A traditional college course follows a regular schedule of in-person meetings in an on campus classroom. An online course is held primarily online, with students using an online learning platform as a virtual classroom where they can access course materials, complete and submit assignments, and participating in class discussions and projects. As the name implies, a hybrid college class is a compromise between these two opposite methods of learning in which students enjoy flexibility similar to that of an online class and some of the face-to-face interaction common in traditional courses.
While people talking about hybrid learning are usually discussing college courses, the pandemic has opened the possibility of part-time online learning to K-12 students as well, according to Parade Magazine. Additionally, there is a variation of the hybrid model that involves less time out of the classroom called computer-enhanced learning. This type of learning includes components such as video gaming, presentations and online testing that are available to individual students in the classroom during traditional learning periods. The term “hybrid learning” is often used interchangeably with “blended learning.” This is disputed by many instructors who maintain that hybrid learning is a balanced ( 50 percent spent in each mode) method while blended learning is usually 25 percent online and 75 percent face-to-face. For the purposes of this article the term hybrid learning will refer to an educational procedure that involves 50 percent of time spent in virtual learning.
Types of Hybrid Learning
Universities and schools use several different models of hybrid learning.
Days In / Days Out
This is the system most K-12 schools are employing during the stresses of the Covid-19 pandemic. Students rotate in-person learning two or three days a week with online learning. Sometimes students take half a day in traditional classroom learning and the second half online.
The instructor lectures and also enables question-and-answer periods during face-to-face periods and then students complete their homework online based upon what they learned during the in-person components. The homework can also include collaborative assignments with other students.
In this widely-used model, the instructor places lectures online through various platforms including streaming or streamcasts. Many courses also require participation in online forums. Students can think about the lecture content, explore it more, process it and perhaps even watch lectures again to digest the information. The face-to-face class time enlarges upon the principles taught online, offers opportunities to ask questions and interact with peers and allows students to get one-on-one help.
The instructor sets a regular schedule of online learning and then students spend face-to-face portions of the course in labs getting hands-on experience.
In this model, students spend the first part of the semester or quarter in face-to-face classes, then switch to online learning for a month or more. There are “check-ins” during this time that may be face-to-face or online as the student requires.
Blending the Virtual Classroom with the Real Classroom
How hybrid courses work may vary from one college or university to the next. Often but not always, classes take place 50 percent through on-campus meetings and 50 percent through online assignments. For example, a hybrid class might have a similar class schedule to a traditional course, with a set meeting time that lasts for an hour or two to be held a couple days a week. Instead of meeting both days, though, hybrid classes will usually have students meet in class just one day a week and supplement that meeting with online “classwork.”
Some hybrid programs may operate differently. Bloomberg Businessweek urges colleges to experiment with various schedules for hybrid courses. Instead of the standard 50 percent of class meetings spread out evenly over the semester, the publication suggests that students may benefit from more face-to-face interaction at key points in the semester, like the beginning, midterm, and end, while relying more heavily on online learning during the gaps.
Schools that have gone to hybrid learning during the pandemic function much as universities offering this type of learning. Some schools ask students to attend face-to-face classes two times a week and to do online learning the other three days. Just as the peer interaction and student-teacher connections are vital in the college classroom, they are important to K-12 students.
One problem of hybrid learning at both levels is that teachers and instructors must have the skills to deliver lectures in engaging ways. When there is no distraction by peer questions or when lectures become boring, students “tune out,” and arrive in face-to-face classes unprepared to take advantage of the interaction portion of the courses. Conversely, when lectures are recorded “live,” instructors will have to learn to address both in-person and remote learners. The quality of the hybrid portion of the course depends upon the abilities of the instructor.
Pros and Cons of Hybrid Courses
Just as online classes are not easier than classes taken in the classroom, hybrid classes are at least as much work, and sometimes more work, than traditional courses. However, they provide more flexibility in terms of scheduling, which may make them more manageable for students who have job or family obligations that limit their time to attend on-campus classes. Because hybrid classes still include face-to-face interaction on a regular basis, they are less likely to result in students feeling isolated and falling behind in their studies. In fact, research indicates that academic performance among students in hybrid courses is as good as it is among students in traditional courses, a claim which cannot be made for complete online courses, The New York Times reported.
Downside of Hybrid Learning
Many K-12 schools adopted completely online classes at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Student learning faltered and mental health suffered as students felt isolated and as parents and their children faced the realities of discipline and time management required to learn completely online. When some of the schools turned to hybrid courses, these things got better.
In the wake of pandemic closures, universities also threw many students into the world of virtual classes. Many of them were unsuited for virtual courses. Several things determine whether students will do well in hybrid learning.
Mandates Good Equipment
Since the virtual component of the courses is delivered through the Internet, students must have good equipment and a reliable Internet connection. Many K-12 school systems had to scramble to find tablets and laptops for students. University students, as well, must be able to access lectures, student portals and virtual focus groups.
