What is Hybrid Learning?

by Liz Hurley

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Online learning has grown rapidly, and so have the number of terms associated with it. 

There’s eLearning, distance education, blended learning, fusion classroom and hybrid learning to name just a few. 

These terms often get mixed up. But, no matter how subtle the differences, they do all mean different things. 

So what is hybrid learning? What marks it out from other forms of online learning and what are its pros and cons? If you want the answers to these questions, you’re in the right place.

In this article we’ll be looking at:

  • Hybrid Learning in a nutshell
  • The value of hybrid learning
  • Definitions of hybrid learning
  • Hybrid learning vs e-Learning and blended learning
  • How hybrid learning is used
  • Benefits and disadvantages of hybrid learning
  • How to deliver hybrid learning
  • What is the future for hybrid learning?
  • FAQs

So let’s make a start.

What is Hybrid Learning in a nutshell?

Hybrid learning is when an instructor teaches both in-person and remote learners together in real time. Learners can choose whether to be physically present or join in online. 

It’s often confused with blended learning. We’ll explain why later, and how it is different.

But it’s important to say that hybrid learning gained a lot of traction as schools and colleges reopened in 2021.  Students unable (or unwilling) to attend in person could continue to learn with their peers, but remotely from home.

Which gives me a great segue into our next section.

What is the value of hybrid learning?

As I said, in September 2020 educational institutions across the globe introduced hybrid learning models to protect students and provide accessibility and resilience against future shocks.

But those aren’t the only benefits of hybrid learning. Done well, hybrid learning:

  • Provides flexibility in how students engage with their learning 
  • Overcomes the social isolation of purely online learning by providing real time engagement with peers and tutors
  • Can improve levels of attentiveness, participation and student satisfaction, and
  • Makes more efficient use of resources

Given its potential, and recent events, it’s not surprising that both private industry and governments all over the world are scrambling to provide the technology, training and tools to ensure its success.

Success, though, depends on being sure about exactly what’s meant by hybrid learning. So that’s what we’ll take a look at next.

What is the definition of hybrid learning?

We’ll start by taking a look at academic definitions of hybrid learning.

Before we do, academics often make use of the terms: synchronous and asynchronous. So I’ll define these first so we’re all on the same page.

  • Synchronous – activities that are undertaken in real time by all students
  • Asynchronous – activities that can be engaged with by different students at different times.  

Winther Bülow (2021) defines hybrid learning as synchronous teaching whereby students in different locations (some on-site and others online) engage in learning in a shared location. And Butz and Stupnisky (2016) as  synchronous delivery of a course to both online and on-campus students.

So put simply, with hybrid learning:

  • Teaching and learning happens in real time
  • Some students are physically present and others join in online

Straightforward, right?

But confusion arises if you ask Google: What is Hybrid Learning? Many results refer to blended learning. And some say blended and hybrid learning are the same thing. 

They’re not, and we’ll see why next.

Perhaps one of the best online definitions comes from collaboration technology supplier Owllabs. They define it as an educational model in which instructors teach remote and in-person students at the same time using tools like video conferencing hardware and software.

So now seems like a good time to clarify the key difference between hybrid learning and blended learning. 

Hybrid learning vs blended and e-learning

Hybrid vs. Blended Learning

Hybrid and blended learning are often said to be the same thing because they both involve a mix of in person and online learning. But there’s a key difference in the nature of the mix. 

Blended learning is learning that is designed with a fixed combination of:

  • Scheduled face-to-face sessions in a brick and mortar location that everyone attends in person AND
  • Online activities that participants engage with in their own time

Hybrid learning is learning designed so that:

  • Scheduled, face-to-face sessions take place in a brick and mortar location but students can can choose to attend in real time, online OR in-person

Online activities for participants to complete in their own time might be added to a hybrid course. But the key aspect of hybrid learning is the ability to attend real time sessions either online or in person.

So, whereas blended learning is a FIXED blend of online/in person learning, hybrid learning allows you to CHOOSE the right format for you. And this could mean all your learning takes place online. 

Hybrid Learning vs e-Learning

eLearning is learning conducted using electronic devices, usually over the internet. Most sessions are recorded, and where teaching is in real time, students take part remotely. 

