Hybrid or blended learning?

Teachers are spending more and more time researching different teaching strategies, looking for ways to disseminate course content more efficiently, and leaving behind traditional teaching models. Through research on subjects like hybrid and blended learning, both popular models which combine face-to-face with online learning formats, we can adapt course design to the needs and circumstances of teachers and learners everywhere. Thanks to technological learning tools, students benefit from more flexible, accessible, and personalised learning.

01

New educational practices

Studying is no longer just about putting pen to paper and memorising facts. Today, innovative teachers, both in higher education and in business learning and development, are improving learning through technology, as evidenced by the rapid adoption of technology-assisted teaching methods and hybrid teaching models.

If you are familiar with e-learning, you have probably heard of concepts like hybrid learning, hybrid courses, hybrid-flexible (HyFlex) courses, or blended learning. Though they are increasingly favoured by learning professionals and applied in higher education institutions - and even more so since the Covid-19 crisis - their definitions remain broad. At the core of each of these teaching models is the way in which the course content is delivered; face-to-face or remotely, synchronously or self-paced.

Although there are basic teaching models, the possibilities are endless when it comes to integrating teaching technologies into a teacher's pedagogical strategy.

Hybrid course design

According to Quebec’s Laval University a hybrid course means teachers will have to rethink their teaching practices to identify the best way to disseminate the content of each lecture. While some parts of the course may be given face-to-face and others online, all students will always be in the same learning setting at the same time.

Hybrid-flexible course design

Within the framework of a hybrid-flexible course, the teacher lets the students decide how they want to follow the lecture. Their options are to follow it from within the classroom, online synchronously, or online asynchronously. In other words, they can attend the lecture in person, they can follow it online at the same time as the students present in the classroom, or they can choose to view the recorded lecture later on.

Blended learning

Blended learning - or teaching, depending on the student or teacher perspective, brings together the definitions of hybrid and hybrid-flexible course design. The teacher decides in advance how to organise face-to-face and remote lectures in parallel, for different groups of students. Blended learning is a specific educational space in which both on-site and distance learners can attend the same class simultaneously, and can expect a similar experience. Throughout the COVID-19 health crisis, synchronous blended learning was sometimes seen as a solution to reopen schools, because with the same available space, teachers can increase the physical distance between students present in the classroom, while still being able to engage the class as a whole. For example, some pupils may come to class on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays; the other group on Thursdays and Fridays. Each week, the groups change their days of attendance.

02

Advantages of blended learning

Personalised learning

Hybrid teaching allows students to progress at their own pace. Course content is made available on online platforms by the teacher, so that students can consult it independently and as many times as necessary. By using several pedagogical tools and concepts, students also develop metacognitive skills linked to personalised learning strategies. Flexibility and personalisation could therefore become determining factors in their choice of courses.

Interactive learning

As hybrid learning opens the door to interaction, it allows learners to communicate with teachers and other students. Learning is therefore social and encourages student involvement in the learning process. Essentially, with hybrid learning, online and in-person training are complementary and create an integrated learning environment.

Flexible learning

By alternating face-to-face and remote lectures, teachers rethink their content to optimise the students’ learning and use of their time. Students can consult parts of the course online at the appropriate time, while face-to-face courses can be used for group discussions, for example.

Instantaneous feedback

Online tools allow teachers to receive immediate feedback from students, which is more difficult during face-to-face lectures. Forums, emails, feedback tools, forms; students are increasingly asked for their opinions and encouraged to become actors of their learning, thereby making the student experience more effective.

Improved accessibility

Information is made more available, sharing content is more fluid, and the time limit of the course no longer affects the creation of resources. This frees teachers from time and space constraints which, in traditional teaching, could prevent them from optimising their content to enhance the learning experience of their students. Furthermore, students with disabilities also have easier access to courses, and are able to consult them more easily. Pedagogically, students can be exposed to a wider range of expertise, namely by facilitating the contributions of external experts. Some argue that allowing students to change locations gives them more control over their learning and provides opportunities for multicultural contact and exchanges.

