. The concept of “distributed leadership” describes where teachers can further their knowledge and skills by taking decisions, individually and collectively within a clearly defined framework of school leadership 3 . This is particularly important in blended learning that requires, in addition to teaching skills, a vision, high working ethics, team skills, judgement and assessment skills and organisational skills and collaboration in order to make blended learning effective 4 . Teachers taking on a leading role in the use of digital technology may be given specific recognition  5

“Teachers should be given time to study, to research, to update their knowledge… and strategies and not do it on weekends or after working hours.” (Teacher)

Professional development and attitudes to innovation and collaboration

As organising blended learning requires constant adaptation of teaching, teachers’ different attitudes towards education and willingness to change become relevant. 6 Not all teachers think about the design of blended learning in the same way, and findings have shown that most teachers are led by practical considerations rather than attending to individual students’ needs. This may be a prevailing problem with the terminology – where “blended” seems to be associated with simply “adding more tools” to the learning process. Addressing this issue may be done through dialogue with peers in order to dispel anxieties, share challenges and solutions with their peers regarding their designs for learning, and better reach a shared vision about the different ways in which learning can take place.

It is unrealistic to expect all teachers to be suddenly highly experienced and competent in blended learning approaches in the space of a few months. They also work in different contexts. Therefore, teachers should have the opportunity, collaborative support, and willingness to take risks and innovate in order to adapt their pedagogical approaches in a way that is effective for their own learners. Innovative models of teacher professional learning and development can help and support the uptake of new instructional practices. 7

Blending learning environments and tools – particularly if it is a new approach for the school – requires constant adaptation of teaching based on reflection (self-evaluation and by others) and feedback, in order to respond to the learners’ needs effectively. This is an established part of managing one’s own professional development. 8

Embedding a blended learning approach across a whole school – or a whole education system - requires a significant amount of innovation on the part of teachers and is likely to feel like rapid change. The importance of sharing practice is, therefore, heightened in these more exceptional circumstances. Teachers should recognise their role within the school as a “learning community” to include peer observation, mentoring and coaching as well as co-designing lessons and resources. 9 How such collaboration can be achieved at a distance may need the use of additional tools, and time. Indeed, an increased familiarity and creativity with different learning tools may be transferred to professional development and vice versa. Online “teach meets”, webinars and courses will also expand the size of an individual’s professional community. For example, it was widely reported that members of the eTwinning European online community were better prepared and able to cope with the change to teaching remotely in spring 2020.

Some teachers who were consulted suggested that it may be usful for systems to consider a "cascade" design for professional development courses: the teachers who follow the course, in turn, become facilitators with colleagues in their school, thus creating wider and wider circles of learning and training.

Beginning teachers, who have just completed their diplomas will be joining schools and the wider profession with potentially limited recent practical experience. They are unlikely to be fully experienced in blended learning from a teacher’s perspective, although they may have more recent experience themselves as a learner in higher education compared to their new colleagues. These professionals may require even more support than normally offered to confidently develop appropriate pedagogical approaches that suit their own context and capacity.

Supporting pupils as individuals and as a class community

Consideration may be given as how to maintain regular contact with pupils, such as arranging for supportive one-to-one communication, as well as communication with the learning group 10 . Teachers may also consider how to create and maintain a culture of collaboration and trust 11 – through dialogue as well as learning tasks – that contribute to the sense of community, transcending different learning environments. This facilitation may also help dispel the teacher’s own anxieties around different (potentially more distant) relationships with pupils who are less frequently on the school campus.

As highlighted elsewhere, communication and liaison with stakeholders in the wider school community is important for the continuity of learning across different environments. How to effectively achieve this is a key consideration. Direct communication and guidelines may be considered for families – or those who are most likely to supervise the work of pupils, particularly younger pupils – in order that the distance learning tasks are fully understood and supported. The use of Learning Management Systems (LMS) 12 have been effectively deployed in higher education, however schools or systems that already had such software in place could easily continue to do so during the pandemic restrictions. 13

There may be measurable cognitive benefits. An analysis of the TIMMS 2019 responses by the International Education Association (IEA) suggests that students with a higher sense of school belonging performed better in mathematics and science (see figure 22 below). 14

Figure 24: Students with a higher sense of school belonging performed better in mathematics and science

However, important as it is, a “sense of belonging” is complex and many factors may fall outside of the teacher’s direct influence. It may be characterised as including: students’ sense of being able to make friends; sense of being liked and accepted by the school community; their connectedness to the school; as well as their individual feelings of alienation, isolation, and loneliness at school. 15  

Communicating and collaborating with the wider community

Teachers should be able to reach out to the wider community, and also welcome in members of the community. This not only improves the learning in different environments but also enables learners to be inspired by practitioners in other fields, as well as contributing to the professional development of the teacher.

Supporting such collaboration may require a specific reference within school education professional frameworks. This is the case in Australia within the professional standards for teaching 16 , where community engagement has a greater emphasis as teachers progress to higher stages of professionalism.

One example of supported collaboration is the European Commission’s “re@ct” pilot project 17 in Belgium to explore ways to bring Marie Skłodowska-Curie (MSC) researchers closer to learners in schools and universities. This initiative is planned to continue in the future involving researchers across Europe.

Stakeholders have highlighted that experts from outside of the school can make important contributions to the learning and not only for core subjects. However, they stressed that this should ideally not be one-off or for a short time. External practitioners (such as scientists, doctors, historians, musicians, writers) should be involved in the learning design and over time. This includes the planning, contributing to the process of teaching and learning, and even the formative assessment.

“The school and cultural parties involved need to agree on a mutual goal. Each party can have their own reasons to be involved, but they need be in agreement of what they are trying to achieve.” (Network of education and culture ministry representatives)

EXAMPLE K: Supporting school education and cultural partnerships in Norway and Latvia

The Cultural Rucksack is a political collaboration between the Norway Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Education and Research, to ensure that students in primary and secondary schools have an opportunity to experience professional artistic and cultural productions during school hours several times a year. Artists can visit the school for a shorter or longer period, or students and teachers participate in arrangements outside the school, or a combination of the two.

One objective of the Cultural Rucksack is to be a supplement to the arts subjects taught in the schools, while not being a substitute for them. Another objective of the programme is to ensure that students have access to professional arts and culture of high quality during school hours.

With the pandemic restrictions, infrastructure has been redirected into production of digital learning products with funding that would normally have been used for travel as part of the programme.

2015 report on the initiative:  

In Latvia, the project „Latvian School Bag” provides an opportunity for pupils to experience a variety of activities and events of art and cultural heritage, science, and nature within the educational framework, with access guaranteed by the state. In addition to access to cultural events and processes, artists and creative professionals are supported to visit schools, promoting cooperation among education and culture specialists and developing local involvement and ownership.

More information:

Managing one’s own working conditions 

All teachers should be clear on the expectations (of school management team and education authorities) of their school site and distance working conditions. This may include establishing ways to keep to contracted hours, support for their own “distance teaching” where this is required/possible, and support for extra costs such as devices, technological support, or travel.

According to ministry and stakeholder organisation representatives consulted, the role of the teacher in giving personal and social support to their colleagues and to their learners should be emphasised, where it is not already highly apparent and valued. According to stakeholders, previous attitudes have changed to be more in favour of the teacher, sparked by the forced distancing by school site closure. The social role of the teacher goes hand in hand with the social dimension of the school, which is perhaps now valued more highly after long periods of full- and part-closure. This requirement should be treated with care when designing a blended learning strategy for a school. The strong social role of teachers should not completely rule out the benefits of more flexible learning arrangements; nor should the attractiveness of integrating distance learning work against the delicate and crucial existence of the school as a community.

What was reported as a concern was – like all cases where work is from a home office – that there is a sense of “the endless day” for teachers, compounded by the increased workload. There was less sense of “being in school” or, rather, being able to step back and refresh, or adequately juggle their out-of-work responsibilities. Where distance environments become more dominant, boundaries may need to be re-established. This may not be of a concern if the school staff are predominantly on the school campus; however, following the experience of the pandemic, care should be taken with those teachers, support staff, and learners, who are members of the school community but spend much of their working time at a distance.

Figure 25: A perspective on teacher competence in blended learning 18

The attractiveness of the school education profession

One question for policy makers is whether the new concept of online and on-site teacher is attractive or off-putting in terms of recruiting new entrants to the school education profession. On the one hand, teaching could be seen as interesting and challenging if being “in school” is not just about being in lessons within the four walls of a classroom. On the other hand, those who envisaged a career of working constantly in a shared and personal space – i.e. a classroom or studio – may be deterred by the idea of being more remote from some pupils some of the time, or interacting through an online platform.

There are cultural and personality preferences that may affect the attitude to distance and online learning – expressing oneself with the whole body can be lost, and therefore frustrating or feel abnormal. The natural movement of a teacher around the space, having more close discussions with a small group whilst still keeping one eye on the whole class, is not easily replicated. Therefore, the considerations of learning design need to include an appreciation of how this affects teacher-pupil relationships and also the teacher’s own sense of identity and place in the class community.

In terms of what digital technology can offer, it may be suggested that schools could access teacher support that is not immediately available locally. Connecting with a teacher who is remote to the school may permit smaller groups of students in schools to take courses of study in minority subjects, which was not previously possible. This may open up new opportunities for teachers of certain subjects to work in the system or teachers who for various reasons cannot travel to the school site.

3.2.3School leadership: creating the appropriate school climate and culture

Image: Marius Fiskum, EDUCATION.NO (Norway)

This section considers the role of and particular challenges for school leaders and school heads in a blended learning approach

Stakeholders highlighted the importance of the school culture (its values, beliefs, expectations, organisational behaviour, and sense of community) and school climate (how it feels to teach and learn there) to the effectiveness of a blended learning approach. This includes the school leadership (school heads and other school leaders) which helps to establish a clear vision but also enables some flexibility of approach by the staff team.

Four types of leadership competence 19 can be identified as being particularly relevant to recent experiences in schools:   

1.Rapid or large-scale change management leadership: more recently may be understood as a competence to lead in an emergency or crisis but could still be necessary in more stable times to support significant changes to the school organisation;  

2.Leadership on expertise: i.e. recognising the strengths of staff and where development could be effective;  

3.Social and emotional well-being leadership: i.e. empathy for others; caring about staff beyond their core work outputs, which is different than crisis management.   

4.Reflective leadership: How do we learn from all the new experiences we have/ get new insights? i.e. reflection and observation on what is happening in order to inform how to move forward. Reflection needs dialogue. 

Whilst school education may hope or prefer not to describe itself in a period of “crisis”, these different competences have been identified as important. The need not be encompassed in one school head but it could be useful to have shared leadership roles at the school level.  

With a necessary greater focus on the role of parents, and for better supporting students to learn in different environments, this may (further) shift the role of "school" head into a "community leader". 

This would potentially alter – or increase - what school heads and their leadership team are responsible for, including diverse learning environments inside and outside of the school campus. According to stakeholder discussions, it may require significant school community and whole-system courage and determination to discover new routes for school education. This may include radical reform of some traditional measure on which confidence in school systems has been based. For instance, sending external inspectors to observe teachers on the school campus may no longer effectively monitor or support the broad scope of the organisation and design of learning (see section 3.2.6 on Quality Assurance for more on this topic).  

In implementing a blended learning approach, school leadership 20 is key in ensuring that there is a culture and climate for continuous improvement and that school level barriers for blended learning are addressed. It will be the school leadership who define the specific goals of blended learning – in cooperation with teachers – and will have the responsibility of ensuring that professional development needs are examined and addressed 21 . 

Developing a shared vision for the implementation of blended learning

Schools are generally expected to regularly reflect on their successes and challenges and create a strategic development plan – to act as a “school as learning organisation”. 22 As is true for any innovation in school practice, a clear sense of direction from the school head and a shared vision held by the school community is crucial for effective problem solving that will be an ongoing part of adapting to blended learning approaches. 23 Such a vision may require a significant shift in mind-set concerning staff responsibilities, and concerning the increase in leader-centred approaches and learner independence.

Since the role of parents and carers in blended learning is, in most cases, enhanced, it also is important that that the school leadership builds relationships, not only inside the school, but also outside the school community 24 . School heads and leaders may reach out for support from other schools or provide support to others (networking).

School heads are a crucial link to the rest of the education system. They may need to interpret new regulations and other requirements that come into force regarding blended learning (See Chapter 4 for more on “legislation”). Vice versa, they may also need to signal additional needs in order to obtain the necessary support from authorities.

