With the migration of schools, universities, and workplaces to remote meetings and virtual classrooms, the term hybrid learning is popping up in education and learning and development conversations. Although some educational institutions use the term interchangeably with other terms, like blended learning or even virtual learning, these terms actually describe different ways to interact with and teach learners using digital platforms. This article explores some of these approaches to remote learning.

Key virtual learning concepts

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Virtual learning, or using a virtual classroom to teach enables instructors to teach learners synchronously — that is, learners and the instructor are engaged with the learning material at the same time — from dispersed locations. The instructor might be one place and the learners all together in another or, more commonly, each learner is in a different location.

Webinars are one form of virtual learning, but many schools and workplaces that are replacing some or all of their instructor-led, in-person training with virtual training are using virtual classroom platforms that support a variety of interactive tools. This more closely mimics in-person learning, as learners can interact with one another and with the instructor, engage in conversation or text chats, share screens and white boards, and more.

Blended learning is an approach to instruction that blends in-person or virtual synchronous learning with asynchronous, technology-based digital learning. Some portions of a course might be taught synchronously, in-person or online, while others are completed on the learner’s own time and schedule. Many schools and universities are using this approach in the COVID-19 era to provide instruction without requiring learners or instructors to remain glued to their computer screens for several hours at a time.

Hybrid learning is different from blended learning

With a blended learning model, learners are either attending a synchronous session or learning on their own. But when the instructor is teaching, they are addressing either all learners who are present in the physical classroom or all learners who are using a virtual classroom platform.

Hybrid learning combines in-person with virtual learning at the same time. That is, an instructor addresses both learners who are present with them in the classroom and learners who are at remote locations. Everyone is learning synchronously.

This is promoted as a way to efficiently address larger numbers of learners while offering learners (or parents) the choice between attending in person and attending remotely. The flexibility it offers is enormously appealing to many learners and families facing changing safety and other concerns.

Learning and development professionals who specialize in virtual classroom facilitation tend to discourage hybrid models, though, as this approach is extremely challenging for instructors. Teaching in person requires a different skill set and focus than virtual instruction, and even experienced instructors struggle to meet the needs of both groups simultaneously.

Confused?

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Note that some media articles and school districts are using the term “hybrid learning” to describe a blended model, where learners are present on some days and learning remotely on other days. In L&D circles, this is generally referred to as blended, not hybrid, learning.

Since many institutions are embracing digital, distanced, remote, and virtual learning for the first time, these terms are often used differently in different contexts. If your workplace, your children’s school, or your university is proposing a blended or hybrid model for your class or program, it’s a good idea to check with them to be sure that you understand how they are using these terms.

Poor Use with
Adult Learners
Effective with
Adult Learners

Games

Simple games layered on top of content

Scenario-based games that use the content

Leaderboards, competition

Fan excessive competition among employees or teams by offering large prizes for top performers and/or shaming those with lower scores

Challenge employees to beat their own past performance, or design a leaderboard that shows each employee only the four scorers above and below them

Points, rewards, badges

Award points or levels for completing sections of training or playing for a set number of minutes

Award levels, badges or points for recalling or applying content correctly, demonstrating mastery

  • Remember — bookmark, google, link, search
  • Understand — annotate, Boolean search, journal, tweet
  • Apply — chart, display, execute, present, upload
  • Analyze — attribute, deconstruct, illustrate, mash, mind map
  • Evaluate — comment, editorialize, moderate, network, post
  • Create — blog, film, integrate, podcast, program, publish
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Comparison of the Three Levels of eLearning Content
Type
Off-the-shelf subscription libraries
Pros
  • Saves development time - you don’t have to create any courses yourself.
  • Good fit for a limited budget.
  • Quick to set up and launch.
  • Access to hundreds of courses on a wide variety of topics.
Cons
  • Users cannot make any changes to the pre-existing content.
  • Users do not own any of the content.
  • An overwhelming amount of courses and a short time in which to complete the training can create a higher likelihood of users experiencing learner fatigue.
  • Learners may view content that isn’t relevant to their learning objectives.
  • Time and resources can be spent curating your content library to suit your learners.
Type
Course customization
Pros
  • A premade course that is quick to set up and launch.
  • Customization options such as adding your logo, branding, choice of colors, or some fonts.
Cons
  • You do not own the content of the course.
  • You cannot make significant changes to the content of the course (e.g. adding your own images, data, or organization’s terminology).
  • You cannot make significant changes to the content of the course (e.g. adding your own images, data, or organization’s terminology).
Type
Fully custom courses
Pros
  • Completely tailored to meet your organization's audience, needs, and strategies.
  • You have limitless creative potential.
  • You own the original content/IP.
  • Prevent learner fatigue through personalization.
  • You can change, personalize, and maintain the courses however you want and at your discretion.
Cons
  • More expensive - custom courses are a bigger investment for both time and resources.
  • Learners will not have access to as many course options as quickly as they would through a library subscription.
  • A professional eLearning development team should be assigned to this project - either hired in-house or contracted.
Pamela S. Hogle

An experienced writer, editor, tech writer, and blogger, Pam helps you make sense of learning science and eLearning technology. She provides information you can use to drive improvements in your training effectiveness and ROI.

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