Makes Computer Skills Vital
An article on The Classroom.com website points out that students who take hybrid courses must know how to access online blackboards and participate in conference-call-type meetings such as Zoom. They must also be able to create, attach and deliver assignments as well as send emails to teachers and other students.
Requires Good Time Management
Since the face-to-face class time involves discussion of concepts learned through the lectures, students who do not complete the lectures, or who do not understand the fundamentals of the material presented will not be able to take advantage of the in-person learning. Additionally, the online portion is not considered homework. The recommended formula for successful learning is the same as for traditional courses: nine to ten hours of homework and study for each three-credit course.
The Positive Aspects
Of course, for those engaging in hybrid courses because of the Covid-19 virus, the main advantage is the ability to avoid social gatherings. There are, however, many other advantages to this type of learning.
As noted, elementary and secondary students thrown into entirely online learning have not done as well as expected. These students needed peer and teacher interaction. Socialization is a huge part of education as well. University students need to be “attached” too. A Forbes article citing a study of students who were forced to switch from in-person to online education during the pandemic rated their educational experiences much lower than those who continued traditional courses. The surprising thing is that as time passed and they gained experience with the online model, their dissatisfaction increased. Hybrid learning models include face-to-face interaction with both peer groups and instructors that most students seem to require.
One of the great things about online programs is that they allow people to keep working and to perform their family responsibilities while completing their educations. Hybrid courses do this as well. Students who know how to manage their time and who do not procrastinate can tailor their courses to their schedules while still participating in traditional classroom interaction.
How Teaching Differs in Hybrid Learning
According to the website codlearningtech.org, teaching a hybrid course involves more than just putting lectures online. Teachers must acclimate to the format as well. That means they must understand the strengths and weaknesses of both online and in-person learning. Instructors of hybrid courses need to decide what they expect students to gain from each segment and plan their teaching time to create environments that complement one another.
One difference in face-to-face teaching and student online learning is that in a face-to-face classroom, teachers can see their students and can tell by facial expressions if they are confused or bored. That gives them the opportunity to adjust their teaching to rectify the weaknesses. They can revisit a point or abbreviate information that students have plainly grasped. There is no such opportunity in virtual lectures, so teachers must plan carefully how lectures are delivered. Additionally, a lot of learning is reinforced by immediate engagement in face-to-face classes. That is, students can ask questions or interact in some other way that makes the information memorable. Although engagement is part of hybrid learning too, in virtual lecture usage it occurs at a different level and some information that would have spurred discussion or questions is lost in the time period between the virtual lectures and the face-to-face class. If lectures are offered in the in-person learning, students completing online homework assignments on their own may forget information in the time span between the face-to-face and virtual sessions.
It has been found that teachers of hybrid courses tend to assign more work than teachers of traditional courses. They must guard, according to the cited article, against “ teaching a course-and-a-half.”
Another issue is assessment methods. Online learning is often graded according to performance on assignments and tests and by the number of times a student logs in to an online discussion group and comments. Face-to- face learning is assessed according to test performance and successful completion of assignments, but also according to class participation and interaction between instructor and student or between peers. Deciding what weight each of these factors has in hybrid courses is a consideration teachers must make.
What Marks a Good Hybrid Course?
The answer is that it is the course that is best for you. For instance, you might consider the amount of time that is required on campus. If you are taking a flex model, for instance, you will have to stay in a dorm or housing near the school during the face-to-face portion. That could be pricey, but it also involves taking time away from work or family. If you cannot afford to stay near the school, this option is not a good one for you.
Another issue is whether this type of learning is a good fit for your personality and abilities. Of you need the constant reinforcement of peer and instructor input, hybrid learning may not be the right choice. The proportion of online to in-person components differs between programs, so perhaps hybrid learning is a good choice, but the particular program you are considering misses the mark for you.
A third issue is that while online courses are usually less expensive than on-campus versions, that is not necessarily true of hybrid courses. Some cost the same as traditional courses and some may be more expensive. Weighing the cost is another way to decide if this type of learning is right for you, or if the particular course offering is appropriate. While all college-level courses today demand computer access and Internet connections, hybrid courses will also involve commuting to and from a brick-and-mortar campus for the traditional classroom portions. It might also involve childcare and living expenses during that time.
The decision about what marks a good hybrid course is that it must be the right fit for you.
Though hybrid courses are not yet as common as online courses, research suggests this model of learning is becoming more popular, especially with community college students. In 2011, 21 percent of community colleges surveyed reported offering hybrid courses, and the institutions that hosted such courses intended to increase course offerings in future years, according to Community College Daily. A hybrid course might be the right choice for you if you are looking for a way to smoothly transition from traditional classes on online classes, or if you want the flexibility of an online education as well as the in-person interaction that makes traditional learning so valuable.
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