What is hybrid learning?

Pamela S. Hogle
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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.


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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.

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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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