Minal Anand CEO and Co-Founder of GuruQ
Expert Speak Expert View

An introduction to hybrid learning

Minal Anand CEO and Co-Founder of GuruQ
The COVID-19 pandemic indubitably deranged various aspects of life. Education was poignantly affected leaving institutions clamoring for systems and structures that ensure a continuation of learning for all students. Equity, access and capacity were the predominant challenges every institution had to face in order to deliver remote learning experiences. With the relaxation in government mandates related to lockdown, education systems around the globe are examining the best ways to convene on-campus learning couple with online class delivery.

Most educational institutions are exploring a hybrid learning environment which is a mix of online and offline models. A hybrid approach to learning builds on the strengths of these models to intentionally create a learner-centered experience that is ‘personalized, relevant, and engaging.’ Within a hybrid model, learning is based on personal relationships. It uses face-to-face, and online platforms like Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Google Meets to foster meaningful connections between students and encourage camaraderie among one another for the best possible purposes. It incorporates peer tutoring, self-assessment, and collaboration among instructors and students to design and implement a seamless learning experience. It is a way to enhance and catalyze learning by providing approaches served to meet diverse learners’ needs.

We’d like to reveal some data and statistics to you here:

  • A report by the RAND Corporation, completed in conjunction with the US Department of Education, found that a group of middle and high school algebra students who learned via the hybrid learning model showcased significant gains in performance (8 percentile points, in fact).
  • As per a survey of educators completed by Learning in the 21st Century, 76 percent of those asked believe hybrid learning is beneficial to students.
  • A study completed by the Centre for Digital Education found that 73 percent of educators who utilize a blended learning instruction model observed an increase in student engagement.

In order to transition to a dynamic hybrid learning model, schools and universities need to build whole-system resilience in their institutions. Three strategies that aid in creating such resilience include:

  • Collaborative Capacity-Building: Institutions can leverage technology to support leaders and instructors in collaborating with one another as they transition to a hybrid model.
  • Standardize Digital Platforms: Schools and universities should select technology tools that lead to a coherent and engaging student learning experience and standardize the implementation of these tools in order to streamline communications and workflows. With a standardized digital platform, students are able to quickly become proficient with the tools and can focus on their learning rather than navigating the technology.
  • Utilize the Chosen Digital Platform for Change Management: School systems must implement their standardized digital platform to support change management across all stakeholders in their systems.

Additionally, educators must establish policies and procedures for their virtual environment. How will students ask questions or get the instructors attention? How will instructors take attendance and gauge participation during multi-party calls? During collaborative work, how will educators break students into groups, get students’ attention, and bring everyone back to the main classroom for check-ins or further instruction? Instructors must determine how they can modify their current in-person learning procedures and transition it partially or completely to work in a virtual space. Furthermore, it is imperative for instructors to establish a workflow for sharing content and resources, distributing and collecting assignments, offering feedback, and evaluating students’ work.

Student learning and engagement:

 In a hybrid model, educators can create community through a variety of experiences. Students need to feel connected to one another and to their instructor. Instructors must find a way to bridge the physical distance that separates participants by creating a class community. Students need to see their instructors as ‘real people.’ When educators are authentic, students feel connected and safe to share their thoughts and needs. Students connect best with instructors who are not afraid to show their personalities. Instructors can begin by posting an introductory video welcoming student to the virtual learning space and posting discussion prompts or hosting virtual social activities that help students learn more about their instructor and each other. Traditional ice-breaker activities conducted in-person will need to be revamped and remodelled to develop connections with in-person and virtual students. Additionally, educators can create social channels for students to get to know each other, as well as establish routines and rituals in their class that students can look forward to and that can encourage students to participate in throughout the course.

Research proves, that emotion is the entry point to motivation, cognition, and attention. Establishing protocols and procedures for checking on students, evaluating their needs, and identifying when instructors can help is paramount. For younger students, educators can survey parents or guardians to learn about students’ needs and how much adult guidance and support students will have when they work remotely. For older students, instructors can survey students about demands outside of school and other pressures that may interfere with their success in class. Instructors who show students they care and who genuinely work to help students in need will have students who are motivated and engaged in their course.

Course content and design:

When transitioning to a hybrid learning environment, instructors must evaluate their content and curricula to determine what is most essential for students to learn. Many educational institutions have found that “less is more” when looking at what content needs to be delivered synchronously and how it needs to be delivered. Once instructors establish the enduring understandings, they can use backward design principles to plan their course and lessons with the end in mind. Once educators have their final destination in mind, they can create the final assessment for the unit that will measure if the students successfully reached the learning goals. Instructors can then think critically about what students need along the way to reach the end goal. What will need to be covered in each lesson? What readings/videos will need to be shared? What practice activities, assignments, discussions will students need to complete?

As educational institutions transition to hybrid models, they have the opportunity to reimagine education and build a learning environment that incorporates all of the dimensions of a quality learning experience. Schools and institutions of higher education can create strong learning communities focused on core concepts and centred on solving real-time problems. Students will gain valuable life skills, preparing them to positively contribute to their communities and to be successful in their future work.

By implementing new strategies, educators are contributing to the collective experience of hybrid learning and to the science of teaching. Instructors should, therefore, find ways to document their own learning and reflect on their professional practice. Reflecting through a private journal or public blog on the teaching practices educators implement will ensure that the educational profession continues to move forward during these unprecedented times.

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