An Introduction to Hybrid Teaching
I. What is Hybrid Learning?
Hybrid learning combines face-to-face and online teaching into one cohesive experience. Approximately half of the class sessions are on-classroom, while the other half have students working online. Although that may sound like a cut-and-dry formula, a lot of planning is needed to ensure that hybrid works well, allowing its two formats to capitalize on each other's strengths.
Given the unique opportunities that hybrid can offer, planning must be approached carefully. Instructors need to be familiar with not just the strengths of online and face-to-face teaching in their own rights, but also with how they can feed into each other over a longer-term.
But before we take a deeper look at how to plan a hybrid course, let's make sure we're clear on terms. For example, many people might use the words "hybrid” and "blended” interchangeably, but in fact, they mean different things. That difference is based primarily on the proportion of face-to-face and online sessions and/or instructional material in a given course. Whereas hybrid refers to teaching that is roughly balanced between its two formats (think 50/50), blended refers to a mostly traditional face-to-face course that also incorporates a few class sessions' worths of online instruction (think 25/75). Keep in mind that these are approximate definitions because there is no exact science in quantifying how much instruction equals another kind of instruction (with the obvious exception of entire class sessions). That said, hybrid and blended are but two terms in what we might think of as a larger "online learning spectrum” (see chart below).
Online Learning Spectrum
II. Benefits of Hybrid Learning
In more than ten years that hybrid learning has been widely practiced, numerous studies have been done on its effectiveness. The results are pretty clear: not only do students tend to prefer it as their format of choice but the
learning outcomes and academic achievement are stronger with a hybrid than for either face-to-face or online teaching alone.
Why is this the case?
A big reason is flexibility - not just in terms of how time is used, but for how courses are taught, how students can engage with the material and demonstrate learning, and how they interact with each other and the instructor. Whereas with face-to-face or online instruction, one format is chosen and used exclusively (and thus cut off from the benefits of the other), hybrid learning can offer the best of both in one unified experience.
Face-to-face teaching, on one hand, allows a kind of immediate, real-time engagement that can be difficult to capture online. Back-and-forth discussions, group work, presentations, and in¬depth conceptual scrutiny can often be more robust in this setting, where visual cues (such as confused faces) and immediate interaction can offer meaningful learning opportunities. Deeper collegial relationships can be fostered among students and the instructor, leading to a community atmosphere that can be more difficult to forge online.
Online learning, on the other hand, can excel with independent exploration, innovative collaboration, information and technology literacy, and content mastery. Students can watch videos and read articles again and again to reinforce conceptual familiarity, complete assignments in a time and place that best suit their individual needs, and take more time crafting written dialogue with their peers. Online discussion forums offer opportunities to develop a more sustained and richer exploration of material than the more rapid-fire interaction of a face-to-face classroom, and students who may not be comfortable speaking in a room full of people often blossom as strong contributors online.
Both formats offer unique advantages which can be difficult if not impossible to replicate in the other, which is why combining the two into a single experience can create powerful learning opportunities. But the advantages can reach beyond that - studies also suggest that hybrid learning leads to lower rates of attrition and more efficient use of school resources (especially classrooms and laboratories). It should come as no surprise then, that hybrid learning is often cited as the most effective format.
III. Using Time Wisely
With fewer in-seat sessions than a traditional face-to-face class, the hybrid makes the time that students and their instructors spend together a more precious commodity. As such, greater focus needs is placed on using that time more purposefully.
Whereas in a traditional classroom, a certain amount (sometimes a significant amount) of in-seat time might be spent watching videos, reading texts, and taking notes during faculty lectures, in a hybrid course, students are more often assigned these kinds of content-centered tasks in the online portion of the course, and spend face-to-face time more deeply exploring it, analyzing it, deconstructing it, and collaborating together to develop new ideas.
This kind of teaching approach is similar to what is called the "flipped classroom” model, in
which students review video lectures and other resources online on their own, who then come to class ready to go further with what they covered. But the flipped classroom model is not a totally appropriate comparison for the potential of hybrid teaching. The sessions that are designated for online work in a hybrid class are not merely for reviewing material - they are intentionally much more active.
The expectation in a hybrid course, of both students and the instructor, is that in-seat time is more actively used. The question, "Can students do this on their own (alone or in groups)?” becomes a primary consideration in the course planning process, so much so that if students come to class only to be given a read-and-review assignment, they are often irked by what they see as inadequate use of time, a wasted opportunity.
With the rapid rise of Web 2.0 tools, which focus on user collaboration, sharing of user¬generated content, and social networking, the time that students spend online can go far beyond passive reading and watching. Students can actively engage with it and with each other - even create entire projects together - all online.
Of course, as with any course (regardless of format), there must be appropriate time given to both the introduction of new content, as well as opportunities to engage more deeply with it.
The possibilities and flexibility that hybrid teaching offers, however, are arguably unmatched by purely online or face-to-face courses. The key to taking full advantage of that potential all lies in planning.
IV. The Student Experience
A hallmark of any good hybrid course is the seamless integration of online and face-to-face activities.