This is different to hybrid learning which does offer real time teaching sessions that you can attend in person or online, it’s your choice.

How is hybrid learning used in education?

The road to hybrid learning

First, let’s take a look at a few key dates in the evolution of hybrid learning:

  • 1960s Computer based learning – Workers could undertake training on terminals connected to a mainframe instead of through manuals or face to face instruction.
  • 1970s Video based technology – companies started using video networks for training and instruction. 
  • 1980/90s Institutions used MultiMedia CDs to deliver education and training. These could hold more content than videos and provide more interactive activities. Colleges and universities then began to develop Learning Management Systems. These are online platforms that provide educational support, assessment and tracking opportunities
  • 2000s Web based instruction –Learning could be accessed in increasingly more forms by anyone anywhere at the click of a mouse. Colleges offered fully online courses. And both colleges and schools began to make use of blended learning
  • 2021 – Many schools and colleges had to introduce, or step up, hybrid learning programs

Hybrid learning in education

Schools and colleges have long been integrating digital tools into education. However, until 2021 schools and most colleges used full in-person models. Online resources tended to support and extend in person sessions.

During Covid-19, most schools and colleges switched to a fully remote model

But as they began to reopen, hybrid learning came into its own. It became clear that education had to be readjusted to:

  • Keep class sizes down to maintain social distancing
  • Provide education for students unable to attend through infection or isolation
  • Protect vulnerable students
  • Teach those unwilling to return to a physical building
  • Rebuild and promote meaningful peer to peer and student-teacher relationships

Part of this process was deciding which aspects of teaching were best suited to hybrid delivery. 

Research suggests hybrid delivery is not suitable for lecturing or simple information giving (that’s best recorded and watched in students’ own time). Instead it suits sessions involving:

  • Active learning such as problem solving, quizzes, pair work etc.
  • Discussions and questioning
  • Group work (using breakout rooms)
  • Agreeing class expectations and outlining individual responsibilities
  • Team building and establishing a collaborative learning environment
  • Providing feedback
  • Presentations – for example presentations of research findings

Benefits of hybrid learning

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of hybrid learning.

Of course, it goes without saying that these benefits only apply if hybrid learning is done well!

  • Flexibility: hybrid learning provides flexibility in terms of how students take part and how they collaborate and communicate with both teachers and peers
  • Real time engagement: learning is a social activity. Purely online learning can lead to feelings of isolation and lack of motivation. Hybrid promotes real time engagement and relationships
  • Best of both worlds: as well as allowing real time engagement, there is usually the ability to revisit materials (if teaching sessions are recorded) as often as is needed and at your own pace
  • Research has revealed positive outcomes in terms of improved attentiveness, levels of student satisfaction and shy students feeling more able to contribute to discussions using online tools
  • Learning need not be lost due to sickness or quarantine
  • Improved collaboration both between schools and colleges and by being able to access remote expertise
  • Strengthens digital capabilities – promotes skills that are necessary in today’s world of work

Disadvantages of hybrid learning

  • Lack of resources – to be done well, hybrid learning requires a number of digital tools and good connectivity. Schools and college budgets are stretched and many can’t equip classrooms well enough to make it work efficiently
  • Digital divide – Attempts to provide continuous education during the pandemic exposed the digital divide between those with access to devices and connectivity, and those without
  • Relies on the teacher having the expertise to deliver and facilitate sessions. Teachers need both technical competency and to be good at delivering and responding to students in person, and online – and at the same time. This can be exhausting.  
  • If online relationships are not established and maintained students can become passive and disengaged
  • Does not suit all subjects and lessons equally. For example, if the lesson involves an experiment or the use of physical resources. This can mean adopting an approach that is ‘OK’ for both sets of learners, but not great for either.
  • Safeguarding: A number of countries have legislation that makes having cameras in classrooms difficult. Especially where children or students may be vulnerable in some way

How to deliver hybrid learning

There’s a lot to consider when setting out to offer hybrid learning. So we’ve divided this section into three areas:

  • Preparing
  • Designing
  • Delivering

Preparing for hybrid learning

Your first step should be to assess your needs – and your capability to deliver. 

