Skip to content

CLASSROM DIGITAL PEDAGOGY

Blended Learning & Hybrid Classrooms: what are they?

By: The PAVE Academy

2020 was a challenging year on many fronts, especially for those working in the education sector. Overnight, teachers in Victoria found themselves shifting their lessons into the digital space, and while some were able to do this quite easily, for others and dare I say most teachers, this posed quite a challenge. Some may think that moving the learning from a classroom to the digital space on the surface seems like not such a big deal, students will log into a Webex, Zoom, Google or Microsoft Teams session, the teacher will share their screen and off they go… but as any teacher will tell you, things are not that easy. While the above scenario may be true for a year 12 student who has the maturity to be able to take responsibility for their own connection, there are many other factors that go into the learning dynamic of a classroom. Factor in young primary aged students at the beginning of their schooling journey who are not developmentally ready to be responsible enough for their own learning? Or the students who are disconnected from school and struggle to be motivated to learn? Or the students who don’t have the financial support to be able to afford a device let alone a stable and unlimited internet connection? Or the student who has learning difficulties and requires additional supports to assist them with their learning? Or… and the list goes on and on. In truth, the modern-day classroom is made up of such a wide variety of different learning needs that the overnight transition into the virtual space provided teachers and schools with a world of issues and problems, problems that, in some part, were ironed out and solved as time went on which not only improved the learning experience for teachers and students but also opened the door for the next evolution of education in Australia, blended learning and the hybrid classroom.

If COVID-19 brought anything to the forefront of the education sector, it is that the future of education can leverage the hybrid or blended learning realm, but what is that exactly? Well while these two terms share some commonality, there are some distinct differences between these two terms that we must understand.

What is a Hybrid Classroom?

A hybrid classroom, sometimes called a ‘hyflex classroom” combines the idea of having students live or face-to-face in the classroom with students who are connected virtually.  There are many different takes on what a hybrid classroom actually looks like, and schools are starting to define this term in ways that best suits their needs and the needs of their students. Some schools are combining face-to-face interaction with a virtual interaction simultaneously, having some students live in the room while other students dial in virtually to experience the lesson from their home. This option provides students to access the learning regardless of their geographical location, but in times like we are experiencing now, it allows teachers to control the number of students in one physical learning space at a time. 

Another option is a variation of the scenario explained above, creating a roster for students to alternate between face-to-face and virtual attendance, giving all students access to both styles of learning balancing that with COVID-19 protocols and safety measures. Some schools are exploring mixing or rotating the two learning methods, having some elements run in the virtual space, like explicit teaching or lecture styles presentations with face-to-face workshop style learning events, meaning that students alternate between working from home and coming into school in response to the style and/or delivery of the learning that is occurring. Regardless of the “version” of a hybrid classroom, there are a series of pros and cons that this approach raises, and which need to be considered as we move forward.

Let’s take a look at some positive elements of hybrid classrooms as well as some drawbacks to understand both sides of the issue:

Some positives to Hybrid classrooms:

Flexibility

The one key benefit to the hybrid classroom is flexibility. You can schedule and timetable lessons more easily than you can in the face-to-face environment with restrictions like room bookings/size/location all becoming irrelevant. In addition to this, the flexibility allows students to manage their time more effectively, arranging classes and lessons around their other responsibilities.

Adapting for Diverse Learning Styles

The hybrid classroom can allow schools and teacher to adapt their delivery for the diverse learning needs of students in their classroom. For example, the virtual learning space can assist students with anxiety issues, allowing them to engage in a lesson free from the pressures of sitting in a classroom with other students. Or a student with auditory processing difficulties could benefit from the ability to stop, rewind and re-watch elements of a recorded virtual session, or visual learners can pause the session to study slides or elements of the presentations. Combining that with the more traditional, face-to-face elements of the classroom, we can ensure that the learning needs of all students are catered for and supported.

Transitioning students for their future pathways

Many tertiary institutions are moving into the online learning space, especially for their lectures, and as such having students experience this style of learning in their secondary years through the hybrid learning environment will prepare them for the learning that may lie ahead of them in a supported environment.

Keeping students “up to date” when they are unable to attend school

One of the biggest challenges for teachers is catching up students who missed school due to absences. Some students who were ill fall behind quite quickly and can miss the core elements of the ideas, skills and knowledge that were taught while they are absent from school. The hybrid classroom can allow them to either watch the learning from home and participate if they are able, or it can provide them with a recording to be able to watch at a later date to ensure that they don’t miss out on the key ideas being taught during their absence. While this will never be a replacement for the learning that takes place in the group, the ability for students to see what they have missed and witness the discussion that occurred in the lesson will make their ability to “catch up” a lot easier while also taking the pressure off the teacher to ensure that the “missing elements” in their learning are filled.

 

Some drawbacks to Hybrid Classrooms:

Students require a sense of responsibility, self-drive and organisation

The big drawback to the hybrid classroom is the need for students to have a sense of responsibility, self-drive and organisation. This means that students need to take responsibility to log on to the lesson at the correct time and to not be distracted by elements outside of the learning, and these are huge challenges that teachers faced during the COVID-19 remote learning experience. To be effective in this space students need to have a level of maturity that allows them to ‘step-up’ and do what is required of them when it is required of them…

Limitation of student technology

Regardless of how ‘cheap’ technology is becoming, there are still a large group of students who do not have access to appropriate levels of technology or internet connection that will allow their complete and effective engagement in the hybrid classroom. Students require reliable internet access as well as devices that can not only process the audio and video stream but also allows them to interact and engage simultaneously, and unfortunately this is not always the case due to geographic or economic reasons.