Supporting teachers to make autonomous decisions within a collaborative school culture

Implementing a blended learning approach within a school may require a considerable amount of designing and decision-making by teachers, drawing on their full range of professional competences. Empowering teachers to take that responsibility is best supported when leadership is school in distributed and when leadership is based on trust and where learning environments are flexible. Nevertheless, teachers should also not feel alone or isolated.

Teachers and school leaders have experienced a unique period of discovery and innovation during the shift to distance learning. Sharing this expertise, and that which will be built during the new academic year, will be important to developing effective blended learning approaches that best fit each school community.  25

EXAMPLE L: Portugal’s website “Support for Schools”, created in 2020

The website “Support for Schools” provides all students, teachers, principals, parents and guardians, and the rest of the school community with a comprehensive set of resources to support learning and school management, in order to enrich and enhance teaching and learning processes in the recent challenging times.

Created in 2020 by the Directorate-General for Education, in conjunction with the National Agency for Qualification and Vocational Education, IP, in response to requests from schools at the beginning of the pandemic crisis, “Support for Schools” is believed to have surpassed all expectations, having become a reference, both in terms of the use of distance learning methodologies by schools, and in terms of assessment, among other areas.  

Supporting the design of learning

Whether or not a school has a high degree of autonomy over the curriculum, some responsibility will likely lie with the school leadership to ensure that all aspects can be effectively covered. Shifting some learning to distance environments or expanding the variety of learning tools (including digital technology) may involve more fundamental shifts in the curriculum in terms of:

·structure – for example as modules rather than year-long courses;

·formulation of learning outcomes - for example on competences rather than subject knowledge;

·expansion – for example, being able to offer new courses in subjects not previous possible;

In consultation, stakeholders emphasised that guidelines are useful but need to come with freedom and flexibility for local learning design choices. Any vision generated for the whole system needs to be accompanied with support and clear sense of expectations (i.e. what is expected of all schools, all teachers.

Blended learning will likely require the use of new software, resources, and data systems, and new ways of understanding the learning process. Professional development opportunities will need to be signposted and supported. Internal and external tools and processes for determining capacity may be useful, such as structured self-evaluation questionnaires 26 or peer dialogue.

An inclusive blended learning strategy should be designed - and systematically assessed and adjusted - by a multidisciplinary team, with provision for individual tutoring/support to be delivered by the most appropriate actors. Disadvantage is a complex and multidimensional issue, it can only be addressed with an integrated holistic approach, and with the involvement of all relevant stakeholders. Stakeholders outside the school - psychologists, Special Educational Needs specialists, social services, local authorities, youth services, NGOs – may be approached and activated by school leaders. 27 Local community practices developed during the period of school site closure could be further supported and scaled up. 28

Supporting the leaders

Considerations about leadership concern not only school leaders but also those who have the capacity and responsibility to support them. 29

Specific questions may guide reflection on how leadership in schools can be supported when dealing with change:

-What do leadership teams need in order for blended learning to be meaningful and inclusive? 

-Aside from guiding them in "what to do", what else do they need in their own professional development? 

-What kind of professional characteristics do we expect of leaders in blended learning?  

At the start of the pandemic, it was reported that a popular decision was to give more autonomy to school heads, which national guidelines were intended to support. This was seen as a positive change. However, when school sites re-opened it was noted that many heads were allowing their schools to automatically return to full-time school site approaches and not necessarily changing their organisation (of the school or learning).  This attitude by school leaders was perhaps understandable following a period of great stress, however, with the constant changes in restrictions over an entire year, systems may be lamenting the missed opportunity to help leaders and schools to shift to more flexible learning approaches.

First, leaders need clear guidance from the authorities in the system, be it at school board, regional or national level. Stakeholders report that developing a clear vision and developing a school strategy is very difficult if the guidance and expectations from the system are unclear or change constantly.

Second, as with the teacher, school leaders need to have "design" capacity for reinventing education. Centres for School Leadership can provide an immediate opportunity for dedicated professional development if their offer can be easily combined with school-based work. 

Third, it is also important to consider the same mental health issues and need for working boundaries of school heads and refer them to specific support. With a shared leadership approach, some of that burden can be eased, but may be difficult to suddenly introduce such an approach in a culture which is used to and heavily relies upon hierarchical decisions. 

3.2.4Well-being of staff and pupils


This section considers the mental, physical and emotional well-being of both school staff and pupils

By moving to a blended learning approach, routines will change and pose specific challenges to the well-being and mental health of education staff, learners and parents. The move to blended learning will equally affect the ability of schools to respond to these challenges and provide support to students and staff. The COVID-19 crisis added extra mental health and well-being concerns 30 for schools and schools continue to play an important role in mitigating the negative psychological effects of the crisis.

A survey focused on learners’ worries during spring 2020 and how they were feeling during remote schooling. Across participating countries, 24%-43% of respondent learners expressed concerns about getting poor grades because of online activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic (Figure 23 below). Only in a small number of countries (50% in Austria, 52% in Slovenia), around half of the respondents disagreed with the statement “I worry that I will get poor grades because of online activities”. Moreover, between 20 and 32% in all countries responded the statement being “partly not true, partly true.”

For students to make the most out of new technologies for learning, previous studies show that developing positive attitudes towards learning can help. In blended learning, they can also be crucial in supporting learners to overcome some of the potential challenges, for example, those posed by online learning. 31 Parents, together with teachers, play a fundamental role in supporting students to develop these attitudes. The results of this study show that designing targeted activities and support material (for example, guidelines), which aim to reduce the burden on parents and teachers, would be needed to maximise the potential of remote schooling when regular in-person instruction cannot take place.

Figure 26: Student concerns about getting poor grades because of online activities

Within the Digital Education Action Plan open public consultation, almost 40% of education institutions reported that they would have liked to have received more guidance on how to support mental health and well-being of staff and learners.

To help address the issue of mental health related to the spread of the COVID-19 virus, a temporary network of European not-for-profit organizations was established on EU Health Policy platform. 32 The objective of the network is to share knowledge and practices on COVID-19-related mental health issues and develop a set of guidance documents that can help address the mental health aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Identifying causes of anxiety and stress

There may be various reasons for increase in anxiety levels and concerns, not only in the context of a crisis that would force full distance learning, 33 but still potentially also in any blended learning approach. Anxiety and stress can lead to de-motivation in both teaching and learning, and further isolation. The causes include:

·Potential loss of immediate contact with friends or colleagues;

·Increase of workload and responsibility caused by the change in approach (e.g. more project-based, more preparation) or by “adding on” distance learning tasks, rather than co-ordinating between the environments;

·Concerns about how work will be assessed, and efforts recognised;

·Concern about the impact on university (final year students) or career prospects (pupils and teachers) if the distance learning aspects are not embedded or valued;

·Loss of structure that school can provide – and equally the stress of changes to familiar rules and routines;

·Loss of a ‘safe’ place away from difficult or dangerous home environments for some children;

·Extended exposure to digital screens or stress caused by cyber-bullying.

Simply identifying the possible causes is the first step to developing ways to prevent, mitigate or overcome such problems.

Developing guidance for the whole school community

A well-being approach, including for blended learning, will need to take into account children, teaching staff as well as parents and administrative and management staff. One cannot ensure the well-being of one group without paying attention to the well-being of all the other groups in a schools’ eco-system.

Guidance may be provided – by the school or local/national authorities - on an array of issues to help pupils and teachers cope with any amount of reduced time on the school campus, such as:

·Maintaining individual social contacts and a sense of being a part of the school community (see chapter on School Community);

·Managing own expectations and motivations for development and time management for completing school tasks;

·A positive use and personal management of digital tools and social media; and supporting the application of data protection rules to children

·Balanced diet and daily exercise. 34  

Developing competences for life

In this context, the key competence “Personal, Social and Learning to learn” 35 , as described in the 2018 Council Recommendation on Key Competences for Lifelong Learning 36 becomes relevant to look at. This competence is defined as “the ability to reflect upon oneself, effectively manage time and information, work with others in a constructive way, remain resilient and manage one’s own learning and career”. Specifically, attention can be directed towards the following:

·Personal area, including self-regulation, flexibility and wellbeing;

·Social area, including empathy, communication and collaboration;

·Learning to learn area, including growth mind-set, critical thinking and managing learning.

In a blended learning approach, consideration will have to be given to how this competence can be effectively nurtured and (self-) evaluated in both the school site and other environments. The environments are complementary and a blended approach may be beneficial in bringing the two closer together. Given the emphasis on self-direction and reflection, the competence is a necessary part of ensuring blended learning works well. In other words, the competence is developed both for and through blended learning.

Promoting a healthy lifestyle through sports and physical activity

Formal school education contributing to encouraging lifelong habits and attitudes to a healthy lifestyle

School education contributes by offering a shared space for physical and social interaction, typically in the form of physical play. The breaks in between lessons are an important time to be outdoors, be physically mobile, and enjoy games that are governed by certain rules (make believe or simple challenges, as well as sports). This may be complemented by lessons or school campaigns that focus on a balanced diet or understanding the importance of regular exercise.

Physical activity in young people fell away during the pandemic, and yet a healthy body is needed to combat viruses. The pandemic has contributed to the rethink on making the most of time on the school site and is a serious consideration in the design of blended learning. Schools also need to have at least a basic level of safe and well-functioning equipment and spaces for such activities.

“My two daughters, high school students in second and final this year, have been living distance learning intermittently since last year. The eldest takes several kilos … because it is the way she has found to compensate for the stress of this isolation.” (Parent)

School education contributing to skills development in sports and other games

Schools are partly responsible for developing the motor and tactical skills of young people that can help them participate in individual and team activities in their lives. Physical education is part of the curriculum (although whether it is core, wider or extra-curricular may vary between schools, regions or systems).

Schools are able to introduce young people to a wide variety of sports and activities – indoors and outdoors, with or without equipment - that may spark and interest to pursue one or more outside of school. This then needs some continuity with parents and community organisations to support the child to participate if they express an interest.

Some schools offer their campuses for vacation activity camps. This can help draw children from the local area to a familiar and accessible environment to continue these physical and social activities outside of the school semester.

Some schools work in partnership with local sports clubs or arts organisations, where teachers and pupils can benefit from working with professional players/artists or coaches/workshop leaders. The Council conclusions on the role of coaches in society 37  and on access to sport for persons with disabilities 38 recognise the role of coaches in promoting sport and physical activity particularly among children and adolescents.

School education supporting young people in high-level performance programmes

Some children have particular talents and are part of regional or national programmes to accelerate their development for national representation or leading to a professional contract. These young people need help to balance their daily training with continuing their general education.

This is a minority group of learners but no less important. There are European examples, such as the Estonian gymnasium where athletes in the Olympic programme can study at a distance and still be part of the school (see Example K below). Voetbal Vlaanderen” 39 is another example from the Flemish Community of Belgium, supporting the combination of school and football training.

Making time for dialogue within the school day

Blended learning could act as a catalyst for extra opportunities to support the well-being of pupils and teachers, in that the increased attention to effective modes of communication may inspire the use of tools (for example, well-being apps or social media groups) that can offer more individualised support to each person and situation.

However, the importance of in-person (same physical space) contact and socialising - by pupils with pupils, teachers with pupils, teachers with families, and teachers with teachers - cannot be underestimated. In a blended learning approach the “on-site” contact time could usefully prioritise opportunities for pupils and school staff to have informal exchanges and discussions about experiences and strategies for well-being, alongside curriculum lessons.

Inspiration may be taken from research 40 that has documented responses to crises and from guidelines on well-being that were developed during the COVID-19 pandemic (see example below). 

EXAMPLE M: Websites for well-being at home – Luxembourg 41

In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, the web portal schouldoheem was created, with simple guidance and resources to improve well-being. The aim was to support teachers, learners and parents with concrete pieces of advice for the period of confinement. A series of articles has been elaborated by experts from the socio-educational sector in Luxembourg, and is updated regularly, including with videos. The web portal is available in five languages, Luxembourgish, English, French, German and Portuguese.

3.2.5Inclusion and targeted support to learners


This section discuss both the benefits and challenges of blended learning for learners in particular circumstances.