Things to take into account include:

  • Physical capacity to offer in person learning. How much space is available? You need the technology, the space to put it in and an awareness of how to place it. For example, you need to place screens and cameras so that students learning remotely are supported.
  • Teachers’ capacity for hybrid teaching. Have teachers had the necessary training? Do they feel safe and confident? 
  • Students’ capacity for hybrid learning. Do all your students have digital devices and connectivity? Are they old enough to make good use of it? Will parents be able to provide child care? What about at risk pupils?
  • Support systems – Is there enough technical support to be responsive to need? 
  • How will you communicate how your system works to all stakeholders?

Designing hybrid learning

Here, at Learnopoloy, whatever form teaching takes, we always say to start with learning outcomes. 

  • What do you want students to know, understand and be able to do at the end of a lesson or course? 
  • How will you know students are making progress during their learning? 
  • And how will you judge whether learning outcomes have been achieved?

When you’ve answered these questions, you’re ready to work backwards to put your course together. If you’re guided by what you want to achieve, your lessons, resources and planning will serve your objectives.

Allow time for colleagues to prepare collaboratively. For example, a social studies department might identify where particular strengths lie amongst staff and allow them to dedicate themselves to their specialism. Or allocate different year groups to different staff if they have particular strengths working with those groups

Share examples of best practice. For example, create a bank of basic lessons using an agreed structure. These lessons should teach ‘to the middle’, but allow individual teachers to build in differentiation through questioning, group work, etc. This cuts workload and allows teachers to focus on the skill of teaching, reignites their interest in their craft and improves their individual practice through group planning.

You also need to decide how students will navigate their learning. Will there be some purely online resources to support learning? Which elements need to be delivered by a teacher in real time? 

Real time sessions work well for:

  • Agreeing class expectations and rules for participation
  • Building and strengthening relationships between peers or between teachers and students
  • Active learning, discussions, pair work, etc.
  • Group work (pupils can work in break out rooms if online)
  • Providing feedback
  • Presenting findings or results of projects
  • Q and A sessions
  • Team building activities

Delivering hybrid learning

Delivering hybrid learning well is a tall order. A teacher is at least doubling up on their skill set – they need to be good at two types of delivery simultaneously and managing interactions with, and between, peers in two different settings.

So here’s our top five tips on how to overcome some of the difficulties:

  1. Use single-sign-on software to keep things simple and avoid the ‘forgotten password’ issues 
  2. Have starter activities that can be completed with minimum teacher input – allowing technical problems that arise at the lesson start to be dealt with, without interrupting the flow of learning for those who are able to get going
  3. Keep the purpose and expectations of your hybrid class at the forefront of everyone’s mind (yours and the students). Display them and refer back to them clearly to make sure everyone is on track 
  4. Keep in person and online students equally engaged. Deploy apps like whiteboard.fi alongside a clear strategy for answering questions. For example, “Don’t show me now, show me in 3-2-1” This is great for checking progress and prevents copying if all students must answer at once. Or use tools like Poll Everywhere for Q&A sessions. You can also deploy breakaway rooms which can be timed for group work.
  5. And lastly, make sure you and your students have access to IT support to overcome any technical issues.

What is the future for hybrid learning?

For many schools, introducing hybrid learning came as a shock and it was a  struggle to keep education going.

Teachers had to quickly adapt to new teaching methods, learning curves were steep and mistakes were certainly made.

The next step is to make sure the lessons learned are used to keep education systems agile, flexible and responsive to future shocks.

The good news is that schools now know how to make hybrid learning work. Skills have been built, tools are being designed to make the process easier and most teachers have at least some experience of connecting with students who are both present and online. According to a recent survey, both students and parents are on board with the idea of online learning continuing in some form.

If we build on the lessons learned and leverage the support for change, hybrid learning could move forward in some very exciting ways.

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Frequently Asked Questions 

What is hybrid learning?

an educational model in which instructors teach in real time and learners attend either in-person or remotely

What is the difference between hybrid learning and blended learning?

Blended learning is a FIXED blend of real time learning which everyone physically attends together, and online activities that students engage with remotely at different times. Hybrid learning refers to real time teaching sessions that you can choose to attend either online or in person 

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