Are teachers and schools ready?

For the hybrid classroom to be effective, both the teachers and schools need to be ready to make drastic changes in the delivery of their lessons, their administration tasks and their pedagogical approaches to the students learning. To do this schools will need to make investments in software and hardware to ensure the teachers can effectively do their jobs and the students can complete the learning. Teachers need to rethink the ways in which they deliver content, tailor and structure lessons and how the students demonstrate their knowledge. Assessments may need to be redesigned to ensure that the work can be authenticated as the students’ own. For schools to move forward with this method of learning, there needs to be processes and plans implemented to ensure the learning is powerful and effective.

Loss of personal interaction

While there are huge benefits to flexibility and use of time, there is one huge loss to moving learning into the virtual space, and that is the physical contact and interactions when working with people in the face-to-face environment. Those incidental conversations that occur when people are working together, those nuances that are picked up about a person’s personality that come from being in the same physical space, the relationships that are built from these interactions struggle to be replicated in the virtual environment and can be a huge loss for the learning as well as the students’ development.

If you look over the positives and drawbacks above, you will see that there are strong arguments for both sides. Regardless of where you fall in this debate, it is safe to say that in the post-covid era, the hybrid classroom will be something that is talked about for years to come and is an area that a variety of schools and institutions are actively exploring.

What is a Blended Learning?

If you think about your teaching practice, you use a combination of different teaching approaches, activities and resources that were designed to assist students with their development and learning. From instructional teaching models, paper-based assessments and activities to online tools, digital games, and websites as well as video, audio and research. Theoretically, these tools, when used in combination for the delivery of a student’s education is called Blended Learning. While this may be the core understanding of blended learning, the concept of blended learning differs slightly from place to place which can make the idea of blended learning a little ambiguous.

The Victorian Department of Education and Training state that ‘blended learning refers to the planned implementation of a learning model that integrates student-centred, traditional in-class learning with other flexible learning methodologies using mobile and web-based online (especially collaborative) approaches in order to realise strategic advantages for the education system[i] while the Tasmanian Department of Education e-School defines blended learning as ‘a range of learning opportunities, e.g. online, face-to-face, community and home to achieve curriculum diversity and promote student enthusiasm.’[ii] The Australian National Training Authority state that blended learning is ‘the integrated combination of traditional learning with web-based online approaches’[iii] and the United States of Americas International Association for K-12 Online Learning states blended learning combines online delivery of educational content with the best features of classroom interaction and live instruction to

personalise learning, allow thoughtful reflection, and differentiate instruction from student to student across a diverse group of learners.‟[iv] In short, it could be said that blended learning is the idea of face-to-face or in-class learning supplemented by digital activities designed to strengthen a student’s understanding as per the design of the teacher or teachers who planned and developed the lesson.

For some, the blended learning approach may be a regular occurrence in your teaching practice, for others, the concept can pose a selection of challenges but wherever you stand, the concept of blended learning tasks are ones that will be pervasive in the movement forward for student’s education. It will change the ways in which teachers plan, design, deliver and assess student learning that is occurring in the classroom.

 

[i] Blended Learning: a synthesis of research findings in Victorian Education 2006-2011, By: Department of Education & Training Victoria, pg6
[ii] ibid
[iii] op.cit.
[iv] op.cit.

What is the difference between the two?

While they do seem similar, there are subtle differences that must be outlined for these methods of learning to be successful.

In short, blended learning is the mix or combination of online and offline resources used to teach a student in a unit of work or module or assess their understanding, the mix of physical and digital learning tools used to facilitate the learning.

Hybrid classrooms are an educational approach to the way in which the learning is experienced, with some students engaging in the learning in a face-to-face classroom while others engage in the learning through a video conferencing system.  

While both approaches mix physical and virtual learning, it is worth noting the key difference between the two is that in the hybrid classroom, the physical and virtual students are different people, experiencing the learning in the different ways, whereas with the blended learning approach, an individual person experiences different methods (physical and virtual) of learning in a lesson.

So why did we spend time unpacking these two ideas today? Why is it important that we understand their differences and what does it mean to your teaching? Well, if COVID-19 and the year 2020 taught us anything, it is that technology is going to play a much bigger role in the delivery of education in the future. Be it more lockdowns with remote learning situations or the blurring of our classroom walls to have one teacher engaging with students from a wide variety of locations, how we leverage technology is going to have a significant impact on our movement forward. A wave of change that we can ride, by understanding the key ideas and changing our thinking around how we can develop our pedagogical approaches, or a wave of change that can pull us into its undertow and makes it difficult for us to come up for breath.

Questions that can drive your integration of the Modification into the learning in the classroom and can spark professional discussions with your colleagues

Q1

Have I created a blended learning environment for the students in my classroom?

Q2

What digital tools am I using that support individualised and student-centred learning?

Q3

How did I find the “remote classroom teaching experience”?

Q4

How did the 2020 remote learning experience change my thinking about my approach to learning in my classroom?

Q5

What areas would I need to improve on to ensure the hybrid learning environment was a success in my classroom in the future?

References

What is the hybrid classroom?

By: Catchbox

Image References

Image 1: https://www.bridgeteksolutions.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Hybrid-Learning.png

Image 2: https://elearning.adobe.com/files/2018/11/1031477.png