What is hybrid learning and is it an effective model for your school district? Larry Bernstein evaluates the pros and cons of utilizing hybrid learning.

In the midst of a pandemic, school districts have been delivering instruction in a variety of ways spanning the gamut from completely virtual to completely in-person, many are going with hybrid learning.

As the term implies, hybrid learning is a combination of in-class and online learning. The learning in each modality should complement the other and be part of a single structure. Although the terms hybrid learning and blended learning are used interchangeably, they are different.

According to the Learning Technologies at College of DuPage, the main difference between hybrid learning and blended learning, “is based primarily on the proportion of face-to-face and online sessions and/or instructional material in a given course.”

In a hybrid learning format, the two modes are evenly split while the split is more like 25/75 (favouring online) in a blended learning model. 

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According to the Center for Digital Education, “Blended learning uses online learning resources to supplement face-to-face instruction, while hybrid learning uses online resources to replace portions of students’ instruction that would otherwise be delivered face-to-face.”

Although the terms and formats may sound unfamiliar, schools have implemented hybrid learning in some form or another since the year 2000.

According to a 2014 study by the U.S. Department of Education, a hybrid model has been found to be more effective at the college level than either exclusive online or face to face instruction.

The Benefits of Hybrid Learning

The primary reason schools are turning to hybrid learning during the pandemic is to lessen the number of students in the building. The school day or week can be divided into two with half the students in the building while the other half is learning online.

With fewer numbers of students in class, there’s more of an opportunity for social distancing.  Secondly, if an outbreak of the virus should occur, fewer people will be exposed to it.

When schools turned to a hybrid learning model in the past, flexibility was seen as the greatest benefit.

According to the College of DuPage, the flexibility is “not just in terms of how time is used, but for how courses are taught, how students can engage with material and demonstrate learning, and how they interact with each other and the instructor.”

“One of the great things about online and blended learning is that it provides the opportunity for students to benefit from the flexibility of pace and time of when they work,” said Bruce Friend, chief operating officer of the education organization Aurora Institute, in an Education Dive article. 

Because less students will be in the classroom, it will allow for more personalized learning.

According to the Center for Digital Education,Since teachers will be working in class with only half of their students at a time, they can better focus on each student’s needs and learning goals.”

With students receiving extra attention while in class, it can counterbalance the lesser attention they’ll receive when working at home. 

Another benefit of less students in the classroom is that it allows teachers the time/opportunity to form more meaningful connections with students. Having this connection can inspire students to work on their own when away from the classroom. On the flip side, students have an opportunity to feel a greater connection as a unit since there are fewer classmates.

This comfort level can translate to more cohesive and successful group projects.

The multiple modalities associated with hybrid learning can also appeal to a wider variety of learning styles allowing more students to be engaged in a way that best suits their strengths.

Students who may be disinterested or distracted in one modality can sense the connection between the two modalities.

This can be a source of inspiration thereby encouraging students to enhance their performance in the weaker modality. This may be why hybrid learning was shown to be more effective in the study noted above.

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Challenges of Hybrid Learning

So, hybrid learning is all good and students are up for an amazing year? While that’s certainly the hope, educators need to be cautious.

After all, even though hybrid learning is not new, it’s never been implemented on such a widespread basis. 

Teachers will need to adjust as meshing the two different modes is complex.

The College of Dupage notes that the “hardest part of teaching hybrid is figuring out how to integrate the two experiences so that they capitalize on and amplify each other.”

Simply doing what has always been done will not work for teachers.

“Don’t simply take the traditional model and try to fit it into the online learning framework,” cautions Modan in Education Dive.

In addition, it’s important to recognize that class time will be limited. And whenever something is limited, it becomes more precious.

The sessions that are designated for online work in a hybrid class are not merely for reviewing material – they are intentionally much more active.

So, how should teachers use the class time? Firstly, class time needs to be used more purposefully. 

Dupage suggests using the flipped classroom model.

In this model, “…students review video lectures and other resources online on their own, … [and] then come to class ready to go further with what they covered.”

However, they caution that the flipped classroom model is not a completely apt comparison.

It is not a totally appropriate comparison for the potential of hybrid teaching.

Some tried and true teaching strategies can be helpful. For example, teachers should consider what is the ultimate goal, what steps will be needed to get students to that point, and what activities/lessons are more suitable for each modality.

There is no one single answer. After all, delivery of education outside the classroom will vary.

Some schools and districts are expecting students to work independently outside the classroom while others expect students to be on Zoom.

If so, teachers need to be cognizant of differentiating their content delivery and discussion methods. 

“Online Learning is not differentiated unless teachers specifically utilize the various ways to provide the material,” says Heather Wolpert-Gawron in an Edutopia article

Other schools and districts will expect students to be more independent when they are outside the classroom. If this is the case, students will need to take on more responsibility for their learning.

Parents and guardians should be alerted of the expectations of their child so they can help ensure their student is completing the work as needed. 

Ultimately, determining how to structure the class and what should fill each slot is a challenge that teachers will need to greatly consider.

“Each class session, regardless of format, should seem like a natural fit for the medium, that what students are doing should be done in that particular format,” according to the College of Dupage.

Finally, teachers need to temper their expectations. From technical issues to pandemic induced COVID-19 issues, students may very well be dealing with many challenges at home. Therefore, student reaction and engagement may vary greatly depending upon the modality. 

The challenge for teachers is not just in adapting to hybrid learning/teaching. It will be about regularly engaging and motivating students, so they can navigate through the continuing challenges brought upon by these unprecedented times.

ABOUT LARRY

Larry is an experienced educator having taught at both the K-12 and post high school level. Outside of the classroom, Larry is a freelance writer whose writing focuses on edtech and general education topics.