Inclusion in education may be understood broadly as a system in and around schools which places strong emphasis on supportive, quality learning environments. Students’ emotional, physical, cognitive and social needs are addressed, and each student’s talents are recognised. Students have opportunities to have their opinions heard. Parents and wider multidisciplinary teams and agencies actively participate in the school community. Schools actively seek to prevent discrimination and to meet diverse needs of marginalised and vulnerable students. School climates are learner-centred, welcoming and caring environments

Inclusive systems seek to prevent discrimination. Inclusive systems in and around schools especially prioritise the differentiated needs of marginalised and vulnerable groups, including those at risk of early school leaving and alienation from society. 42  

Recognising the centrality of a relational school climate, the ET2020 Working Group Schools report on tackling early school leaving treats learner-centred, welcoming and caring environments as part of inclusive education. 43 Important in any school or system strategy for blended learning will be how to take a balanced approach to supporting learner needs (meaning social and emotional as well as cognitive), ensuring that students have agency and are supported in any learning environment, creating positive interactions through the use of different tools.

Benefits of blended learning to learners in specific circumstances

Online and distance learning can have benefits for specific groups of learners, for example: those who are hospitalised; those who follow high performance sports programmes; or those who cannot attend school for other reasons.

Some schools who have a full-functioning on-site campus offer a full-time distance learning option for certain pupils. These schools do not necessarily offer a blend of environments during a period of study but they are able to include pupils who would not otherwise attend.

EXAMPLE N: Campus schools with a full-time distance learning option

The  International School of Berne  in Switzerland have an “online school” which caters for students who cannot attend the campus except for occasional activities and graduation. These students include those on high-performance sports programmes. The online programme is run by an external company  based in Dubai, UAE.

The Audentes School in Tallinn, Estonia, combines an International (IB) school, with an e-gymnasium (online). It has been created especially for all student athletes who might miss classes due to systematic training. It gives students the unique chance to acquire secondary school education online, without going to school on a daily basis. The Audentes Sports School focuses on the principles of wisdom, health and balance, and for that reason, educators encourage an active lifestyle, practising sports from an early age. E-gymnasium teachers have long-term teaching experience, both in the classroom and in a virtual learning environment, and have followed several training courses for teaching and mentoring. The resulting e-learning environment offers:

- Affordable education for all ages and levels

- Flexibility in learning

- Thorough support during students’ learning experience through clear action plans and a counselling system

- Opportunities for higher education.  

A well-known distance learning example with a 70-year history is the Australian “School of the Air”. This was developed in 1951, using the existing radio communication of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Although pupils are hundreds of kilometres apart from each other and their teachers, the “School of the Air” at Alice Springs makes a concerted effort to maintain a sense of school identity and community. They offer residential camps each year so that the pupils can interact in a shared physical space.

There are schools across Europe and the world that may be termed “virtual” schools because they do not have a campus and yet offer a full curriculum with teacher support. 44 They depend on support from families, which can include financial cost to maintain the school as an online organisation. This can be a popular option for parents who wish to teach their children at home and yet need support themselves.

EXAMPLE O: “Bednet” for pupils with a long-term illness or recuperation

With the help of Bednet, pupils with a long-term illness or in extended recuperation can continue to receive education. Bednet connects the sick student to their class group via computer: it creates a live connection between them and their classmates, whereby the absent child is visible on a flat screen at the back of the classroom. Not only does the student keep up with the curriculum, they also keep in touch with the class. Bednet is available for pre-school children from the age of 5, as well as primary and secondary school pupils in all certified state-subsidised schools in Flanders and Brussels. Equipment and counselling are free for schools and families for as long as they are needed. Since 2005 when Bednet was launched, 1,593 children have used it in 1,111 Flemish schools.  

There are examples of schools – both with a campus or who visit the pupil in their own environment – that cater for children in particular circumstances. These include: Bednet  45  in Flanders, Belgium, for hospitalised and chronically ill children (see example above); “@uora” in Italy for young people in prisons and young offenders institutions 46 ; and iScoil  47 in Ireland for children aged 13-16 who have disengaged with mainstream education (see example below). A number of schools for the children of circus performers are members of the European Network for Traveller Education. 48  

EXAMPLE P: ‘iScoil’ for disengaged learners

iScoil is a non-profit online learning service addressing the problem of early school leaving and educational disadvantage in Ireland, so that young people can achieve their full potential. iScoil has a fully online approach and a blended approach that combines in-centre and online learning.

In partnership with local services and agencies, iScoil has created a safe place to learn, where young people receive personalised learning programmes based on their unique needs, interests and abilities. Each day, online tutors and mentors review the student’s work, provide feedback on it, and adapt the next day’s learning plan as needed. Apart from re-engaging students with education, this service also offers employment opportunities by building a portfolio of work for students. Since its launch, iScoil has awarded 1146 certificates to 437 young people.

The evidence is that the approach is effective but such organisations are not technically “schools”. iScoil grew out of a project in the UK, called NotSchool, led by Stephen Heppell:  

For more information, see:

Young carers are children and young people under the age of 18 who provide care for a parent or relative in the community, usually within their own home. They can be required to perform personal and practical tasks for their parents or other family members, often without any help or support from welfare agencies. Many children provide care at great personal expense – they are deprived of their childhood, many miss out on educational opportunities, few have established friendships or other support networks. Young carers are at greater risk of not completing their formal education and are less able to enter into higher education reducing their life chances and increasing their social exclusion. 49

Disadvantaged learners during the pandemic

With the move to Emergency Remote Teaching in spring 2020 and the potential for further disruption in the 2020–21 school year, there were concerns that disadvantaged learners will fall behind and inequalities will grow. Stakeholders have noted the need to ensure access to digital devices and connectivity, as well as to ensure the quality of instruction.

The COVID-19 pandemic is believed to have exacerbated already existing socio-economic inequalities in children’s learning opportunities at home. A recent study 50 from Denmark finds that the difference in takeout of digital children’s book from libraries between more and less advantaged families was higher during the early periods of lockdown compared to the pre-pandemic period. There is also evidence that during the lockdown children from higher socio-economic status have spent more time in learning than those from lower socio-economic status. A survey carried out in the UK during the months of April and May 2020 shows that while students from households in the top income quintile spend about 5.8 hours per day on educational activities, the corresponding figure for those in the bottom income quintile is approximately 4.5 hours 51 . As a result of a home environment less conducive to learning and less time spent in learning, students from less advantaged backgrounds are likely to have suffered a particularly significant learning loss. This conclusion is supported by a Dutch study 52 showing that the learning loss experienced by primary school students from homes with lower levels of formal education is up to 55% larger than that suffered by their more advantaged peers.

Attention to students at-risk of early school leaving was recognised as particularly important. At-risk students include those with low socio-economic status, special education needs, ethnic minorities, migrants, and/or living in rural and remote areas, including the outermost regions and island communities. Some students are unable to learn effectively independently and were therefore disengaged from their studies during school shutdown. The key issue is the availability of another to act as mentor. If students are learning in a distance environment, they may need someone to provide additional pastoral support. 53

“There is a need to train and employ more Roma and other minority staff in in-person and online educational settings, including teaching and learning support workers. This would make a strong statement about the commitment to diversity and inclusion but, most importantly, it would go a long way in better integrating minority students and responding to their unique needs.” (A European organisation supporting Roma communities)

Ongoing support for special needs education was also considered to be vital. Children who have learning difficulties are potentially the most at-risk students in a context of isolation. Many parents are not equipped to assist special needs children. Where available, adaptive technologies can work very well for many, but not all. For example, many children with behavioural problems cannot work well in an online setting. Strategies to address the needs of these at-risk learners and their families are vital.

Eurochild’s Growing Up in Lockdown report 54 reflects on the impact of the pandemic on children. It compiles information gathered from 25 countries across Europe, and provides recommendations for improving public policies in the short and long-term to support better outcomes for children and families. For children already living in poverty it meant increased hunger if they missed out on free school meals. The impact of the pandemic on children in alternative care education had to be provided online which staff were not always equipped to deal with. Just as parents in family homes struggled with home schooling, staff in residential facilities do not necessarily have the teaching skills, digital skills or equipment needed to support online education. Unaccompanied minors who were studying have lost their opportunity to participate in educational activities. There were also positive developments and examples of good practice to emerge from this situation. In Belgium, for example, community organisations joined forces to put pressure on public authorities, as a result of which there has been more attention to children and their rights.

Assistive technologies for learners with physical disabilities, autism and other needs

Assistive technologies have the potential to expand access for learners with physical disabilities as well as those with autism and other learning needs. Technologies and digital instruction applications may be adapted to meet a spectrum of learner needs.

Stakeholders have noted, however, that some learners - for example, those with behavioural challenges - have not been able to continue learning in a fully online environment, and they and their parents/carers may need additional support to benefit from blended learning environments.· Research has found that home visits that focused on providing information to parents and helping them to cope could support improved cognitive and social behavioural outcomes for learners (based on 36 two -hour visits a year) 55 .

Additional concerns have to do with the expense of some technologies. While some Member States fully fund assistive technologies for learners with disabilities, this is by no means widespread 56 .

A key feature of inclusive learning environments lies in the accessibility and usability of blended learning tools. Not only do students from lower socio-economic status need to have access and be able to use digital technologies, but this should also hold for other categories of disadvantaged students such as those with learning difficulties or special needs. In this context, the concept of ‘universal design’ plays an important role as it refers to those apps or websites that can be accessed by students with disabilities without assistance 57 .

Creating online learning materials in line with universal design means that these products should be usable by all students including those with physical, visual, hearing, learning, and attention problems. In an attempt to fulfil this need, the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework 58 stresses the importance of setting up a curriculum that provides multiple means of : a) representation (that give learners different ways to acquire knowledge and information), b) expression (that give learners various tools to express themselves and communicate their thoughts and ideas), and c) engagement (different ways are used to encourage learners to complete a task or, more in general, to motivate them).

Amongst other recommendations, experts call for a guarantee of pedagogical and speech therapy reinforcement, with each student with hearing impairments given support to transfer both tools and techniques from the school site to distance learning environments and online learning. 59 .

Individual support and personal tutoring

There is evidence that disadvantaged learners benefit from individual support and personal tutoring. This might traditionally take place mostly in school, complemented by visits from home-school liaison officers who work also with the families to better support their own children’s learning. Consideration should be made as to how such individual support by trained staff can most effectively operate when the teaching and learning is both on the school site and also at a distance, for example in maintaining home visits and online individual sessions.

EXAMPLE Q: Home-School Liaison Scheme (HSCL), Ireland

The HSCL Scheme is a preventative strategy, targeted at pupils who are at risk of not reaching their potential in the education system, due to circumstances in their background. It focuses directly on the adults in children's lives, in order that they may be better able to support the children’s attendance, participation and retention in the education system. The Scheme seeks to promote partnership between families and schools, bring parents closer to their children’s learning and build parent capacity for learning support, so that they are enabled to contribute to children’s successful experience in the education system. Children at risk of Early School Leaving are identified in consultation with School Management.

HSCL Coordinators are teachers who receive 4 days induction training upon appointment to the HSCL position. In addition, the Senior Management Team liaises directly with schools and HSCL cluster groups to ensure that there is consistency of approach and to jointly select and implement initiatives which are agreed to be most appropriate for a specific school or area.

Continuous Professional Development (CPD) is ongoing for all HSCL Coordinators and practitioners to deliver high quality modules, both at national and local level. As part of the school staff, HSCL Coordinators also receive training in relation to Child Protection and Special Educational Needs.  

Engaging at-risk students through extra-curricular activities

Blended learning also extends to community-based activities. For many learners, extra-curricular activities in community centres may support motivation and engagement. Extra-curricular activities support identity formation, the development of social competences and achievement orientation. Research has found positive benefits from extra-curricular programmes with high levels of organisation, structure and regularity and which emphasise age-appropriate goal setting, development and which involved leadership by one or more competent adults. 60

Supporting pupil sense of identity and belonging

Pupils may benefit from additional measures – both on the school site and in distance environments - to ensure their sense of value and belonging to the school community as an important part of motivation for learning. Attention may be paid to the (short) time delay in giving feedback on some distance learning tasks, compared to shared space (teacher and pupils together) where feedback is more immediate. Some learning tasks may also be more deliberately set as group tasks to compensate for other times where learning is highly independent. Other opportunities outside of structured learning tasks may also be considered for pupils to communicate (with each other and with school staff or external stakeholders) on a range of topics that are meaningful to them, but which add to their sense of belonging to a supportive school community.

Parental involvement

A blended learning approach may call on greater parental engagement in their children’s learning. Younger children in early childhood education and care and primary levels will require greater parental guidance and support. Learners in lower and upper secondary school levels may be perceived as more “mature” and therefore better able to work without parental supervision, however this cannot be assumed.

