The Future of Hybrid Learning

hybrid classroom
(Image credit: Unsplash: Thomas Park)

In 2006, Dr. Brian Beatty taught the first Hybrid-Flexible (HyFlex) course at the Instructional Technologies (ITEC) graduate program at San Francisco State University. The course was offered as a way to bolster enrollment in the program while not decreasing the in-person experience of students already enrolled. 

Today, Beatty is the associate professor of instructional technologies in the Department of Equity, Leadership Studies and Instructional Technologies at San Francisco State University and has long helped other instructors design HyFlex courses. 

Prior to the pandemic, the hybrid model, which allows students to choose whether to participate in a course either online or in-person on a weekly or daily basis, was gaining increasing traction in higher ed and had been offered in select instances in K-12. Since then, the model has exploded in popularity. 

Tech & Learning spoke with Beatty, who shared his thoughts on what HyFlex has looked like during the pandemic and what its future could be in a post-pandemic world. 

What's Working

“The faculty resistance in the past to teaching anything online is starting to become less,” Beatty says. “We're finding that we can have some success teaching online, even when we don't want to teach online, that a lot of our students can be good online learners even when they don't want to be online learners. That opens up this opportunity for us to provide another access path to students.” 

The pandemic disruption has also allowed some educators to spend more time focusing on the process of learning, Beatty says. “When they have the freedom to do that and they've got some support about using different technologies, they're actually recovering some of the creativity that we used to have an education that was largely lost in the high-pressure, high-stakes testing world that we kind of created over the last 20 years or so,” he says. 

What Isn't Working

“What's not working well right now is when the teachers are forced into this synchronous-only kind of environment and everything's focused there without adequate preparation,” Beatty says. “One of the challenges I've seen is that it's hard sometimes for teachers and administrators to put the resources, the time, the energy, the effort, the money, into preparing to do this well when we don't know exactly how long this goes.” 

If a school or university officials believe something such as a HyFlex model is valuable long term, administrators should put together a strategic process around adopting those strategies and plan on investing time and money into implementing them effectively, he says. 

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Classes 

When designing his own classes these days, Beatty tends to think about the asynchronous vs. synchronous experience rather than online vs. in-person. 

“What works for me is when I don't focus so much on the reliance on the synchronous experience as being the only thing that learning comes from,” Beatty says. By being overly focused on in-class learning, he believes that he may have been missing out on guiding the learning outside of class, where students actually do the most learning.  

He says realizing this changed his perspective on teaching. “Even when I had a bad experience in the class, I didn't have to say, ‘Well, okay, I guess we're not learning anything this week.’”

Time Management for Instructors 

HyFlex courses require educators to conduct regular class meetings and build robust asynchronous elements as alternatives to class meetings. Doing both of those things can be daunting for educators who were squeezed for time even before the pandemic. 

Beatty says instructors should attempt to create a reasonably good asynchronous version of a course but don’t need to build the perfect version. Instructors then need to block out time to respond to forum posts and other online components of the class the same way online students need to schedule time to work. He advises a mindset of, “I’m learning how to teach differently, and I'm reserving this time for that. So maybe I'm not going to be part of that committee.”

The Future of HyFlex in Higher Ed and K-12 

Beatty believes post-pandemic HyFlex models will continue to be more popular at higher ed institutions, particularly in graduate programs and at smaller institutions that are looking for creative ways to enroll more students. 

In K-12, Beatty doesn’t see a widespread movement in which schools will allow students to choose whether to attend class in person or online asynchronously, but he believes there will be more openness to the concept on an as-needed basis. 

“It could be a situation in which the schools and the teachers will say, ‘Well, actually, there's this pocket of students that can't be on our campus for this particular term or this period of time, but we can still serve them in our classes.’” 

He adds, “It could be a way to keep students participating, even when they can't be there in class, rather than just saying, ‘Okay, you're gone for two weeks because your family's taking you on vacation.’”

Erik Ofgang

Erik Ofgang is a Tech & Learning contributor. A journalist, author and educator, his work has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Smithsonian, The Atlantic, and Associated Press. He currently teaches at Western Connecticut State University’s MFA program. While a staff writer at Connecticut Magazine he won a Society of Professional Journalism Award for his education reporting. He is interested in how humans learn and how technology can make that more effective.