Blended Learning Compared to Traditional Learning in Medical Education: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

close up photo of survey spreadsheet

Alexandre ValléeJacques BlacherAlain CariouEmmanuel Sorbets


Background: Blended learning, which combines face-to-face learning and e-learning, has grown rapidly to be commonly used in education. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of this learning approach has not been completely quantitatively synthesized and evaluated using knowledge outcomes in health education.

Objective: The aim of this study was to assess the effectiveness of blended learning compared to that of traditional learning in health education.

Methods: We performed a systematic review of blended learning in health education in MEDLINE from January 1990 to July 2019. We independently selected studies, extracted data, assessed risk of bias, and compared overall blended learning versus traditional learning, digital blended learning versus traditional learning, computer-aided instruction blended learning versus traditional learning, and virtual patient blended learning versus traditional learning. All pooled analyses were based on random-effect models, and the I2 statistic was used to quantify heterogeneity across studies.

Results: A total of 56 studies (N=9943 participants) assessing several types of learning support in blended learning met our inclusion criteria; 3 studies investigated offline support, 7 studies investigated digital support, 34 studies investigated online support, 8 studies investigated computer-assisted instruction support, and 5 studies used virtual patient support for blended learning. The pooled analysis comparing all blended learning to traditional learning showed significantly better knowledge outcomes for blended learning (standardized mean difference 1.07, 95% CI 0.85 to 1.28, I2=94.3%). Similar results were observed for online (standardized mean difference 0.73, 95% CI 0.60 to 0.86, I2=94.9%), computer-assisted instruction (standardized mean difference 1.13, 95% CI 0.47 to 1.79, I2=78.0%), and virtual patient (standardized mean difference 0.62, 95% CI 0.18 to 1.06, I2=78.4%) learning support, but results for offline learning support (standardized mean difference 0.08, 95% CI -0.63 to 0.79, I2=87.9%) and digital learning support (standardized mean difference 0.04, 95% CI -0.45 to 0.52, I2=93.4%) were not significant.

Conclusions: From this review, blended learning demonstrated consistently better effects on knowledge outcomes when compared with traditional learning in health education. Further studies are needed to confirm these results and to explore the utility of different design variants of blended learning.


Vallée A, Blacher J, Cariou A, Sorbets E., Blended Learning Compared to Traditional Learning in Medical Education: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Med Internet Res. 2020 Aug 10;22(8):e16504  PMCID: PMC7445617.  DOI: 10.2196/16504

CE News is interested in promoting best practices around blended learning activities in CPD at our member institutions.  Share your experience by sending us a brief case study describing your blended learning activity including format, methods, target audience (faculty, residents, students), challenges, evaluation, outcomes and lessons learned for CPD practice.  Please send your case study directly to Dr. Vjeko Hlede, Column Editor at no later than December 15 for publication in the Winter 2022 issue. 

Vjekoslav Hlede, PhD is a Senior Learning Management Specialist with the American Society of Anesthesiologists, Chicago. 


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