Autonomous learning pace

Finally, blended learning perfectly aligns with the significant increase of technology in education. One of the main tasks of higher education today is to train students to think critically, or analyse online sources. Stimulating learning through different tools makes students autonomous in the management of their study resources.

03

Challenges of hybrid learning

  • From the teacher’s perspective, the central challenge of hybrid learning is that it is simply not designed to provide the same learning standards as traditional lectures. The latter can’t simply be transposed into a hybrid setting. Instead, this technological shift - which often represents a heavy mental load for the tutor, as it forces them to pay attention to two locations at the same time - requires teachers to radically innovate the kind of learning activities they offer.

  • Adopting the students’ point of view, the “here” and “there” groups often perceive the lesson differently. On one hand, if the teacher speaks more slowly to benefit the remote students, the on-site students’ experience will be affected. On the other hand, online students can easily feel isolated or neglected. The real risk is that remote students will experience the lecture without any real contact, as if they were watching TV.

  • The technological aspect (good connection, audio and video quality, microphones, positioning of cameras) is key to the success of hybrid learning, and often involves an increased workload compared to an on-site lesson. There are solutions to relieve tutors of fatigue, but these require a specific organisation.

04

Our advice for optimising hybrid learning

More and more higher education institutions are alternating face-to-face courses and distance learning modules. One such institution, the French engineering school EPF, has integrated this strategy into its curriculum and has studied its implementation from a scientific point of view.

Research enables us to better understand the inner workings of hybrid learning and to draw some lessons from it, says the director of the Montpellier campus, François Stéphan.

Implementing a hybrid course design in 4 steps

  • Teach teachers about hybrid learning.

  • Support students and introduce them to distance learning:they will become actors in their own learning, and must learn to train themselves. Teaching students to review their study and learning habits is therefore essential if the hybrid model is to be effective. Good practice: the teacher is present next to the students while they are working on the platform for the first time. The teacher guides them through the tool, answers their questions, and provides advice.

  • Define face-to-face lectures and self-study sessions so that they complement each other: the contents of the online course will aim to prepare a face-to-face lecture, or to reinforce a certain topic or skill.

  • Determine the scope of the face-to-face and remote sessions: which skills and knowledge should learners acquire during a lecture? For example: face-to-face lectures could be more effective when it comes to explaining abstract concepts. Tests and exercises can be carried out online.

Examples of face-to-face lectures

  • Traditional lectures: introducing a new topic, followed by summary sessions with the use of test tools like Wooclap.

  • Tutorials: discuss possible difficulties students encountered online, followed by practical applications through experiments and manipulations.

05

Concrete examples

The flipped classroom

This concept aims to make better use of the time spent in class by devoting it to discussion and interaction on a human level. Students receive courses in the form of online resources (usually videos) that they can watch at home instead of homework, and what was previously done at home is now done in class, hence the idea of the "flipped" classroom. In reality, the time freed up in the classroom will be used mainly to organise activities, group projects and discussions that will give real meaning to school content. Many variations are possible, but the aim is to move from a teacher-centred model to a student-centred model in order to respond to individual needs.

The HyFlex method

The HyFlex method, which is close to blended learning, aims to make face-to-face and distance learning methods coexist simultaneously. In other words, the teacher gives a lecture in a classroom which is recorded, so that students can also follow it remotely. This method has several advantages:

  • It leaves it up to the students to choose their learning space: they can go to the campus or not, depending on their personal constraints

  • It allows students to freely adjust their timetable, since the course is broadcast live but can also be watched later.

  • It requires only a single effort from the teacher, as they don’t need to manage the online course in addition to the face-to-face lecture: they give their lecture once and for all. However, in order for the course to be of good quality, instead of a video meant purely to transfer information, the lecture must be well-structured and segmented into sequences of 12 to 15 minutes, interspersed with online activities. This alternation is essential to maintain the students' attention. The more the teacher works on their presentation’s material and the set-up, the better the multimedia production will be.

Resources

We encourage you to adopt hybrid learning and to open your teaching strategy to other hybrid models. To learn more about designing effective Hybrid courses, have a look at Dr. Brian J.