Schools may work in close partnership with parents to set high expectations for their children’s learning, which, together with greater student ownership for their own studies (rather than parental surveillance), is associated with better learning outcomes. 61 Parents should be supported to learn the ‘language of learning’ so that their children have consistent messages of support 62 .

There are ways in which schools and municipalities may take a differentiated and systemic approach to parental involvement in education to prevent early school leaving 63 . These may include community-based family support centres where multidisciplinary teams focus on child and parent mental health, emotional support and school attendance; and, community-based lifelong learning centres providing both non-formal and formal learning. Community centres may be co-located with schools as a way to open schools to the local community after school hours.

Parent support may be particularly necessary where the child learner has physical disabilities or the family has a very low income, both of which may lead to reduced access to learning environments and tools compared to other families.

While this might be at the boundaries of a blended learning approach within the school’s remit for learning, it is an important way to engage with parents and build bridges with municipalities. Following the view that "schools do not define education, and they are not the only institutions in which learning takes place" 64 , a blended learning approach may enable this to become a reality by allowing a school or system to redefine school both in terms of the environment (where) and the tools (with what). However, this is only possible with the necessary support and resources.

Involvement of other stakeholders

Cooperation with professionals and services in different areas (such as social workers, youth services and organisations, intercultural mediators, nurses and doctors, psychologists and other therapists, NGOs and other community-based organisations from sport, cultural environment and active citizenship sectors, police, local authorities, and others) can be very beneficial to support the learners and support schools also in the design and the implementation of blended learning.

Hindered progression: addressing fears of “learning loss”

Some stakeholders are reported to have expressed a concern that learners may experience significant setbacks as a result of the recent experiences of predominantly distance learning. These concerns may prevail and cause a reluctance to intentionally develop any form of similar blended learning approach.

Research on ‘learning loss’ following summer holidays may be relevant to these concerns but it is inconclusive. For example, one study in the US found that students at higher grade levels are more likely to experience learning loss following summer holidays (with results for gender and ethnicity constant). 65 However, following the earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, there was no evidence of learning loss, even though schools were closed for weeks. 66

In July 2020, UNICEF published a paper on trends and emerging “good” practices to support the most vulnerable children when re-opening school sites. 67 Whilst this provides an overview of typical concerns measures, the context is of the early months of the pandemic. Nevertheless, its overarching recommendations may be understood as useful principles for any situation where there is a concern for certain pupils being at a disadvantaged following a period away from school; to:

-identify and reach out to vulnerable pupils;

-make support available;

-leverage existing initiatives;

-continue to monitor the effectiveness of initiatives.

Expressing where a learner is expected to be in terms of competence development or curriculum content goals compared to where they are is not the same as “losing” knowledge or a skill, which implies no longer being able to recall or do something that was previously known or done. The difference between these two concepts should be acknowledged when analysing evidence or planning action. In this context, the concept of “loss” may be misleading. Furthermore, the speed at which a learner may return to a previous (higher) level of competence is not necessarily the same as the first instance of progression.

Another potentially misleading narrative is the perceived “loss of earnings” (negative impact on future income from employment) that has been used by journalists, policy makers and parents alike to justify arguments against school site closures. Unfortunately, no conclusive evidence is available until the children of current school age reach the age of employment. Economists and other researchers do regularly update their opinion on what a year of schooling equals in monetary terms, or the “return on investment”. 68 However, this has been newly put alongside figures describing how many days pupils have not been on the school site in order to calculate a perceived impact of school site closures on those children’s future income. It assumes that schools and teachers will have largely failed in their efforts of Emergency Remote Teaching and will be unable to help students to “catch up” to expected learning outcomes in the future.

The concern for disadvantaged learners is not new, and with some evidence. The Education Endowment Foundation has tried to quantify “learning loss” during the pandemic in a recent report. 69 It claims to confirm learning loss which is increased due to disadvantage. However, the report does not link this to future earnings.

Any hindering of learner progression resulting from prolonged school closure in 2020 and 2021 is likely to have been compounded by stress related to the crisis. Research from this period may not be useful to predict what is likely to happen if blended learning is embedded in a more strategic and gradual way.

To address the more immediate concerns, it will be vital for teachers and school to assess gaps in learner competence and to develop plans for remediation. Attention to essential elements of curricula may also be important. Studies have focused on the “over-crowding of curricula” that is common across countries, and suggested that a focus on core concepts is more effective than broad coverage. The counter concern is that a narrowing of the curriculum will have a negative impact on the broad competence development of future generations. 70

Learning software that scaffolds learning according to individual needs may support learners to address gaps in their learning according to what the curriculum expectations are for their age group. For example, some learning programmes automatically direct learners to additional learning materials where their responses demonstrate a need for other prior learning before progressing to new learning tasks.

Learners may also benefit from peer support – either in conversation with senior pupils in the school or using social media tools (e.g. discussion boards, blogs, wikis, shared ePortfolios).

Many examples of ways to address the needs of individual learners, developed during projects and initiatives, exist in the European Toolkit for Schools (see Chapter 4 and footnote). 71

3.2.6Quality assurance and building evidence for future development

Image: stem.T4L on

This section focuses on the ways in which established quality assurance processes may be usefully adapted to support blended learning.

Ministries recognise that guidance is crucial for supporting teachers, schools, and parents in their collective endeavour for maintaining and further developing quality education. During the period of school site closures and re-openings in 2020, topics within national published guidelines included: what and how to plan reopening of the school; teaching and learning processes; well-being and psychological support; pupils with Special Education Needs; and communication with parents.

Conditions for effective quality assurance for school development include ensuring ownership of the process through meaningful dialogue and actions, and an opportunity for 'out of the box' thinking and creativity, with an emphasis on improvement more than quality ‘control’. 72 Recent research-based recommendations point towards an effective interplay between internal and external quality assurance mechanisms – in order to ensure that they best serve school development and innovation. Blending internal and external evaluation and feedback would seem to make sense where the teaching and learning is also taking place in diverse environments.

Stakeholders emphasised that processes and people should avoid judgmental approaches and encourage the sharing of professional practice in a critically reflective manner. For example, the shift to Emergency Remote Teaching has prompted systemic change in the work of the inspectors in Ireland. 73  Inspectorates may themselves provide guidelines and tools such as frameworks with quality indicators which also take into account blended learning to be used in school self-evaluation, or toolkits and guidance documents. These will ideally include the same indicators used by inspectors.

There are five areas for consideration in which established quality assurance processes may be usefully adapted to support a new blend of school site and distance learning:

1.How to evaluate, feed back on, and adapt the teaching and learning that happens outside of school, including assessment, and the combination of school site and distance teaching and learning

2.How to evaluate, feed back on, and adapt the school climate/culture from a school site and distance perspective (sense of community and identity, students’ and teachers’ well-being, working conditions, relationships with stakeholders)

3.How to evaluate, feed back on, and adapt the management of staff ;

4.How to monitor practices and new developments across the system that takes into account both distance and school site teaching and learning

5.How to manage and incorporate evaluation and feed back of/via other providers (e.g. broadcast media, publishers, private organisations)

Figure 27: Five areas for adapting established quality assurance processes

Teaching and learning that happens outside of school, and the combination of school site and distance teaching and learning

If distance learning is not included in quality assurance – i.e. not inspected or at least self-evaluated and reported – it not only misses an opportunity for valuable feedback but also runs the risk of a poor reputation compared to other “regulated” learning environments. 74 Actions that could be considered include self-evaluation by the teachers, with or without self-reflection tools, and peer evaluation by other teachers (internal evaluation). 75 This could be complemented by inspectors (external evaluation) joining online sessions 76 as well as classroom visits and guidelines to teachers on how to evaluate their own practices in blended learning. Inspectors’ advice can help schools to develop the most appropriate strategy for their learners, and help teachers to design a blended learning process that is fully inclusive, engaging and effective.

EXAMPLE R: Distance Learning Evaluation Tool

The Distance Learning Evaluation Tool is a joint initiative between the UAE Ministry of Education (MoE), the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK) and the Sharjah Private Education Authority Ministry of Education (SPEA) designed to evaluate the quality of distance learning provided by public and private schools in the UAE.

Teams from these organisations interviewed principals and teachers at public and private schools across the UAE to discuss the implementation of distance learning by their schools, and to gain an understanding of how it can be improved. The evaluation covers: a) Students’ distance learning and wellbeing, b) Teaching and monitoring of students’ learning c) Leading and managing students’ learning. Each of these zones is subdivided into themes, which are supported by descriptors. Evaluation criteria and processes were developed and piloted with a number of public and private schools and insights gained during these pilot evaluations were used. Each school evaluation will be conducted remotely and is expected to take approximately five hours. It will include online meetings with the principal and senior leadership team, as well as remote observation of lessons.  

Learning Management Systems (LMSs) may be used to track key indicators regarding pupil progression in both school site and in distance learning environments. LMSs may be used to highlight students who are at risk of disengaging from school 77 , although this will not happen automatically and requires a conscious focus by the teacher or school to analyse the data.

Although constructed with an older age group of students in mind, the various guidelines for the quality assurance of distance and e-learning in higher education can still be very relevant and useful. ENQA’s 2018 Considerations for quality assurance of e-learning provision outlines a number of different considerations and indicators for external and internal evaluation of processes and programmes. For example:

“As with traditional, campus-based provision, external quality assurance will take into account an institution’s particularities – e-learning included. Usually the procedure will include the involvement of relevant stakeholders at all levels. The teaching and learning process, the learning resources, the VLE [virtual learning environment], and the student support system for e-learning will be additionally considered. It is a good opportunity for institutions to demonstrate their involvement in pedagogical innovation projects and the involvement of stakeholders (students and teaching staff involved with e-learning) in the design of methodologies.” 78

Evaluating the school climate/culture from a school site and distance perspective

Evaluating the sense of community and identity, students’ and teachers’ well-being, working conditions, and relationships with stakeholders needs to be done from both a school site and distance perspective.

As an internal (within the school community) approach to generating data and facilitating useful dialogue, existing networks and organisations could be activated to gather feedback and offer advice and support to staff and pupils. 79 The inclusion of student voice – through student councils and other informal surveying – may be particularly valuable.

External evaluation of the school climate also requires coherent processes that can generate data about not only teaching and learning across the different environments, but also how the blended approach is working effectively in terms of staff and pupil well-being and the sense of community. Stakeholder engagement in school evaluations - to understand the impact of distance learning on teacher and student well-being and achievement - can support efforts to engage parents and other community stakeholders, including researchers, in improvement and innovation.

Evaluating the management of staff

The combination of school site and distance learning poses challenges in terms of organisation of work and workload of teachers. Teachers’ work needs to be organised in such a way as to provide the best education to all students, with additional support to the most vulnerable. This may be added to existing evaluation of staff resources. Workload is related to teacher well-being and may also be considered when evaluating the broad school climate/culture (see above).

Effective links between the school strategy for learning and the professional development of its staff should also be evaluated and improved where appropriate.

Monitoring practices and new developments across the system

National surveys help to gain diverse perspectives on a broad range of topics. 80 During the school site closures and since, numerous international and national surveys have been deployed 81 as a way of better understanding school, teacher and student experiences. Without overburdening stakeholders with feedback mechanisms, such practices may be usefully continued in order to monitor the ongoing situation.

In the short-term, evaluations may address what has worked well in the context of Emergency Remote Teaching and other innovations that might be carried forward in the context of developing a blended learning approach. Identification of areas for improvement and remediation to address any learning losses and impacts on well-being are also important.

Inspectors themselves may also share effective practices based on their broad view of schools working in a range of contexts. They may also share their own insights and professional judgment on elements of an effective practice which are relevant for a particular school, and how these may be tailored to the school’s own context.

High-quality qualitative and quantitative data on school performance provided to schools in user-friendly formats may support their analysis of successes and areas for improvement. Data should be relevant, valid and reliable. Digital tools and artificial intelligence have the potential to support systems in interpreting large amounts data, to compare their progress with schools working in similar contexts, and to track the school performance over time. However, such analysis across the system should take into account the specific context of each school as ideally providing unique learning experiences tailored to the needs of their learners.

Resources developed through a process of in-depth consultation with education practitioners and that provide sufficient flexibility for schools to adapt them to their own context are likely to be more user-friendly and relevant across a system.

As emphasised within the stakeholder consultation, it is equally important to exchange on which approaches have not worked so well, as much as the “success stories” to prevent same mistakes being made.

