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Hybrid Learning Model in Higher Education

By Publisher
| Last Updated February 14, 2023

Since the pandemic, educational institutions have adapted their traditional, in-person delivery of courses to adopt more elements of distance learning courses. During the pandemic and afterward, online learning developed much further to include hybrid learning, which is now an essential part of academic and business success worldwide. There is a vast proliferation of organizations, including higher educational and vocational institutions, which offer hybrid learning, but what is it, and what is the most effective form?

What is Hybrid Learning?

Hybrid learning is an educational model that combines in-person and virtual instruction. Students attending lectures in person and those accessing the course content virtually via online meeting software such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams have access to the same materials (notes, recordings, additional reading, etc.) The terms "hybrid" and "blended" are often used interchangeably.

How it Works

Essentially, hybrid learning offers a way of learning where students can participate in classes in person but are also provided with ways of engaging with the course content (and with peers and instructors/tutors) remotely as needed. As no one standard definition is shared by all institutions of what hybrid learning should look like, the model varies significantly across organizations. So, what hybrid learning looks like differs not only between institutions but within institutions. Some courses offering hybrid learning will require more in-person time than others.

Research has shown that some hybrid learning models are more effective than others. This research has been backed up by effective practice. The most effective form of hybrid learning allows students to interact and engage with content before, during, and after classes in a way that suits them, while having the opportunities to collaborate and share ideas with classmates.

This interaction with the course content can be independent of the class (asynchronous). However, there are still opportunities for the students to collaborate and apply key concepts within the synchronous classroom (a synchronous classroom being one where classmates and tutors meet regularly either online or in person). Different institutions may operate slightly different styles of hybrid learning.

Challenges of Hybrid Learning

Hybrid learning comes with challenges, such as the need for reliable technology, self-discipline, and self-organizational skills. Students need access to reliable, high-speed internet to participate in the course content. Many educational organizations and students discovered during the pandemic that inadequate technology can lead to unsuccessful hybrid learning experiences. Additionally, the hybrid learning model requires students to be self-disciplined to manage their own learning and prioritize and organize tasks independently.

Managing Participation for a High-Quality Learning Experience

In order for hybrid learning to be successful, participation must be properly managed to ensure a high-quality learning experience.

Instructors must ensure the course content is available and classes are running correctly in synchronous and asynchronous formats. They should also encourage students to engage with the material, collaborate with their peers, and apply key concepts within the classroom setting.

Additionally, staff should be trained to deliver high-quality learning experiences effectively using all the technology available.

Finally, additional staffing may be necessary to monitor online chats and assist students attending remotely.

When Does Hybrid Learning Work Well?

Hybrid learning is only successful if the student has a good (or better) experience, which leads to a good (or better) outcome. Achieving this is challenging and depends heavily upon factors that can be beyond the control of the student and tutor.

The key to effective hybrid learning is the provision of appropriate and reliable technology by the institutions and the availability of technology to students, including the ability to access reliable, high-speed internet — often on heavily used domestic connections if students are learning from home. Hybrid learning does not work well if the technology is inadequate, as many educational organizations and students realized during the pandemic.

Hybrid learning works well when all staff has been trained to deliver high-quality learning experiences effectively using the technology available to them. Staff will be required to multi-task, often problem-solving technology issues on the go while delivering the content of the lecture to the students at the same time. If this isn't an option, additional staffing can be used to monitor online chats and assist students attending remotely.

In a higher education setting, hybrid learning offers the potential for existing courses to be redesigned to meet the needs of both in-person and remote students. The course content may be updated earlier than it would have been otherwise.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Man in denim shirt working on laptop at deskSo, what are the disadvantages and advantages of hybrid learning within higher education?

Advantages of Hybrid Learning

The hybrid model is excellent for those who can organize themselves and their work without the more rigid boundaries provided by traditional in-person learning experiences. The model offers students the following:

  • The chance to discover what works best for them in terms of managing their learning
  • The provision of an online community for support
  • In-person support offered by the face-to-face sessions
  • The ability to pace their own learning
  • The potential to save money on commuting

Hybrid learning also offers greater flexibility, with students having greater freedom to plan their routines around their own needs. This flexibility can be particularly useful for students with family or work responsibilities and commitments.

Disadvantages of Hybrid Learning

The advantages of hybrid learning are plentiful. However, it is important to recognize that it also has some drawbacks. Students must have access to reliable technology and possess good self-discipline to be successful. While instructors are responsible for providing the necessary resources and ensuring the classes run smoothly, the student must put in the effort and stay on top of the course material.

Other potential disadvantages include:

  • Lack of "higher education experience" if students spend less time on campus
  • The need for self-discipline
  • The need to prioritize and organize tasks independently
  • The potential for lack of engagement with the course

Hybrid learning within higher education can result in less participation in the online elements of the course, as some students may only do the minimum to pass. This limited participation can be a problem for the students and their peers. Left unchecked, it can mean that students may not gain the same depth of knowledge or understanding of a concept compared to if they had been attending in person, as the quality of the discussion or debate may not be as strong. However, if participation is properly managed, a discussion can thrive within a hybrid learning model.