As eLearning skyrockets, we’ve seen the increasing use of several educational models. One of these models is hybrid learning – a tricky but contextually beneficial learning environment that hinges on learner-choice. Since not all courses are best suited for hybrid learning, it’s important to understand the role it plays and some best practices.
What is hybrid learning?
Hybrid learning is a flexible educational model where students can choose to either attend lectures and classes in person or online. There can be elements of both synchronous and asynchronous learning, but the asynchronous learning is used to supplement the predominantly synchronous learning. In this learning environment, instructors will be simultaneously teaching students who are in-person and broadcasting it through software like Microsoft Teams, Zoom or Google Classroom. However, a student will only attend classes in one way. They won’t switch between in-person and online learning, which is one of the ways that it differs from blended learning.
Although the terms are often used interchangeably, hybrid and blended learning technically represent different models. Blended learning is a complementary combination of online and in-person learning, with a single student using both. For instance, a student may need to attend a class in-person and also work on a learning management system (LMS) to complete various quizzes, assignments and activities. The easiest way to remember the difference is that hybrid involves the student making a choice between in-person or online learning, while blended involves the student using both.
Hybrid learning means that instructors use both models. Blended learning means that students use both models.
Advantages and disadvantages
There are probably more advantages to hybrid learning than there are disadvantages, but the disadvantages can still be far-reaching.
One of the advantages is the obvious flexibility that comes with students being able to choose the presentation style that will work best for them. If you’re part of the education industry, you’ll know that students don’t come in a one-size-fits-all package. Hybrid learning therefore widens the potential student base instead of only being available to students that prefer a particular structure. This is also helpful for varying access to electronic resources. A student that doesn’t have an electronic device or stable data may need to attend classes in person, while another student who has those resources available but doesn’t have safe or affordable transportation can attend online.
You’ll also be able to improve accessibility by using hybrid learning. For example, a student with a hearing impairment may choose to attend online classes because the closed captions ensure that they can access what the instructor is saying. Additionally, a student that has severe anxiety may find it more comfortable to pose questions through an online system than to raise their hand in a packed class.
Hybrid learning also gives students more freedom. They can have the autonomy to make their own decisions about their education – from the location they study from to the ability to revisit learning material as they please (should the teacher record the class). This autonomy is an enormous benefit for students that are good at time management and self-discipline.
Lastly, students can choose to study at an institution that is geographically out of their reach. In this way, they have better access to a broader range of high quality educational courses because their own location isn’t a deal breaker.
Now, let’s consider the disadvantages. The main disadvantage that comes with hybrid learning is that it can be tricky for instructors to keep both sets of students engaged throughout classes. You can imagine that the easiest focus point for an instructor is the students that are directly in front of them. Meanwhile, the instructor can easily lose online engagement if those students aren’t explicitly included in discussions. Being able to keep both sets of students engaged isn’t impossible, but it can be very difficult if the instructor doesn’t have the necessary skills to do so. Hybrid learning is also ill-suited for certain types of courses, which is why content versus context is important.
Content versus context
Content refers to the course’s topic and subject matter. For example, let’s say that the content is law. This may suit the hybrid learning context because many law courses are traditionally lecture-style. However, hybrid learning doesn’t suit courses that need high levels of student engagement, participation, or practical activities requiring in-person engagement. For courses that need these elements, hybrid learning isn’t the most appropriate model to choose. If you’re studying carpentry, how beneficial would it be to watch the instructor craft furniture over a video call? It would likely be more useful to be in the room and practise the different tasks. As these two examples illustrate, not all content suits the hybrid context.
With this in mind, here are some questions you can ask yourself to determine whether the hybrid model is appropriate for your course:
- Do the students need a high level of engagement?
- Is this course particularly practical?
- Is it essential for the learning journey that the students interact with the presenter and each other?
If you have answered ‘yes’ to these questions, the hybrid model is probably not the best fit for your course. However, if you believe that your course suits hybrid learning, you’ll need to implement certain practices to ensure its success.
Successful hybrid learning
Since the largest challenge with hybrid learning is keeping the online students engaged, you need to address them directly. For example, regularly ask questions to the class and specifically call on the online students to answer. This will help keep them involved in the class instead of fulfilling a role of silent observers.
You also need to take special care when choosing an instructor. Instructors need a particular skill set to help them effectively focus on two classes at the same time. This type of teaching skill set is quite different to that of a teacher who only has to focus on one set of students (either online or in-person).
Assignments must be accessible to remote learners as well as in-person learners. One set of students should never be left behind the other. The facilitator needs to grade these assignments and provide adequate feedback to both groups equally. If you ensure that the opportunities for feedback are evenly spread across all of the students, they’ll have a positive learning experience.
Naveen Neelakandan also gives certain tips to promote successful hybrid learning. Firstly, he strongly suggests that you focus on nurturing positive relationships between the instructor and their students. For remote students, it can be all too easy to feel isolated from their instructor and for the interactions to lose meaning. Neelakandan also recommends that you use technology to reduce the loss of engagement. Examples of the technology that you can utilise include VR, AR and AI.
At the end of the day, hybrid learning is another way that the education industry has evolved in order to reach more people through innovation and technology. However, it must be stressed that it isn’t appropriate for all courses – so, focusing on the content versus the context is crucial. As with any educational model, the experience of the student body as a whole is your North Star. When your content and context allow, the hybrid learning model has the potential to elevate learning, while also giving students the autonomy and freedom that other educational models may lack.
Boyarsky, K. (2020). What Is Hybrid Learning? Here's Everything You Need to Know [online]. [accessed 16 May 2022].
Neelakandan, N. (2021). How Is Hybrid Learning Different From Blended Learning? [online]. [accessed 16 May 2022].
Neelakandan, N. (2021). Hybrid Learning In Education [online]. [accessed 16 May 2022].