Evaluation and feedback of/via other providers

As reported above, numerous countries activated broadcast media (television and radio) to provide learning content to a mass pupil audience. 82 However, in the context of quality assurance, how those providers are evaluated alongside other education providers is less clear and may need to be reviewed.

Also as reported above, private organisations (website hosts, software developers, app designers) can help to shape learning experiences. Strict protocols on data protection withstanding, these providers may generate useful feedback to systems and schools. This could be generated directly from learner responses, for example “likes”, comments, and quiz responses.

External partners – or “critical friends” 83 - such as teachers and school leaders from other schools, representatives of a local authority, or researchers may also provide external advice. They are seen as trusted peers from outside the school who can provide evaluative feedback and bring new insights while also developing their own evaluation skills. It may be that the community of critical friends is extended to include educational technology developers and NGOs that have a good level of expertise in online learning and the use of digital tools.

4. Supporting the development of blended learning within primary and secondary education

4.Supporting the development of blended learning within primary and secondary education 

This chapter outlines potential first steps in addressing the design, implementation and monitoring of blended learning in primary and secondary education. It describes existing EU frameworks and tools that can support the European school education community.

The Recommendation is based on the premise that, to be more inclusive, and to enable broad competence development, teachers and schools need to better integrate (blend) different environments and tools within engaging and effective learning tasks.  

In consultation with the ET2020 Working Group Schools in 2020 (representatives of ministries of education and European education stakeholder organisations) it was emphasised that, to make such a blended learning approach effective, schools and systems need to continually develop their approaches to both the design of learning (the learning process that is created by the teacher) and the design of schooling (the way that schools and systems are organized and managed). The main stakeholders involved are pupils, teachers, school leaders and parents/families. This ongoing developmental work should be supported by collaboration within and between communities and quality assurance mechanisms. 

As described in Chapter 2, blended learning is not new. Young people have been learning on and away from the school site – at home; in museums and sports centres; at famrs, factories and other work places – for decades. The questions it raises are also not new: how can schools embed different tools, including powerful digital technology, and different tasks into pedagogical practice, in order to extend learning beyond the physical classroom and maximise its role in teaching, learning and assessment? How can systems move beyond a learning design that is dominated by older tools, such as paper textbooks? How can learners take more ownership of their learning in advance of class and how can the teacher become more of a facilitator than dominating the process? How can they connect with other learners and inspiring experts who are outside the walls of their classroom? How can meaningful learning experiences be created where learners are equipped with the confidence and competences to become lifelong learners?

What the recent experiences have highlighted is that these questions cannot be answered by teachers alone - action needs to be embedded into all aspects of the school education system.

This chapter highlights potential first steps in addressing the implementation and monitoring of blended learning in primary and secondary education. It describes existing EU frameworks and tools that can support the European school education community.

Figure 28: Considerations for a blended learning approach and ongoing school education development

4.1    Challenges for implementation

A clear lesson that has been learnt – not only from the pandemic but also from recent reforms – is that change in education requires a clear vision and a co-ordinated approach by the whole of the system. This includes ongoing dialogue with all stakeholder groups to ensure that their needs are reflected in any changes, that decisions are informed by evidence, and that stakeholders can take forward the work, motivated with a sense of ownership.

In 2020, a number of systems brought in new legislation to give a legal basis for permitting and supporting certain practices and levels of decision-making by schools and local authorities. This experience is one that could be a useful basis for the future development of school education.

Another challenge, well-known but highlighted by the pandemic, is ensuring and prioritising sufficient investment in not only learning tools and environments, but also in the existence, working conditions and professional development of qualified staff (as explored in Chapter 3).

This section briefly explores these challenges, highlighting the key areas that Member States may take into consideration.

4.1.1 Clear vision and co-ordinated approach by the whole of the system

“First, the big vision and the big picture should be laid out in an overall document, such as a master plan. Above all, this document should set out in a well-founded way how the individual ideas and measures it contains are meaningfully interrelated and mutually supportive. Second, it needs sufficient space and resources for communication. Hierarchical and systematic communication with [ministry] departments is just as important here as exchange at the level of specialist expertise in a horizontal manner with stakeholders and experts. Third, all activities should tie in as much as possible with developments and processes already in the system.”

(Ministry representative)

As highlighted in consultations with stakeholders, the importance of having a clear rationale and set of goals for any change cannot be underestimated. This needs to be explored and articulated by, and on behalf of, all stakeholder groups. This does not necessarily need to be a complete change of approach but may be linked with existing developments and priorities. With research literature highlighting sources of teacher and school leader stress and burnout as being the increase of bureaucracy and delivery demands with fewer resources 84 , it would seem prudent to consider how new national plans are communicated and what the expectations are.

Figure 27 (below) presents different elements of the system that need to be engaged in developing a blended learning approach:

·Governing bodies: the Ministry of Education and other system authorities;

·Evidence and monitoring: research community, expert networks and quality assurance agents (including inspectorates);

·Formal education institutions: early learning settings, schools, VET institutions and universities and colleagues (higher education);

·Wider community: support organisations (which may include trade unions), families, and public services;

·Resources industry: providers of tools and environments, taking into account the needs of people within the system.

Whilst each element is known in isolation what must happen in order to better integrate distance learning environments and a range of learning tools is to have more effective relationships between these elements. These relationships will need to be articulated and supported at national level, which can also be supported at EU level.

For example, the important role of the education resources industry, particular education technology, should be acknowledged. On one hand, the education technology industry can provide ready-made hardware and software, and, on the other, effective dialogue could help to design solutions to issues such as rethinking approaches to assessment for a whole system. There also needs to be a close relationship between research, the governing bodies and the institutions in order to support the continual emergence of evidence and inform policy-making as well as local practice.

Networking on regional levels can also help with maintaining these relationships and with adapting and implementing national plans.

Figure 29: The roles and relationships between education stakeholders 85  

As described in Chapter 2 (2.1.2), the experiences of education stakeholders during the pandemic may have a strong impact on their motivation for and against areas of development or “change”. Those leading future action – whether a central authority, municipal director, or school head – will need to be sensitive to very different points of view. It will be important to engage with stakeholders to reflect on recent and ongoing experiences in order to create a collective positive approach to developing learning design and schooling. These approaches should acknowledge evidence from the local level and appreciate what is possible based on any new competences and relationships that have been developed by schools and educators.

4.1.2 Developing a legal basis for enabling and supporting blended learning

Legal frameworks set out expectations and principles for school education and create a, potentially flexible, structure - a “frame” – for the governing authorities (local authorities, school board, and school leadership team) carry out the necessary actions and other specific measures, in the most appropriate way.

As blended learning may be a significant change in practice for school communities, legislation may be a pre-requisite for enabling change to happen but should also be viewed as positive support and offering protection for all stakeholders.

A legal framework might, therefore, be considered useful for:

I.Authorising the use of blended learning as part of “school” education and formally valuing it for both primary and secondary education;

II.Establishing clear expectations for all schools that gives confidence to the community and system of guaranteeing the same core provision to all educators and learners;

III.Recognising the evidence base for blended learning guidelines and expectations (e.g. recent national or international research; pilot projects; planned review process for future development);

IV.Describing how curricula and assessment may be approached or adjusted to function effectively through both school site and distance learning;

V.Setting guidelines for school organisation (for example, the division of responsibility between school site and other environments; the use of Learning Management Systems and other resources; minimum or maximum hours/days of distance learning per semester) whilst being flexible and encouraging innovation of practice;

VI.Requiring that teachers and school leaders have access to high quality professional development and other support for blended learning; formally establishing collaborative peer learning networks, and adapting Initial Teacher Education and teacher competence frameworks, if appropriate;

VII.Defining related legal requirements that support blended learning to be effective (e.g. availability of support in the community; expectations for home environment; access to meals; setting boundaries or guidelines for private and non-profit providers; formal agreements with cultural organisations and broadcast media);

VIII.Identifying the necessary adaptation of established quality assurance processes;

IX.Ensure that expectations for blended learning in school education are coherent with existing frameworks at other education levels (VET, Higher Education and Adult Learning).

Legislation should be transparent about the roles and relationships between different stakeholders. Ministries, education authorities, training providers, school leadership, and the various policies and frameworks may be in a position of power or authority in the process. However, change is not possible without - and may in fact be initiated by - the teachers and their self-development and collaboration. Pupils play an equal part in enabling blended learning to function as an approach as it also depends on their own capacity to actively participate as individuals and groups in a spirit of creativity and inquiry.

4.1.3 Infrastructure: the need for investment

As Figure 27 (above) indicates that there are different areas and roles within the broad education system which each may be assumed – or designated – as responsible for improving school education.

An essential consideration is who is responsible for financing the necessary investment. During consultation discussions, stakeholders stressed that schools cannot always pay for “additional” items and families sometimes have to bear this cost.

Embedding a blended learning approach may encourage schools to work effectively with outdoor education, businesses, and cultural organisations. This may include national guidelines or specific investments like transport costs to bring pupils to new environments.

Whilst investment in human and social capital is necessary to promote a different teaching and learning culture, investment in connectivity (broadband) and digital devices is important for equity.

Open education networks may help with access to resources and open source software can lower costs. Guidance in navigating these will be necessary because it requires public institutions (local authorities and schools) negotiating with private companies. National or European standards that platforms - commercial or open source - are required to follow may help in this respect.

“The infrastructure in schools and on learning facilities outside schools should be improved, so that blended learning in different environments can be structurally implemented… This should be stimulated and facilitated by governments and supported financially.” (Teacher)

4.2European frameworks – competence and strategic guidance

Frameworks can guide professional development and curricula by defining competences. They can also guide organisational practice by defining strategies or quality standards. Whilst Member States are likely to have their own frameworks, this section describes the various EU frameworks that exist and that could be used as a reference for developing a framework at a national level for a blended learning approach.

European Commission’s Digital Competence Frameworks

Digital competence is one of the eight Key Competences for Lifelong Learning described by the European Commission (see Chapter 2.2).

The Digital Competence Framework for Citizens 86 is a five dimension framework including: (1) Information and Data Literacy, (2) Communication and Collaboration, (3) Digital Content Creation, (4) Safety, and (5) Problem Solving. The framework helps to assess the development of citizens’ competences, career guidance, and promotion using learning outcomes. Ideally its use will help to harness digital technologies for innovation and training in a process of lifelong learning to manage the need for new and changing digital skills for professional and personal development and social inclusion. 

Figure 30: Schematic View of European Commission’s Digital Competence Framework for Citizens. 

The current version is labelled DigComp 2.1 and it focuses on expanding the initial three proficiency levels to a more fine-grained eight level description as well as providing examples of use for these eight levels. Its aim is to support stakeholders with the further implementation of DigComp 87 . It has been the basis for the development of a Digital competence framework for educators (DigCompEdu), for educational organisations (DigCompOrg), and consumers (DigCompConsumers).

As evidenced in the OECD Learning Compass 2030 88 and many of the other frameworks, digital technology pervades many aspect of the education system, in both formal and non-formal learning. As such, the European Commission’s DigCompOrg framework 89 aims to support a change in teaching and learning by enhancing the organisations’ capacity for innovation and to best integrate and utilise digital tools. This approach can add value through its promotion of transparency, comparability and peer-learning.

Figure 31: Schematic View of European Commission’s Digitally Competent Educational Organisations (DigCompOrg) Framework.

The European Framework for the Digital Competence of Educators 90 addresses the key digital competences an educator should have, as a professional in his/her professional context, as well as a facilitator for the development of the learners’ digital competence. The framework describes the educators’ digital competences under 6 areas: professional engagement, teaching and learning, assessment, digital resources, empowering learners and facilitating learners’ digital competence.

The importance of DigCompEdu 91 in the context of teacher professional development is that it describes a spectrum of digital engagement, ability, and confidence. Not all educators can be expected to be highly competent in all areas and using such a framework for self-evaluation can help individuals and institutions plan their development and training needs. For this purpose, the DigCompEdu also includes a progression model.

Figure 32: Schematic view of European Commission’s Digital Competence Framework for Educators

Figure 33: Progression model of the European Commission’s DigCompEdu

Personal, Social & Learning to Learn Competence Framework (LifeComp)

Personal, Social & Learning to Learn competence is one of the eight Key Competences for Lifelong Learning described by the European Commission. ‘LifeComp’ - the European framework for Personal, Social and Learning to Learn key competence - is a recognition that this key competence is inextricably linked to – and enables - the other eight key competences. 92  

LifeComp is made up of three intertwined competence areas: ‘Personal’, ‘Social’, and ‘Learning to Learn’. Each area includes three sub-competences: Self-regulation, Flexibility, Wellbeing (Personal Area), Empathy, Communication, Collaboration (Social Area), Growth mind-set, Critical thinking, and Managing learning (Learning to learn Area). Each sub-competence has, in turn, three descriptors which generally correspond to the ‘awareness, understanding, action’ model.

