What is Hybrid Learning? How can countries get it right?

L'apprentissage hybride ou mixte est une combinaison d'apprentissage en personne et à distance. L'apprentissage hybride ou mixte est une combinaison d'apprentissage en personne et à distance.

After the global school lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic,  countries have been exploring a variety of hybrid learning modalities as they re-open schools. But what exactly is Hybrid Learning?

To put it simple, hybrid or blended learning is any combination of in-person and remote learning. By no means is it something new. The approach has been implemented for years in education , especially with the disruption of digital technologies. Given the mounting efforts and interest that countries are devoting to hybrid learning, in this blog (which is part of a series highlighting key lessons from a forthcoming study to understand the perceived effectiveness of remote learning solutions) we examine distinctive features to categorize it, examples from country experiences, and seven enabling factors that should be considered for its effective implementation.

Three distinctive features to categorize hybrid learning:

  • Time (when): which can be synchronous (at the same time, also known as “real time”) or asynchronous (sequential, at different times) or it can have a bit of both.
  • Space (where): which can be in person (also known as face-to-face, sharing the same physical location) or can be remote (two or more people in different physical locations).
  • Interaction (how): which can be unpacked in terms of the direction of the communication (one-way; bi-directional or multi-directional) or type of engagement, from no-participation (an individual is learning alone without interaction with others), limited participation (where the interaction with others is limited, structured or controlled) and high participation (active and dynamic exchange with others is regular and essential).

Considering these dimensions and their sub-components, there is a variety of hybrid learning combinations. It is tricky to find the best combination that addresses what is being taught, where, by whom, and to whom. For each one of these combinations different technology can be integrated. All these aspects will have strong implications in the kind of hybrid learning provided. 

 Possible degrees of hybrid learning based on country experiences:

Time, space, and interaction should be well-thought-out when designing what subjects, topics and approach need to be considered for teaching and learning in person and remotely. Most of our learning experiences can be considered a continuum of hybrid learning., When we learn we integrate different uses and intensities of these three dimensions (even if we participate in a face-to-face learning experience s with limited technology, when learning is extended via social media or phone calls with peers to discuss the lesson, there are some forms of hybrid learning).

When considering the variability of forms and methodologies for delivering and evaluating hybrid learning, it is difficult to compare its cost effectiveness.

There are several constant factors in most of the various forms of hybrid learning. When planning and evaluating different forms of hybrid learning policymakers can take into account:

  • Effective use of the time: The amount of time invested in face-to-face learning, won’t be the same for hybrid environments. Some activities might require more time while others might be faster. Should the length of a remote school day and an in-person school day be the same? What is the ideal duration of a remote lesson?
  • Basic skills for hybrid learners: Not all students will equally enjoy or have this same proficiency for each one of the combinations of hybrid learning. It is critical to equip learners with the skills to learn by themselves, be motivat ed , resilient, and empowered. The good news is that those skills can be learned. Guidance on that will be critica l.
  • Level of support that learners receive: Different mechanisms and tools for hybrid learning will require different kinds of help (the support can also be blended, like remote coaching programs, asynchronously contacting students or a simple helpdesk where students can request support). Monitoring and supporting well-being is also a critical component.
  • Basic skills for hybrid teaching: It will be critical for teachers to build digital skills, pedagogical effectiveness, or ability to identify the suitability of different forms of hybrid learning depending on the context. Effective teacher professional development, supporting coaches, and monitoring tools will be critical.
  • Content's adaptation: The same amount and diversity of content usually covered when teaching face-to-face may not be transferred into hybrid learning. Adaptations will be required in terms of volume and type of content selected.
  • Pedagogical coherence: Switching back and forth between different forms of hybrid learning can be difficult for students and teachers, especially if there is a lack of coherence between the different learning experiences. To enable learning continuity , education systems can ensure that the lessons learned remotely can be also discussed in person or translate them into project-based learning with the students. An effective alignment with the curriculum will require to carefully combine the three dimensions.
  • Technology: Rather than focus on the lack of access to technology (a well-documented problem), the challenge to address here will be the relevance of the tools chosen. The best technology will not rely on full synchronous multi-directional interaction (a lot has been written about “Zoom fatigue”). To calibrate the combination of the technologies, considering the dimensions and factors mentioned, will increase its relevance and impact.

Hybrid learning offers a wealth of options. However, this flexibility comes with some trade-offs.  By trying different degrees of interaction, frequency, and learning at school and home, countries can improve iteratively by documenting experiences, acknowledging the mistakes, improving, supporting teachers and students and adapting quickly. While it is still too early to see the extent to which hybrid learning will become a permanent feature of education post-COVID19, but there are enough trends to say that countries should plan and prepare for hybrid learning to be part of education delivery for the near future.

Special thanks to Ariam Mogos and Omar Arias for their input.

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