A few years ago I had a wonderful conversation with my niece about how she was developing her new junior grade classroom. Previously as a new graduate, she spent the first part of her teaching career working with children who were hospitalized, mostly cancer patients. She told me about what a great challenge it was to develop lessons around their inconsistent schedules, interrupted units of study and sporadic opportunities to study material. If it wasn’t for the advances of technology she believed these children would have had barely any access to the same kind of education as their counterparts in traditional school settings.
When it came time to work in a school, she found everything she resourced for her home and hospital schooled children was so easily blended with the classroom setting. What emerged was a hybrid of sorts. Just like we think of hybrid plants or hybrid cars, her classroom became a mix of the best of both worlds.
Generally speaking, this new sort of blended learning is a program in which students learn partly through the delivery of content digitally. This mostly pertains to online media, but it also involves a degree of control over this delivery’s time, pace and place. Even while attending a traditional school setting with other students, computer mediated activities are part of the program.
Advantages of hybrid learning
You can’t begin to image the access to resources that computer based learning allows. As well, the sophistication it brings to monitoring, assessing and evaluating student progress is not only instantaneous, but much more meaningful for student and teacher. Customized programming is more available than ever. Student engagement is higher. Keeping in mind that more and more students today are of the “Digital Natives” variety, born to the use of technology, embracing this culture just makes sense. With more use of this comfortable and familiar access, students and instructors make more meaningful connections. Students with unusual schedules such as elite athletes, students on work programs, and even hospitalized children, can have benefit from an enriched course of study.
For higher education, it means accessibility to digitally based programs are not only cost efficient but convenient too. Time and travel to a campus is not necessary. Resources in schools can be better allocated to boost student outcomes and achievements, particularly students with different learning abilities.
How to Go Hybrid?
To successfully adopt more technology in a program, adjustments are necessary. It begins with an evaluation of content, and for classes slowly making the transition; this is the ideal place to start. Rethink the textbook. Today, there is a plethora of ways to bring content to a course of study. Beyond this step, getting creative with lecture style learning means teaching with more “active-learning” style assignments. Consider online group projects, tutorials, self-tests, case studies and other clever means of engaging students in the learning process. Allow the students to be more involved and to work more on their own. What will emerge will be time management skills, more computer literacy, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. It’s possible that with a hybrid form of instruction a greater knowledge of subject matter knowledge emerges.
Does Hybrid Learning Work?
Being fairly new, the results are varied. Some teachers are slowly transitioning their classrooms and courses of study so feedback is sporadic. Where given more exciting opportunities for group discussions and online collaborations, students who are hesitant in “front of the group’ styled presentations do better. Students should learn how to improve public speaking. “Speaking” online is a little less evasive. Where these opportunities still exist in the blended classroom, it may help.
From a classroom management perspective, teachers can provide more regular guidance and feedback, without the feeling of looking over the student’s shoulder or leading a group discussion. Teachers can steer students toward success, rather than waiting for poor results on tests or papers. The process, not just the final product is paramount.
Disadvantages of hybrid learning
Any program that has a heavy reliance on technical resources has to ensure they are those that deliver up-to-date and reliable experiences. In some cases, the degree of IT literacy among the students has to be considered. Being unable to access course tools or material either through lack of knowledge or quality of devices can be a hindrance.
In some cases, in higher education settings, it has been proven that students can fall behind when there is an excess of online material to watch and learn from. Watching excessive amounts of videos in one sitting can be no better than being in the lectures themselves.
It has been debated and studied whether giving students excessive access to resources is overwhelming and can lead them to feel that plagiarizing the words and works of other can go undetected. But just as we teach youngsters not to steal belongings of others, or a place of business, there is plenty of room to teach about stealing in the virtual world tool. Products and services such as plagiarism tracker make it easier to ensure student work is authentic and they learn about protecting their words in the online world.
The Community Classroom
What does this say for the sense of community that is created in the traditional classroom? We know the value of bringing like-minded people together or people in similar situations. The hybrid learning does just that. Content is relieved from being the focus of the sessions, and the bringing together of discussion, studies and activities takes over.