These are not to be understood as a hierarchy of different levels of relevance, whereby some are prerequisites for others. Rather, all of them are to be considered complementary and necessary.

As discussed in Chapters 2 and 3, these competence areas are a pre-condition for, and can be further developed within, learning within a blended learning approach.

Figure 34: Framework for the Personal, Social & Learning to Learn Key Competence (LifeComp)

4.3European tools that support the broad school education community

This section outlines the European Commission tools that already exist to offer direct support to different education stakeholders.

Erasmus+: blended mobility and capacity building

The previous Erasmus+ programme (2014-2020) 93 has offered many opportunities to support the development of schools, school education professionals, and pupils. These opportunities will be reinforced in the new programme (2021-2027) around three main strands, and could support the development of a blended learning approach:

I.Partnerships for cooperation for any kind of school education organisations to exchange good practices, experiences and design together innovative teaching methodologies and products with their peers in other European countries. Such cooperation is an effective way to be inspired and develop competences in pedagogical approaches.

II.Professional development through mobility activities: a period spent in another school abroad or in a training course enables teachers and school leaders to develop their competences. Mobility activities are a means to address individual training needs in specific areas such as digital skills, necessary for organising blended learning.

III.Blended mobility: The Erasmus+ programme supports blended mobility, which is the combination of physical mobility of teachers or learners with a virtual component facilitating collaborative online learning exchange (for example through eTwinning - see below). Blended mobility makes an additional contribution to improving digital competence due to the online element. The next programme will strengthen and further encourage the use of virtual cooperation to complement physical mobility.

Online professional development and collaboration

eTwinning 94 is the community for schools in Europe, offering teachers and school staff a safe platform for collaboration and professional development free of charge. Teachers from 34 Erasmus+ programme countries and 10 Erasmus+ partner countries are able to develop projects and take part in thematic discussion groups, webinars and other learning events, both online and on-site. Due to its range of online tools and services, eTwinning is well-placed to support a blended learning approach.

In the "eTwinning Live" restricted area, teachers can search for other registered eTwinners and schools, connect with them and follow their activities. Teachers can access all of the online and on-site events created by eTwinners, and can also create their own. Teachers can create their own projects and activities on different topics by collaborating with two or more teachers and their students. In the "TwinSpace", visible only to those participating in a specific project, teacher and students can meet and collaborate with peers from their partner schools.

The European Commission’s School Education Gateway platform ( ), offers Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) developed by a team of online learning experts with the support of a Professional Development Advisory Board. It has now further developed its professional development offer to include both long (4-6 week) and short (1-2 week) courses for teachers, school leaders and other education staff from across Europe, plus regular webinars featuring guest experts and collaborative project leaders on different topics.

The offer includes a new long course on “Bridging Distance and In-School Learning: Blended Learning in Practice,” launched at the end of March 2021. 95

In 2022, the two platforms – eTwinning and School Education Gateway – will be integrated into a single European online platform offering a vast array of resources, tools and events to support professional, school and system development.

European Toolkit for Schools

The online European Toolkit for Schools 96 offers concrete ideas for improving collaboration within, between and beyond schools with a view to enabling all children and young people to succeed in school. School leaders, teachers, parents and other people involved in different aspects of school life can find helpful information, examples of measures and resource material to inspire their efforts in providing inclusive school education.

The Toolkit features a self-assessment questionnaire 97 to help schools evaluate their current capacity and identify areas for improvement and contains a variety of resources, ranging from research studies, project reports, to specific examples of school practices, describing how each measure was successfully implemented. It has a particular focus on measures to prevent Early School Leaving, which can have a broader application to improving the school climate and community.

SELFIE – self-evaluation tool for schools supporting a whole-school approach to technology use, digital competence, and blended learning

SELFIE (Self-reflection on Effective Learning by Fostering the use of Innovative Educational Technologies) 98 is a tool designed to help schools embed digital technologies into teaching, learning and student assessment. It can highlight what is working well, where improvement is needed and what the priorities should be. The tool was launched in 2018 and is currently available in more than 30 languages.

SELFIE gathers – anonymously – the views of students, teachers and school leaders on how technology is used in their school. This is done using short statements and questions and a simple 1-5 agreement scale. The statements cover areas such as leadership, infrastructure, teacher training and students’ digital competence. Based on this input, the tool generates a report – a snapshot “selfie” - of a school‘s strengths and weaknesses in their use of digital technologies for teaching and learning. The report can help to start a conversation on technology use and develop an action plan for the school. SELFIE can then be used at a later stage to gauge progress and adapt the action plan.

As part of the new Digital Education Action Plan 2021-2027, more features are planned for the tool regarding online and blended learning.

In the September 2020 release of the tool, following consultation with experts and schools, a number of questions for students were added on home learning 99 for example:

·Do students have an appropriate space for study?

·Can they use the digital tools and apps needed for learning?

·What do they do if they need technical help?

Further questions were added on resilience and student autonomy:

·Are students learning to handle challenges and difficulties they face in remote learning?

·How do they manage their time and structure learning?

Any school using the tool can create up to 10 questions of their own. In the case of a blended learning strategy this could include additional questions on local community partnerships or student well-being.

A new tool, SELFIE for Teachers 100 , aims to support educators’ leadership competence as well their role as innovation and change agents in their school. Through their self-reflection on their digital skills, teachers can identify their strengths and gaps to further develop their digital competence, including blended learning approaches. Through, the tool proficiency levels, educators are prompted to a progression from awareness to exploration, integration to expertise and leadership to innovation. Educators’ proficiency is also extending from teacher’s individual capacity to the school collective capacity, contributing to the school collaborative learning culture. Moreover, educators’ proficiency, is progressing from everyday blended learning practices to strategy practices on school level and beyond, enabling educators as change agents in their school community.

SELFIE for Work-Based Learning (WBL) was piloted between September and December 2020 involving around 35,000 participants from around 150 VET schools and 300 companies in 9 countries (Germany, France, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Georgia, Montenegro, Republic of Serbia, Turkey). This was undertaken by the Joint Research Centre in partnership with EfVET and the European Training Foundation and national coordinators in each country. Responses gathered so far show that many schools also intend to use SELFIE WBL once it is officially released. After further improvements, SELFIE WBL is planned to be available by mid-2021.

European Week of Sport and Healthy Lifestyle for All

The European Week of Sport was launched in 2015 to build awareness of how important an active lifestyle is for everyone. 101 The European School Sports Day 102 aims to: raise the profile of physical education (PE) and sport in schools; create fun and enjoyment through physical activity for young people; promote health and wellbeing for lifelong learning; encourage social inclusion and develop social competence amongst students; and connect schools across other European countries. The event is supported by co-ordinators and a website where schools can access resources and connect with other schools.

Following the 2017 Tartu Call for a Healthy Lifestyle 103 , the new initiative, “HealthyLifestyle4All” will be launched in 2021 and will focus on the promotion of sport, physical activity and healthy diets. The campaign will invite Member States, regional and local governments, and civil society representatives to work together.

4.4    Monitoring and evaluation of developments in blended learning


The Recommendation proposes to support Member States in monitoring the development of blended learning in the future. This is important to ensuring the legacy of the Recommendation and supporting action at local, national and European level.

There are tools available that could help in this regard:

Countries and systems may share findings from their own quality assurance mechanisms and complementary research via European peer learning and peer counselling, supported as part of the new Strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training towards the European Education Area and beyond (2021-2030). 104 The Council Resolution defines that “the strategic framework should draw on peer learning, peer counselling and the exchange of good practice, with particular focus on the dissemination and clear visibility of outcomes, as well as national impact.” Furthermore, it describes that “European cooperation in the aforementioned priority areas should be carried out by such means as peer learning and peer counselling activities, conferences and seminars, workshops, high level fora or expert groups, panels, studies and analyses, web-based cooperation and, where appropriate, with the involvement of relevant stakeholders.”

The European Commission’s Education and Training Monitor 105 gathers a wide range of evidence to indicate the evolution of national education and training systems across the European Union. The report measures countries’ progress towards agreed targets and European cooperation in education and training. It also provides insights into measures taken to address education-related issues as part of the European Semester process. 106 The Monitor offers suggestions for policy reforms that can help to make national education and training systems more responsive to societal and labour market needs. Furthermore, the report helps to identify where EU funding for education, training and skills should be targeted through the EU's next long-term budget, the Multiannual Financial Framework. The Monitor comprises a cross-country comparison and 27 in-depth country reports.

As part of the Digital Education Action Plan 2021-2027, a new European Digital Education Hub is proposed, in order to link national and regional digital education initiatives and actors; and support cross-sector collaboration and new models for exchange of digital learning content, addressing issues such as common standards, interoperability, accessibility and quality-assurance. This may also be a useful vehicle for the monitoring and evaluation of specific digital elements of blended learning. 107  

4.5    European funding for developing blended learning in primary and secondary education

Erasmus+ 108 is the EU's programme to support education, training, youth and sport. It has a budget of €26.526 billion, compared with €14.9 billion for 2014-2020. This will be complemented by about €2.2 billion from the EU’s external instruments. It will provide opportunities for millions of participants to study, train, gain experience, and volunteer abroad. In addition to offering grants, Erasmus+ also supports teaching, research, networking and policy debate on EU topics.

In 2018 the Commission proposed an ambitious research and innovation programme - Horizon Europe 109 - to succeed Horizon 2020. It has a budget of €95.5 billion to tackle climate change and help to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and to boost the EU’s competitiveness and growth. The programme facilitates collaboration and strengthens the impact of research and innovation in developing, supporting and implementing EU policies while tackling global challenges. It supports the creation and better dispersing of excellent knowledge and technologies.

The Recovery and Resilience Facility 110 will make €672.5 billion in loans and grants available to support reforms and investments undertaken by Member States. The aim is to mitigate the economic and social impact of the coronavirus pandemic and make European economies and societies more sustainable, resilient and better prepared for the challenges and opportunities of the green and digital transitions. Member States will prepare recovery and resilience plans that set out a coherent package of reforms and public investment projects. To benefit from the support of the Facility, these reforms and investments should be implemented by 2026.

The European Social Fund (ESF) 111 is Europe’s main instrument (EUR 98 billion in current prices, complemented by EUR 0.54 billion to be directly managed by the Commission) for supporting jobs, helping people get better jobs and ensuring fairer job opportunities for all EU citizens. It works by investing in Europe’s human capital – its workers, its young people and all those seeking a job. There is a great variety in the nature, size and aims of ESF projects, and they address a wide variety of target groups. There are projects aimed at education systems, teachers and schoolchildren; at young and older job-seekers; and at potential entrepreneurs from all backgrounds. People are the focus of the ESF.

The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) 112 invests in education infrastructure and equipment and creates incentives for educational reforms in the Member States. Nearly EUR 7 billion of ERDF resources have been invested in education, training and lifelong learning in the 2014-2020 programming period. This includes mainly infrastructure support, for example for early childhood education and care, primary and general secondary education, and vocational and adult education, but also e-learning equipment. This type of support will continue in the 2021-2027 period, with an ERDF specific objective aiming at improving equal access to inclusive and quality services in education, training and lifelong learning through developing accessible infrastructure, including by fostering resilience for distance and on-line education and training. In this context, ERDF could support, for example, school and out-of-school infrastructure and/or equipment to build inclusive and quality education and training, including through the provision of accessible remote learning opportunities. It could also be used for providing conditions for digital education, including access to internet, purchase of digital equipment and e-learning applications and platforms for schools, with a particular attention to marginalized students, including those living in rural and remote areas including the outermost regions and island communities.

The Technical Support Instrument  (TSI) 113 is the EU programme (€864 million for the period 2021-2027) on the basis of which the Commission provides tailor-made technical expertise to EU Member States to design and implement reforms. The support is demand driven and does not require co-financing from Member States. It is an important pillar of the EU’s initiative to help Member States recover from the COVID-19 crisis in a way that embraces the digital transformation. The Commission stands ready to provide Member States expert support for reforms in digital education, reskilling and upskilling educators, including through cross-country technical support projects, whenever Member States deem it suitable. The TSI enables Member States to enhance the structural transformation of their education systems so that education systems adapt and thrive The Commission is already supporting a number of Member States to enhance the digitalisation of their education system, including through national curriculum reforms, educational media strategies, the digital transition of schools and reforms of teacher education.

