What Is Hybrid Learning?
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about the American workplace in the wake of COVID, it’s that employees want flexibility. They want the option to work from anywhere. The same is true for students. As the typical look of the “college student” continues to evolve and change, many traditional classroom approaches are no longer viable for that student. Think about the busy parents taking classes at night or the young adult putting themselves through school with a full-time service job. The traditional face-to-face everyday approach does not offer enough flexibility for the modern student’s needs.
Utilizing a hybrid learning model allows instructors and students to have more versatility in their schedules. What does hybrid learning mean, exactly? At its most basic, the hybrid learning definition is a course that occurs both online and in-person. Students regularly meet physically while also having aspects of the course that happen purely online, such as discussion groups.
Hybrid learning in higher education is here to stay. While COVID may have jump-started the hybrid approach in many universities that were not currently using the method, it is not anticipated that hybrid teaching will disappear anytime soon. Instructors need the resources to create an effective hybrid learning environment that is sustainable to teach and support their students. For many instructors, this might look like deciding between synchronous and asynchronous learning models for their classroom. However, some experts suggest that synchronous and asynchronous courses should be viewed as a spectrum rather than a binary.
Asynchronous online learning is when students participate in class discussions and engage with class materials mostly on their own schedule. They do not meet as a class to have live discussions, even via an app such as Zoom. Likely, they will still have deadlines for assignments, quizzes, and exams, but asynchronous learning is more likely to be at a student’s own pace.
On the other hand, synchronous online learning still follows a predetermined schedule. There is a regularly scheduled meeting time, and students are expected to be online and “in class” for the duration of that meeting time.
Hybrid Learning Vs Blended Learning
Hybrid learning and blended learning are terms that are often used interchangeably, however, there are distinct differences between these two approaches. The blended learning environment does look similar to a hybrid learning environment at a quick glance. However, upon a closer inspection, there are fundamental differences.
Blended learning is created with an expectation that a certain amount of coursework be completed online, and a certain amount of coursework be completed in person. This rigid schedule cannot be easily changed from assignment to assignment. This might look like in-person class meetings, whereas exams are always conducted online. It’s a very common approach that was used well before the pandemic. Students often do not have the choice to attend class online or in-person – this choice has been decided in advance by the instructor and is not able to be changed.
However, the benefits of blended learning are many. Instructors believe that blended learning is the preferred method of instructors and students, and it offers many of the same benefits as hybrid learning: multiple ways of interacting with class material (online and in person), utilization of online tools to increase student engagement, and the retention of information, higher motivation, and lower anxiety.
The biggest difference in the hybrid learning modality is that the lecture is available synchronously with the in-person lesson. Students can choose whether they attend the lecture in-person or online. This is a huge difference in blended vs hybrid learning, as blended lectures can only be attended in person. Hybrid learning offers a greater element of flexibility. Instructors of hybrid classes can adjust on the go or even student-by-student when it comes to setting up class structure. Although flex/blended learning is a more common model, hybrid learning increases ease of accessibility, can have a lower cost than traditional face-to-face classes and allows learners to control how they learn.
Hybrid Classes Vs Traditional Classes
One of the biggest benefits of hybrid classes vs. traditional classes is that in hybrid learning, students have a larger level of control over how they learn. Busy students, such as parents or those who hold full-time jobs, can often not afford to fit traditional classes into their schedule. While many hybrid classes are still synchronous, it would at least give students, not near the classroom location the option of receiving the same class materials and nearly the same classroom experience as those attending in person.
A majority of students interviewed stated that they would prefer for their classes to offer at least some sort of online function, with just under half stating that they would prefer fully online classes. Hybrid learning vs. in-person learning has proved to be more effective as early as 2009. While the way that online learning functions have evolved significantly since the mid-2000s, students have shown a preference for consuming class materials in the manner that they choose themselves – one that often is a better fit for their lifestyle.
Challenges Of Hybrid Learning
While hybrid learning is a method of choice for many students, it is not without its disadvantages. Some of the challenges of hybrid learning include technological difficulties or access and a mismatch in the learning style of abilities. Some students do not have access to quality internet at home or even a computer. While this wouldn’t be an issue if the class was offered in multiple different modes or if they were close enough to attend the face-to-face sessions, hybrid learning after COVID is likely “the new normal.”
Even students who are close enough to attend face-to-face sessions of hybrid learning classes may still struggle outside of the classroom. Students who have trouble staying on task or self-motivating may find the online assignments difficult to focus on or complete. A lack of accessibility features in many software tools is also an example of hybrid learning disadvantages.
Accessibility in hybrid learning is why software tools like Harmonize are so important. With Harmonize, students can engage in a way that they feel most comfortable. If sitting down and writing a 500-word discussion post and then responding to three other students’ posts sounds tortuous, perhaps they can create a video essay and response instead. The impact of hybrid learning is changing the way that students learn and participate in class. It’s important that tools be adaptable to students’ needs.
Benefits Of Hybrid Learning
While there are some drawbacks, the advantages of hybrid learning far outweigh the disadvantages. A significant impact of hybrid learning is that it allows students to take more ownership of their learning. Some of the major advantages of hybrid learning are the choice to attend in-person or online, the opportunity to connect in-person with peers, as well as the possibility of attending class online without missing out on important classroom experiences. While the advantages and disadvantages of hybrid learning can sometimes walk a fine line between freedom of choice and anarchy, with the proper tools and support, hybrid learning can greatly benefit students.
The significant pros and cons of hybrid learning are accessibility. In some aspects, hybrid learning increases accessibility by allowing students to choose how they interact with their class materials and lecture. Students who can not regularly travel to campus are given the freedom to attend from anywhere, which increases accessibility. However, students who struggle with executive function or project management may find it difficult to independently manage the digital tools that hybrid learning often entails. This is why using accessible and easy-to-manage tools such as Harmonize is vital in hybrid learning. When weighing hybrid learning advantages and disadvantages, it’s important to remember that the needs of each student and instructor are often unique and that a flexible approach is key to success.
Examples Of Hybrid Learning
When designing hybrid learning strategies, instructors should consider what kind of hybrid learning activities lend themselves best to an online vs. an in-person environment. For example, if a geology class is hybrid, and one of the activities for that day is to tactilely examine rock samples, how can that exercise be recreated for online learners? Some activities, as wonderful as they are, can be limiting in a hybrid environment. It’s important in a hybrid environment that both online learners and face-to-face students have as similar an experience as possible.
Common hybrid learning examples are lectures that are held online and in-person while reading assignments are given online. Hybrid learning examples of activities that function in the same way in-person and online would be games such as Kahoot and Mentimeter. However, there are many methods of hybrid learning, not all of which are synchronous. Asynchronous hybrid learning activities might be assigning chunks of independent reading, quizzes, or discussion board posts.
Hybrid Learning Platform
Hybrid learning technology is essential in making the method successful for students and instructors. The approach to hybrid teaching and learning is much more difficult without hybrid learning tools such as video conferencing. There are a few different types of hybrid learning systems – synchronous and asynchronous. A synchronous hybrid learning platform would be one that holds space at a predetermined time – such as a scheduled video lecture. Asynchronous technology for use in hybrid learning would be an LMS (learning management system) that most higher education institutions already employ.
Using quality tools in a hybrid learning environment can make a big difference in the effectiveness of the overall method. With Harmonize, instructors can engage students in asynchronous discussions as well as use synchronous tools like chat. Within the asynchronous options, students also have the option to respond in a variety of different ways, from images to video and traditional text. It’s important that instructors and administrators focus on student engagement and the retention of information, and using tools like Harmonize that are built to maximize learning and engagement can assist instructors in that goal.