How to design a hybrid class

Hybrid learning is the educational star of the moment, and you can thank the coronavirus pandemic for that.

As schools reopen across the United States and around the world, they’re turning to a mix of online and in-person teaching models, also known as hybrid classes.

But this isn’t a new phenomenon. In fact, colleges and universities have been using the hybrid model to facilitate distance learning for years. In 2017, over 6.5 million post-secondary students participated in various forms of distance learning.

That means there’s already a lot of knowledge and experience out there about how best to design a hybrid class. This is great news for teachers who are working hard to adapt traditional school schedules to hybrid learning as the new academic year kicks off amid COVID-19.

Let’s take a look at how to design a hybrid class and the steps that will help make it an engaging and valuable educational experience.

Define the class and its goals

The first step to designing a hybrid class is exactly the same as designing a traditional class. Specify what material you need to cover, what the goals of the class are, and how this fits in with the rest of the syllabus. Once you know exactly what the class is about, the knowledge you need to impart, and the purpose of the specific class in the larger subject matter, you’ll be able to decide how best to turn it into a hybrid format.

Know your audience

If you’re preparing a hybrid class for students you already know, this makes it a little easier. After all, you’re familiar with the class dynamic and aware of their level of knowledge, and you understand their learning style, right?

Not so fast. Hybrid learning is very different from traditional learning. Students must remain focused on a screen instead of interacting face to face with the teacher. They participate in a classroom setting — but they’re alone at home instead of with their peers. They must do all their work with online tools rather than the pen and notepad they’re accustomed to in a physical classroom.

Knowing how your audience will engage and interact in a hybrid class — as compared to a traditional class — is key to creating the right environment. A good way to find out is through digital surveys. Ask your students what they want and expect in a hybrid class. Find out their concerns and questions. This puts you in a much better position to design a hybrid class that works.

Decide on a skeleton

The great thing about a hybrid class is there are no hard and fast rules about how to structure it. You can pick and choose from a range of online tools and adapt the hybrid format to suit you and your students.

That said, it can be helpful to follow a skeleton structure for the hybrid class, particularly if you’re new to the concept. This will provide a basic framework that you can build upon.

For starters, choose between synchronous or asynchronous learning. In synchronous learning, students attend live online classes. The teacher and students participate “in sync” for the scheduled time in a virtual classroom. Asynchronous learning is when you provide a range of material that students can study individually, without the need for a virtual class. For this, you can use digital teaching aids — such as quizzes, videos, assignments, and projects.

Another option for a hybrid class style is the “flipped” classroom. In a traditional class setting, students learn the theory together with the teacher and then go their separate ways to complete a practical assignment. With the flipped teaching model, students learn the theory-based material by themselves and then come together to discuss and explore it — or even work on projects in groups.

Another decision about designing a hybrid class is whether to conduct a regular lecture-style class or to mix it up with interactive elements that will help boost engagement.

Adapt the material

Once you’ve decided on a structure, you can begin adjusting the material for hybrid delivery. In many cases, you’ll already have a curriculum, study outline, and course materials prepared and ready. Adapt these for the online class.

For example, prepare a digital presentation containing the notes you would have written on the whiteboard during an in-person class. You can repurpose the questions you would’ve asked students in the classroom into an online quiz. And you can handle a class discussion in smaller online groups in staggered sessions to increase engagement and make sure everyone has a chance to contribute to the discussion.

There are endless ways to “hybridize” a class. Use a mix of techniques to make the class as effective and exciting as possible in a virtual format.

Incorporate online tools

A hybrid class requires the use of online educational technology (EdTech) tools. These will facilitate or replace many of the live interactions that would naturally occur in the traditional classroom.

For example, a student raises their hand to ask a question. This is pretty simple in a live classroom. But how can you notice the student’s raised hand when they are one of dozens of participants onscreen? Online meeting software — such as Zoom, which comes with a “wave” feature — can help with that.

There are endless tools that support digital learning, from course authoring and sharing tools to interactive learning tools, online quizzes, video course creation tools, and digital forms and surveys. Apart from providing a technical framework for online classes, EdTech tools do a great job of making classes more interactive and exciting for students. This helps boost engagement in virtual classrooms, which is essential to the success of hybrid learning.

Get feedback

For most students and teachers, virtual learning is relatively new. They may have experienced an online class or two, but the move to hybrid classes as a substantial part of the school schedule is unfamiliar territory for all.

That’s why getting feedback from students is so important for designing a hybrid class.

Create a student feedback questionnaire so that students can help you better understand what worked and what didn’t. This gives students a virtual soapbox to let you know if there were any technical issues — such as difficulty downloading materials — or aspects of the learning experience that you could improve to make it more effective in a virtual format.

Digital questionnaires are a fast and effective way to collect feedback from students — even when they’re socially distanced at home.

Designing the future classroom

New EdTech tools are popping up all the time and expanding the possibilities of what you can achieve in a hybrid class. However, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Virtual learning has been around for a while, and many of the pedagogical techniques in use have already been proven in distance learning. Take the structure of a successful hybrid method and integrate it with advanced EdTech to design an exciting and rewarding hybrid class.

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