5. A framework for Blended Learning

Photo by Brandon Gurney on  Unsplash

5.A framework for Blended Learning

This framework provides a definition of blended learning that encompasses a broad understanding of learning environments and tools, appropriate to a variety of school education context and learner circumstances.

This framework also outlines a set of challenges and proposals for policy measures to ensure effective blended learning for high quality and inclusive primary and secondary education.

Based on the examples and evidence discussed in the other sections of this document, it provides policy makers with guidance and examples of good practice on 10 specific areas in order to: support competence and willing practitioners; ensure access to and a competent use of appropriate learning environments and tools; support all schools within the education ecosystem, including closely-related sectors.

Definition of blended learning

Blended learning happens when an educator or learner takes more than one approach to the learning:

-Blending school site and distance 114 learning environments;

-Blending different tools for learning that can be digital (including online) and non-digital 115 .

Using their professional judgement, teachers and schools will select and facilitate the use of these in a variety of combinations as part of engaging and effective learning tasks that support broad competence development, as appropriate to the age, capacity and circumstances of the learners and intended learning outcomes.

In a blended learning approach, all environments that are an effective shared space for learning are given equal importance and consideration, in order to make the most of the opportunity for interaction between pupils, between staff, and between pupils and staff.

Blended learning strongly relies on the capacity of teachers and learners to be able to use and adapt the environments and tools as appropriate to the learning task and desired learning goal. Specifically, teachers and learners need to be able to:

-Work confidently and competently with peers and independently when necessary;

-Manage the learning process for oneself or on behalf of others;

-Be familiar with, and safe within, a range of environments and tools;

-Communicate ideas and ask for assistance when needed, either in person or via communication tools;

-Trust and collaborate with others in the wider school community, for example cultural professionals or work-place mentors;

-Carry a sense of learning and development across a number of different occasions, recognising how one has developed and where to progress next.

A blended learning approach can be applied at the micro level – designed as a learning process with a group of learners - , the meso level - a strategic approach by a school to facilitate blending learning -, and the macro level – embedded as a system-wide approach.

Policy measures

1)Equal right of all learners:

Systems need to support the right of all leaners to quality and inclusive school education, and ensure opportunities for all learners to develop a broad range of key competences, irrespective of their circumstances and according to their learning needs.

This ongoing challenge of inclusion was heightened by pandemic restrictions that prevented access to a variety of environments and tools and narrowed the scope of school education for all learners.

Whilst blended learning has many benefits, there is a challenge to provide sufficient targeted support to learners who may still be disadvantaged whilst learning in different environments and with different tools.

Good practice:

a)Promoting and reinforcing the blending of school site and distance learning environments in order to create more flexibility and appropriate conditions for learning.

b)Supporting the development and embedding of different tools for learning, including digital tools where appropriate, in order to provide opportunities for individual and collaborative investigation and expression and to support creative learning across different environments, depending on the age, capacity, and specific learning needs of the pupils.

c)Ensuring targeted support to young learners facing disadvantages, or having special educational needs, to fulfil their potential within a blended learning approach, including: language learning; additional individual support in whole class situations; emotional support; assistive technology; access to learning tools and content; peer coaching; transport costs and costs of accessing different learning environments. Ensure that teacher professional development fosters a better and more widespread understanding of these different forms of support.

2)System-wide approach:

Blended learning requires a system-wide approach to be inclusive, effective and engaging for all learners, and to keep pace with economic and social changes. This is a problem for education systems as they can be isolated from other sectors.

Developing an effective blended learning approach for a whole education system requires input from a range of stakeholders in order to generate useful feedback and ideas for future development or policy reform.

Different elements of the education system can also be isolated from each other, whereas they must work in synergy, with no one element left unsupported. This became obvious during the pandemic by the gaps that appeared and grew, and by the increased stress suffered by teachers and school leaders, pupils, and their families. Not restricted to the pandemic, change without dialogue and engagement has faced resistance and lack of implementation.

Good practice:

a)Supporting collaboration on educational challenges between a wide range of cross-sectoral stakeholders, including teachers and school leaders, and engage them in system development processes regarding blended learning.

b)Encouraging schools to collaborate more closely with local community stakeholders in order to ensure the continuity and improvement of learning in school site and distance learning environments and with different tools.

c)Recognising and valuing school leaders and teachers as the key “change makers”, and providing them with enhanced support to develop their practice in a blended learning approach and address local-level challenges in the most appropriate way.

d)Acknowledging the expertise of some schools and organisations with extensive experience in blended learning, including schools in rural and remote areas, and those supporting learning full-time in the home or other alternative learning environments.

e)Supporting collaboration with the educational resources industry (including technology, publishing, and other curriculum equipment) and educational research.

3)Supporting educators: 

Educational staff need help to design for blended learning design as appropriate to their learning context. They need help to be competent in facilitating learning with a range of indoor and outdoor environments, tools and tasks.

One size does not fit all. Education staff need to be able to learn from others and then develop their own blended learning approach in their specific contexts. The development of innovative approaches should be guided by – and provide further - robust evidence of improving inclusion and broad competence development. Teachers can benefit from partnerships with external learning facilitators to mutually develop their practices.

Good practice:

a)Providing access to centres of expertise, and to appropriate resources that guide pedagogical design.

b)Embedding blended learning design in statutory Initial Teacher Education and Continued Professional Development programmes.

c)Facilitating staff exchanges and peer learning, networks, collaboration projects, and communities of practice on blended learning to improve pedagogical practice.

d)Encouraging teacher participation in exploratory projects or scientific research as part of school and professional development, for example: testing the use of tasks in other learning environments and testing different ways of using of digital technology to support learning.


Blended learning depends greatly on the effective collaboration within schools and between schools and the wider community. In the pandemic, educational staff were cut off from other local stakeholders and need increased efforts to repair the gaps and collaborate better in the future.

Diverse environments may be particularly lacking in socio-economically deprived areas or due to geographical location. Teachers and learners are then placed at a disadvantage in competence development compared to other schools.

Blended learning can support those who are part of traveller communities; young carers; those with health issues or residing in hospitals and care centres; those engaged in high-performance training; and those in long periods of vocational training or paid work. The challenge is that intermediaries are often needed to liaise between schools and families/children.

Good practice in school education:

a)Supporting teachers and school leaders to work effectively with local employers and work-place trainers, cultural practitioners, and social partners (including in health, welfare, youth, migration).

b)Improving parents’ and families’ understanding of learning environments, tools and tasks via system and/or the school communication and guidance.

c)Supporting effective partnerships for infrastructure and resources between different education providers, including from business, arts, cultural heritage, sport, nature, higher education, and research institutes.

d)Supporting school and system collaboration with private organisations or public agencies that provide or oversee school-level education for young people who cannot attend the school site on a full-time basis.


Even before the pandemic, some schools, teachers and learners were reported to have limited access to different learning tools: digital devices including smart white boards and projectors; equipment for practical science investigations; arts and crafts materials; musical instruments; sports equipment for different games; and simple electronics and construction tools.

Learners need a range of tools to develop a broad range of competences, including different modes of investigation and expression. They will have had limited access for over a year or may have had limited access their entire school career.

Good practice:

a)Invest in a range of learning tools that enhances both theoretical and practical knowledge and understanding.

b)Provide guidance to schools and professionals as to how such tools can be used across the curriculum.


School site closures increased the belief in the need of the school as a community for leaner mental health and emotional well-being. Reduced contact and exchange had a negative impact on the mental health and well-being of learners, teachers and families. Furthermore, “learning together” and a “sense of belonging” is an important experience that supports competence development and was reduced during the pandemic. The challenge is to rediscover and further promote social learning. Stakeholders call for supporting a school culture that promotes emotional well-being and a healthy lifestyle.

The pandemic revealed that many learners were unprepared to manage their own learning. On the other hand, there were reports that teachers and pupils discovered and benefitted from new ways to learn, independently and collaboratively, and the challenge is to build on this positive change and address any low levels of capacity.

An effective blended learning approach requires both collaborative and independent learning, adapted to the age and capacity of students. Blended learning also further develops these capacities through experience.

Good practice:

a)Encouraging schools to provide adequate opportunities for social learning in different environments and with different tools in order to enhance learner well-being.

b)Including student well-being in school objectives, monitoring and quality assurance processes; developing guidance material on supporting mental health and wellbeing at schools;

c)Assigning dedicated staff to supporting student and teacher well-being and facilitating access to qualified mental-health professionals.

d)Providing support to learners to develop their Personal, Social and Learning to Learn competence (one of the eight Key Competences for Lifelong Learning) which can enhance the ability of pupils of different ages to learn in different contexts.

e)Ensuring that all schools and learners have access to well-functioning indoor and outdoor spaces and equipment for physical education (motor skills tasks, games, sports, dance) to be blended with other learning tasks.

7)Digital technology and content:

The pandemic made it clear that learners, educational staff, families and other learning providers need to know better how to use digital technology and digital content where appropriate as part of blended learning. The pandemic also highlighted that online learning is severely hampered where there is a lack of Internet connectivity.

Initial VET learners greatly suffered from a lack of access and continuity during the pandemic, which could have been partially avoided if the use of digital tools had been more widespread. It is not just Initial VET learners that would benefit from software such as AR and VR to simulate real-world scenarios, but all school pupils.

Good practice:

a)Systems developing a comprehensive national digital learning strategy for school education, which includes supporting the development of teacher and learner digital competence.

b)Complementing the strategy by the use of self-assessment tools, such as the SELFIE tools for schools and teachers or participation in EU initiatives such as Code Week and the Digital Education Hackathon.

c)Including guidance or investment in effective Learning Management Systems that support communication and organisation during the learning process in such a national strategy.

d)Ensuring equitable access to digital tools and software that are safe and effective for online learning, and that provide appropriate data protection.

e)Investing in high-speed internet connectivity of school site and distance learning environments.

f)Investing in digital tools, notably in affordable Augmented and Virtual Reality software and hardware, that can simulate real-world scenarios, and other tools such as ePortfolios.

8)Curricula and assessment:

Even if they want to innovate their pedagogical practice, staff are constrained by rigid curricula demands that can limit the scope of learning design and stifle innovation and broad competence development.

Pedagogical change is severely hindered by narrow approaches to assessment. During the pandemic education site closures, systems and institutions were forced to consider and develop different assessment that is more appropriate to blended but were still constrained by a lack of alternatives and by a favouring of high stakes written examinations. Even before the pandemic, education stakeholders have been seeking better ways to capture the multiple dimensions of learner progression, in both school site and distance learning settings.

Good practice:

a)Providing guidance for educational staff on what is possible within the confines of the curriculum.

b)Allowing for more flexibility with autonomy within school and national curricula.

c)Developing new approaches to assessment and final examinations with suitable tools for formative and summative assessment, that are appropriate for different levels of school education and equally valid for school site and distance learning settings.

d)Making better use of digital technology for different types of assessment.

9)School strategy and leadership:

Reports from the pandemic highlighted that schools could better adapt when they could design a clear strategy and rapidly reorganise their resources and routines as appropriate to their own staff and learners.

Change at school level requires effective leadership but not all school heads and leaders have the necessary competences, particularly for embedding a blended learning approach.

School heads and leaders have suffered equally with “emergency” approaches that are not necessarily of high quality or sustainable.

Good practice:

a)Ensuring a sufficient level of autonomy for school-level decision-making (by school boards, heads, leaders) regarding the timing, logistics and resources for learning.

b)Supporting schools and associated education providers to reflect on a blended learning approach within their own strategic planning, in a way that is coherent with system development. This may include the use of self-assessment tools to guide school and staff development.

c)Supporting school heads and school leaders in managing organisational change to facilitate blended learning, with dedicated professional development and guidance for their roles.


Supporting positive change across the system also requires a regular generation of data that can contribute to the ongoing monitoring of blended learning practices and new developments across the system.

The great concern in the pandemic was an inability to generate data and robust analyses that could inform decision-making. School evaluations and inspectorates were not set up to appropriately support positive change, although a small number of systems are known to have addressed this.

