How to Start a Hybrid Learning Center

hybrid learning center
(Image credit: Pixabay)

As the calendar turns to the 2021 school year, we have to reflect on what did not work with hybrid learning models and instructional practices in our classroom. When we talk hybrid, we also talk synchronous, asynchronous, independent learning, and many other terms we never talked about 12 months ago. 

The issues we face with hybrid learning is designing lessons that don't fully work for students at home or in the physical classroom. By merging lessons that lack the full range of options in either environment, we have not provided the best learning opportunities to our students.

One promising practice that can be used in hybrid learning is the use of centers. Just like in elementary schools, establishing centers requires some initial planning, work, and possible expense, but can save time and money, and maximize teacher connections with all learners. Learning centers capitalize on student exploration because they provide students with hands-on experience and teacher support.

Hybrid Learning Centers 

In a hybrid model that makes use of centers, every student attends class synchronously, whether in-person or at home. Educators design learning activities that are differentiated for students based on their physical location. 

For example, the teacher starts class with a warm-up activity posted on an LMS. Direct instruction via a mini-lesson is provided for all students to access the content together. Centers can then be scheduled in which students engage in either in-person groupings on an LMS or in breakout rooms. The teacher rotates through each group to provide guided practice or support independent work. Once all the centers have been visited, the teacher can provide a closing activity for the whole class, much like the warm-up, in which students reflect on the learning objectives via an online form. Questions can be posted as warm-ups in a way that creates a combined classroom community. Assignments can also be designed with mixed groups in which students at home and in-person can collaborate.

While hybrid centers keep students separated based on where they are physically, students still interact through an LMS and synchronous meeting platform. These interactions increase individualized instruction (teachers work directly with all students in each group and ensure they fully understand the content) and student engagement. Centers also allow for an increase and consistency in interactions much like a full in-person classroom as opposed to traditional A/B hybrid models, in which students are subjected to the delivery of content in person and the completion of individual tasks at home.

Adoption of Hybrid Learning Centers 

Any shifts in current practice takes structured and consistent professional development (PD), training, resources, and time. 

Professional Development. For districts to launch a consistent instructional practice/model, time and resources will need to be spent to give a clear reason for this shift. This PD will begin with consistent videos around the "why" and the expected outcomes. The message should come from the superintendent and other school leaders. 

From there, live PD from in-district or contracted trainers should focus on the implementation of the center model. The agenda will include exemplars, PreK-12, from districts that have successfully implemented this instruction to varying degrees. Additional PD should be added for districts moving away from asynchronous days and to a 5-day a week synchronous instructional model.

The focus of each session will be on:

  • Lesson planning 
  • The technology needed to implement hybrid centers 
  • Sharing exemplar lessons 
  • Unit planning 
  • Detailing support networks 

Time. Districts will have to look at the current learning time required to allow for additional days off to implement PD supportive of a significant shift in current practice. Districts can work with school committees/boards to be creative with current vacations and other traditional days off to maximize PD training and time on learning. 

Cost. Moving to a fully synchronous model in the hybrid structure will accrue costs to some districts. Initially, the cost of cameras for all teachers in all classrooms will be a requirement. Most laptops have cameras, but some classrooms only have a teacher desktop. Furthermore, infrastructure in schools will need to be increased, i.e., bandwidth for constant video streaming by all teachers simultaneously. Additional costs for districts could be for families without internet access. A full synchronous model will also require all students online at home every day during school hours. 

Measures of success. A successful PD plan will consist of a solid agenda highlighting the new model's needs and exemplars. It will also consist of ongoing meetings throughout FY21 year to support district implementation. Long-term measures of success will require the collection of data including, but not limited to, dropout rates, standardized test scores, and district common assessments as each pertains to the FY 21 school year and beyond.

Learning is dynamic and complicated, and teaching in a hybrid model adds another layer of complexity. However, by being intentional, consistent, and routinized via synchronous hybrid models, we can create a learning environment more closely resembling that which existed pre-COVID and in the best interest of our learners. 

Dr. Matthew X. Joseph (@MatthewXJoseph) is Director of Digital Learning and Innovation for Milford (MA) Public School.

Dr. Matthew X. Joseph (@ MatthewXJoseph) is Director of Evaluation and Supervision in Brockton, MA.