This integration necessitates a thoughtful focus on the student experience so that students are presented with engaging material and prompted to interact with it in innovative ways. That is not meant to imply that activities need always be terrific fun (although fun can be good), but they should be engaging because this leads to students being more motivated to learn and succeed. The possibilities of how students interact with content and with each other are greatly expanded in a hybrid course; just having them read articles online and then meet to discuss them in class, for example, takes no real advantage of a class format that can otherwise be a transformative experience.
But engaging students can be challenging in any course - how do we make it happen in a hybrid?
1) Leverage Virtual Class Meetings with Collaborative Work
One of the most prominent features of blended learning is the virtual (or synchronous) class meeting. Sometimes teachers spend the entire class in a virtual meeting room lecturing and presenting content. These meetings are often recorded and available for students to watch later, so they can be a more flexible learning activity than traditional in-class lecturing. With the potential time savings of having students watch recorded lectures, students can instead problem-solve together, collaborate on projects, and use virtual break-out rooms for guided practice. If you want students to be engaged in the class meetings, it must be meaningful. Collaborative work can be meaningful when students problem-solve together, plan, and apply their learning in new contexts.
2) Create the Need to Know
The key here is an engaging model of learning. Teachers can use project learning to create authentic projects where students see the relevance and need to do the work --
whether that work is online or in the physical classroom. The same is true for game-based learning. If students are engaged in playing a serious game about viruses and bacteria, then teachers can use the game as a hook to learn content online or offline. Through metacognition, and the "need to know" activity, students "buy-in" to the learning -- no matter when and where that learning occurs.
3) Reflect and Set Goals
Related to the comment on metacognition above, students need to be aware of what they are learning as well as their progress towards meeting standards. Teachers need to build infrequent moments, both as a class and individual, to reflect on the learning and set S.M.A.R.T. goals [specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound]. Through these measurable and student-centered goals, students can become agents of learning, rather than passive recipients. Use reflecting and goal-setting both online and offline to create a personal connection to the learning and personalized goals.
4) Differentiate Instruction through Online Work
In a blended learning classroom, there is often online work that needs to occur. This might be a module on specific content, formative assessments, and the like.
However, students may or may not need to do all the work that is in a specific module. In an effort to individualize instruction, use the online work to meet individual students' needs. Whether an extension of learning or work to clarify a misconception, the work that occurs online can be more valuable to students when it is targeted. Students are no longer engaged in uninteresting busy work but focused on individualized learning.
5) Use Tools for Mobile Learning
The great thing is that blended learning can partner well with many strategies and apps. If you use the flipped classroom model, for example, apps like YouTube are incredibly useful. Leverage the flexibility of where students can learn, and engage them outside the four classroom walls. Use scavenger hunts, Twitter, and back-channel chats to engage students in a variety of mobile-learning activities to support your blended-learning model.
V. Structuring Classes and Activities
Just as when translating a face-to-face course to online, there are few if any one-to-one equivalents; the same is equally true for a hybrid. Although you might find a good home for some of the things that you already use, the hybrid can so fundamentally transform the way that you interact with your students that you should expect to rework or revise them.
In terms of activities, a hybrid course has access to all of the same things that you would use for a face-to-face or online course; there isn't a new set of things to learn about, so familiarity on your part may come as a comfort. That said, how you implement activities with your students may change dramatically, which is all due to the flexible structure that hybrid courses offer.
The schedule and structure of hybrid courses can vary significantly from one class to another. This underscores the pedagogical flexibility characteristic of the hybrid model. The instructor of a hybrid course typically determines what instructional activities should be online or face-to-face depending on the learning goals, course objectives, content, and available resources. Similarly, the timetable for face-to-face versus online work can be organized in quite different ways that may reflect not only pedagogical criteria but also the particular circumstances of the instructor and students.
Here are a few examples of hybrid courses that illustrate different structures for the deployment of face-to-face and online learning activities:
The instructor lectures and facilitates class discussion in the face-to-face classes, students complete online assignments based on these classroom activities, then these online assignments are posted to asynchronous discussion forums for online discussion;
An instructor places lectures online using voiceover PowerPoint or streaming media for students to review, then subsequently in-class students use these preliminary online materials to engage in face-to-face small group activities and discussions;
Students prepare small group projects online, post them
to discussion forums for debate and revision, then present them in the face-to-face class for final discussion and assessment.
By the same token, hybrid schedules can be quite diverse:
• A typical practice is for an instructor to meet with the class face-to-face for a couple of weeks, then go online for a week;
• Alternatively, the first few weeks of the course may be face-to-face preparation, followed by an extended period (such as a month or more) of online work;
• Or a night class that would ordinarily meet face-to-face for three hours once a week reduces each class meeting by 45 minutes and requires the students to complete assignments online in lieu of maintaining the full three hours of face-to-face class time.
VI. Planning Your Hybrid Course
Planning is key to the success of any course, and this is especially true for a hybrid. You want to make sure that what you ask students to do online are a good fit for online, and that the same is true for the face-to-face component. 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.
The hardest part of teaching hybrid is figuring out how to integrate the two experiences so that they capitalize on and amplify each other.
Planning your hybrid course should begin at least 3-6 months in advance. Any learning materials or activities that you would like to incorporate from existing online or face-to-face courses should be reviewed and adapted during this time, in conjunction with a thorough review of your learning objectives.