Good practice:

a)Monitoring and reporting on experiences and progress in developing a blended learning approach in primary and secondary education.

b)Combining system-wide collaboration with the timely generation of a range of data and feedback that creates “real-time” evidence of recent developments and current needs.

c)Considering including a focus on the blend of learning environments and tools to annual school evaluation (by the school or inspectors). Such internal and/or external reviews and school development planning should also consider the school climate and culture from both a school site and distance perspective: sense of community and identity, student and teacher well-being, working conditions, and relationships with stakeholders.

d)Considering including external resource providers in school evaluation.

e)Considering complementary approaches to monitoring, such as a call for research proposals.


iNACOL Blended Learning Teacher Competency Framework. Accessed at :


  Lund , A., Furberg , A., Bakken , J., Lyngvær Engelien , K. (2014) What Does Professional Digital Competence Mean in Teacher Education? Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy , 04 / 2014 (Vol. 9) .






 Within SELFIE for Teachers ( ) a leader teacher is expected to lead collaborative tasks with colleagues using digital technologies (e.g. collaboration and co-creation of learning designs, implementation of joint projects), while engaging in reflective practice by supporting and providing advice to colleagues about improving their digital professional practice through critical reflection (e.g. through discussion forums, blogs, social networks, online professional communities).


Studies addressed different typologies of beliefs about designing blended learning, differentiating three profiles of instructors: a disregard profile – instructors believe that additional support is not necessary; an adaptation profile – instructors are open to adjustments to existing learning arrangements; and a transformation profile – instructors believe that blended learning arrangements should be designed in a completely different way, and be tailored to the characteristics of the specific learner group. See Boelens et al. (2018), The design of blended learning in response to student diversity in higher education: Instructors’ views and use of differentiated instruction in blended learning.


Vuorikari, R., Innovating Professional Development in Compulsory Education - An analysis of practices aimed at improving teaching and learning, EUR 29622 EN, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2019, ISBN 978-92-79-98876-9, doi:10.2760/948518, JRC115292.


 See Chapter 6 and 7 in Supporting teacher and school leader careers: a policy guide. Available at:  


European Commission (2018) Boosting Teacher Quality: pathways to effective policies. Accessible at:  


 Roszak, M. & Kołodziejczak, B. (2017) “Teachers' skills and ICT competencies in blended learning”, Department of Computer Science and Statistics, Poznan University of Medical Sciences. Available at:  


Experts propose the approach of using the acronym “TRICK,” which stands for trust, respect, independence, collaboration, and kindness. See Wojcicki, E., Izumi, L., and Chang, A. (2015) Moonshots in Education: Blended Learning in the Classroom, Pacific Research Institute.


 A Learning Management System (LMS) is software that not only helps to deliver a course of study; it can also assist with the processing of different kinds of data (including learner assessment), with reporting, and with communication with external stakeholders, including parents and education authorities. Well-known software includes – but is not limited to – Moodle, Blackboard, Schoology and Edmodo.


See, for example, Finland in data collected by the World Bank in March-June 2020. Accessible at:  


Reported in the video TIMSS 2019 International Results: Home, School, and Classroom Contexts for Teaching and Learning. Published at on 8 Dec 2020


Hristova, A. and Tosheva, E. (forthcoming) Quality of School Life in Europe in the Light of Large-Scale International Assessments - Report, European Expert Network on Economics of Education.



Information on the European Commission’s “Researchers at school and at university” project is available at  


 Source: iNACOL Blended Learning Teacher Competency Framework. Available at:


Originally proposed by M.Snoek, Hogeschool van Amsterdam, as part of the ET2020 Working Group Schools thematic discussions on blended learning.


 School leader: Those who hold a formal position of responsibility for the management of the school. School leaders are also teachers, as they are also still involved in learner development, both in and out of the classroom. There needs to be certain career support to reach a leadership role.

School head: The most senior school leadership position - the person with overall responsibility for the pedagogical and administrative management of the school or cluster of schools. This role might also be referred to as ‘head teacher’, ‘school principal’ or ‘school director’. They can also be included in the broad definition of ‘school leader’. See European Commission (2020) Supporting teacher and school leader careers: a policy guide – Summary. Available at:  


iNACOL, The International Association for K–12 Online Learning, Promising practices in blended and online learning - Blending Learning: The Evolution of Online and Face-to-Face Education from 2008–2015

Evergreen Education Group , originally published May 2008. Available at:


See European Commission (2018) Teachers and school leaders in schools as learning organisations : report of the ET2020 Working Group Schools:


See European Commission (2017) Study on School Innovation in Europe:  


Education Development Trust (2016) Successful school leadership, UK: Reading, Berkshire . Available at:


Pont, B., Nusche,D., Moorman, H. (2008) Improving School Leadership volume 1: policy and practice, OECD


 For example, SELFIE is a free European tool for schools to self-evaluate their capacity in digital education.  


European Commission (2015) A whole school approach to tackling early school leaving. Available at :


Examples :  



 Acree, L., Gibson, T., Mangum, N., Wolf, M.A., Kellogg, S. & Branon, S. (2017). Supporting School Leaders in Blended Learning with Blended Learning. Journal of Online Learning Research, 3(2), 105-143. Waynesville, NC USA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). Retrieved June 5, 2020 from


 According to World Health Organization, coping with stress and anxiety represents the main mental health challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic.   


 OECD (2020). Strengthening online learning when schools are closed: The role of families and teachers in supporting students during the COVID-19 crisis.


 Requests to join networks on the EU Health Policy platform can be made at


The ETUCE study on "Occupational health and safety of teachers, academics and other education personnel in times of COVID-19" identifies the main challenges of emergency online teaching and learning from the perspective of teachers and other education personnel. Available at:  


 Evidence shows that physical activity is associated with improvement of brain functioning, cognition and school results. The annex to the Report of the European Commission Expert group on "health-enhancing physical activity" (2015) gathers scientific evidence on the links between children’s level of physical activity vs. sedentary and their school results.  


Further information available at:  


Further information available at:  





Polizzi, C., Lynn, S.J., Perry, A. (2020). Stress and Coping in the Time of COVID-19: Pathways to Resilience and Recovery. Clinical Neuropsychiatry, 17 (2), 59-62.


Irish authorities prepared a similar set of webpages with guidelines for parents/guardians of primary school pupils on the continuity of learning and including advice on well-being. The portal is multilingual: besides Irish and English, it is also available in Albanian, Arabic, Farsi, French, Georgian, Kurdish, Pashto, Somali, Spanish and Urdu.


Downes, P. and Nairz-Wirth, E. (2017). ‘Structural indicators for inclusive systems in and around schools’. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union,  


European Commission (2015) A whole school approach to tackling early school leaving - Policy messages. ET 2020 Working Group on Schools. Available at:  


 For example: Nettiperuskoulu  in Finland; Rīgas Tālmācības Vidusskola  in Latvia; Wolsey Hall  in England, UK; and Oak Meadow  in the USA.







 Jæger, M. M., & Blaabæk, E. H. (2020) Inequality in Learning Opportunities during Covid-19: Evidence from Library Takeout. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 68, 1-5.


Andrew, A., et al. (2020). Learning during the lockdown: real-time data on children’s experiences during home learning. IFS Briefing Note BN288


Engzell, P., Frey, A., and Verhagen, M.D. (2020). “The Collateral Damage to Children’s Education During Lockdown.” VoxEU .


The eHub Project in Ireland includes such mentoring but it is also coming to the fore in online schooling in NZ, US, Canada and Australia. More information available at:  


 Eurochild (2020) Growing up in Lockdown. Available at Growing up in lockdown: Europe’s children in the age of COVID-19 – Eurochild


Black, M.M. (1991). Early intervention services for infants and toddlers: A focus on families. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 20 (1), 51 – 57.


Pastor, C. (2009) ICT Assistive Technology industry in Europe. Tecnalia: Donostia-San Sebastian.


Bose, I.K. (2014) "Planet school": Blended learning for inclusive classrooms. An Enriched ePub eBook for Screen Reader Users, 3-14


Rose, D. (2000) Universal design for learning, Journal of Special Education Technology, 15(3), 45-49. 


In 2020, Confederación Española de Familias de Personas Sordas FIAPAS published a guide on “Supporting hearing-impaired students in the covid-19 context”. Available at  


Lewis, M. and Samesl, S.J. (2004). The relation between extracurricular activities with academic and social competencies in school-age children: A meta-analysis. Unpublished PhD., Texas A&M University, TX, cited in Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. Routledge.


Hong, S. and Ho, H-Z (2005). Direct and indirect longitudinal effects of parental involvement on student achievement: Second-order latent growth modeling across ethnic groups. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97(1), 32 – 42.

Jeynes, W.H (2007). The relationship between parental involvement and urban secondary school student academic achievement: A meta-analysis. Urban Education, 42 (1), 82 – 110.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. Routledge.


Clinton, J.M. and Hattie, J. (2013) New Zealand students' perceptions of parental involvement in learning and schooling, Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 33 (3), DOI: 10.1080/02188791.2013.786679


Downes, P. (2011). Towards a Differentiated, Holistic and Systemic Approach to Parental Involvement in Europe for Early School Leaving Prevention. European Commission.  


Sefton-Green, J. (2012) Learning at Not-School: A Review of Study, Theory, and Advocacy for Education in Non-Formal Settings. MacArthur Foundation.  


Cooper, H.M., Nye, B., Charlton, K., Lindsay, J. and Greathouse, S. (1996). The effects of summer vacation on achievement test scores: A narrative and meta-analytic review. Review of Educational Research, 66(3), 227- 268.



UNICEF (2020) COVID-19: How are Countries Preparing to Mitigate the Learning Loss as Schools Reopen? Trends and emerging good practices to support the most vulnerable children. Available at  




OECD (2020), Curriculum Overload: A Way Forward, OECD Publishing, Paris,




See, for example, Ireland’s change from inspections to “advisory visits” including health and safety advice/inspections to give reassurance to the public. See  


Bacsich, Paul. (2012). Virtual schools and colleges providing alternatives for successful learning volume 1. p. 113  


 In August 2020, new questions on distance and blended learning were added to the European Commission’s self-reflection tool on the digital capacity of schools (SELFIE).  



For example, see J Chung, J.-Y and Lee, S. (2019). “Dropout early warning systems for high school students using machine learning,: Children and Youth Services Review, 96, pp. 346-353,  



For example, in Estonia, the “Masters teachers” network has been activated to gather feedback from teachers and students about their distance learning experiences and to offer support and advice. Reported in European Training Foundation webinar, 26 May 2020 – Supporting Vocational Teachers under the Lock Down.


 ET2020 Working Group Schools (2018). European ideas for better learning: the governance of school education systems, Brussels, p. 16. Available at  


 For example:




 The ET2020 Working Group Schools (2018-2020) used the term “critical friends” to describe external partners in quality assurance and define their role as being more positive and reflective that negative and judgemental.


OECD (2020) Teachers’ well-being: a framework for data collection and analysis. OECD Education Working Paper No. 213. Available at:  


Inspired by A. McCoshan, Dublin City University (2021 stakeholder consultation discussion) and Machumu, H.J. and Zhu, C. (2019) Ch.2 - Building a Conceptual Relational Model Among Blended Learning Aspects in K-20 Education, Emerging Techniques and Applications for Blended Learning in K-20 Classrooms, ed. Kyei-Blankson, Lydia, Ntuli, Esther, Nur-Awaleh, Mohamed A. IGI Global.



 The framework is currently under review and a new version is planned for release in the course of 2021.







 See the Erasmus+ homepage, available in different languages


 See the eTwinning platform, available in different languages  






 SELFIE questions on remote learning  



European Week of Sport -  


European School Sports Day -  


Tartu Call for a Healthy Lifestyle -  


 2021/C 66/01 – legal text available at  



The European Semester provides a framework for the coordination of economic policies across the European Union. It allows EU countries to discuss their economic and budget plans and monitor progress at specific times throughout the year.  


 Further information will be available at  








The distance learning environment may include: the home; public libraries, museums and galleries; farms, factories, and other places of work; parks, forests and waterways; hospitals (in the case of sick or injured children), or sports centres and film studios (in the case of children on professional contracts).


 Online learning is defined as that which takes place with the use of digital technology to connect different devices and to facilitate an interaction between the learner and: other learners; learning programmes; and other content as sources of information. Digital learning tools do not always need to be connected to the Internet and can include: smart boards and projectors for collaboration in classrooms; mobile devices and laptops with applications for designing, exploring and sharing work; television and radio for following recorded programmes; and Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality tools and application for enhanced interactivity.

Other tools include: scientific equipment, sports equipment, craft tools, realia (objects found and used in everyday life), published texts, and writing and visual arts tools.