Tips on creating hybrid classrooms

Katherine McEldoon and Emily Schneider

The hybrid model of teaching and learning combines online and in-person learning into one cohesive experience. Although the model has been around for many years, interest has been on the rise because it gives instructors the flexibility to design their courses in a way to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and give students ownership over their learning.

Studying from home on laptop

Another advantage of the hybrid classroom model is that it can be the “best of both worlds” by giving students and teachers the in-person and social interactions they crave while also taking advantage of the benefits of technology.

This article serves as a primer for those who are ready to try hybrid teaching and learning. Drawing on the research literature, it covers where to start, a model for integrating technology, how to plan hybrid interactions with students, what a learner-centered approach is and how to support it, advice for online assessments, as well as an example of a hybrid implementation.

Where to start

Successful hybrid courses fully integrate online and face-to-face instruction, planning interactions in a pedagogically valuable manner. Build around what you want students to learn:

  • Don’t: think of your hybrid class as a direct translation of your face-to-face course. Common pitfalls are to directly translate the online or to add online components onto a face-to-face class.
  • Do: build your course by starting with the learning objectives in your syllabus. Then, as you’re building your course, select and align the delivery method, technology, and assignments that will best help students learn the objectives and content.

Consider three things during this process:

  1. What needs to be done in-person versus online
  2. What needs to be in real-time versus giving students flexibility
  3. What needs to be instructor-facilitated versus facilitated by the learning resources

Integrate the experiences
Melding in-person and online classes doesn’t need to be disjointed. You can incorporate them in such a way that they support each other. For example, assign challenging and engaging online learning activities and then discuss them in-person, inviting questions. If you’re encouraging online discussion, reference these discussions in class to confirm their value.

Choose the right technology for you

Technology also has benefits that can improve learning, such as immediate feedback and monitoring progress. Rather than starting by shopping for educational technology, start by understanding the problems you experience. Then evaluate whether educational technology can help solve those problems. We have provided examples in the complete guide, available for download.

Plan effective interactions

After you’ve identified the learning objectives, think about the interactions you’ll use to facilitate learning and which mode you’ll use. Hybrid learning enables a lot of flexibility in how the students interact with each other, with you, and with the learning materials. Interactions can be categorised into three types.

  1. Instructor-Learner: Instructor interaction is a major driver of successful learning. Examples include emails and discussions.
  2. Learner-Learner: These interactions can either happen online, with learners interacting but not necessarily in real-time, or in person. Examples include discussions, collaborative group work, and peer-review activities
  3. Learner-Content: The SAMR Model is one way of thinking to make the most of student interactions using technology. Examples include lecturing via Zoom instead
    of in the front of a classroom or instead of studying a static diagram of a physics concept, students watch a video and predict what happens next.

Craft a learner-centered approach to learning

In a hybrid model, encourage students to take control of their learning. Start by enabling students to choose how they engage with the materials. Hybrid models allow students to chose in when, how, and what they engage with. Although there are real-time aspects of a hybrid course (either face-to-face or online), much of the learning occurs on the students’ own time.

Their own independence should be encouraged and they’ll need support to take ownership of their work. Importantly, prompt them to monitor and reflect on their learning, and then act on their new understanding.

Take your assessment online

If your preference is to use a traditional summative exam, these research-based tips can make the online experience better for you and your students. Here are guidelines for taking your assessments online.

  1. Create clear and specific rules and instructions so students know exactly what to do.
  2. Reduce the opportunities for cheating.
  3. Make sure students can reasonably complete the exam within the time allotted.
  4. Align your exam questions to learning outcomes.
  5. Base scoring and point values on the complexity and difficulty of the questions.

Methods and tips on each of these points can be found in the complete guide available for download.

Continuously improve

Keep your approach simple at first and aim for continuous improvement, not perfection. We encourage you to try something, get feedback from your students, and keep improving your course. And, you’re not alone. Your colleagues may also have advice too. You can build an informal or formal learning network. This is a learning experience for everyone.

About the authors

Katherine McEldoon, PhD
Katherine is a Senior Research Scientist at Pearson. Trained in cognitive science research labs across the country, she has worked to connect insights from the science of learning to educational practice throughout her career. Katherine earned her PhD in Cognitive Development and was an Institute of Education Sciences’ Experimental Education Research Fellow at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education. Her postdoctoral work at Arizona State University centered on a research partnership between The Learning Sciences Institute and ASU Preparatory Academies, incorporating a theory of active learning into middle & high school teacher pedagogy. Since then, she has continued to bridge research and practice outside of academia, working with educational technology start-up companies, state governments, and more. Katherine firmly believes in the power of enabling educators with insights from research and incorporates this mindset into her work at Pearson.

Emily Schneider, PhD
Emily has spent more than a decade researching and designing learning experiences for higher education. As a Senior Learning Designer at Pearson, she helps product teams create effective and engaging digital learning experiences at scale. Emily believes that we should take advantage of technology for what it offers but never forget the power of the embodied human experience. She holds a PhD in Learning Sciences and Technology Design from Stanford University.

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