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Essential Supports for Hybrid Learning

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September 9th, 2021

As noted in a previous article, many districts are considering long-term hybrid or blended learning options for the first time–whether to offer more flexibility to students, to bolster family engagement, or to continue the growth of students who struggled in onsite learning but thrived in fully remote learning.

Though the pandemic has significantly increased its prevalence, hybrid learning is not new to education. Moreover, it can indeed effectively support student learning and outcomes. And though hybrid learning requires certain technology, the success of hybrid learning hinges on the same elements that drive successful onsite learning. This article will explore five essential supports for hybrid learning.

Table of Contents

  • What is Hybrid Learning?
  • Blended Learning Models
  • Essential Supports for Successful Hybrid Learning
    • Leadership in Hybrid Learning
    • Instruction in Hybrid Learning
    • Assessments for Learning in Hybrid Learning
    • Managing Change in Hybrid Learning
    • Professional Development for Hybrid Learning
  • Conclusion

What is Hybrid Learning?

Put simply, hybrid learning, also referred to as “blended learning,” is an instructional model that uses both face-to-face and online instructional techniques. In fact, it has been used successfully for many years. 

The International Association for K–12 Online Learning (iNACOL) describes blended or hybrid learning as combining “the best features of traditional schooling with the advantages of online learning to deliver personalized, differentiated instruction across a group of learners. Students in formal blended learning educational programs learn online part of the time, yet have the benefit of face-to-face instruction and supervision to maximize their learning and to best fit their own needs.”

Blended Learning Models

For several years, long before the pandemic, schools have explored various blended learning models. Some of those include:

  • Rotation Model: Rotating students through computer labs or classroom workstations to work on specific learning activities
  • Flipped Classroom Model: Freeing up class time for student collaboration and individual teacher instruction by offering initial learning online, outside of the school day
  • Flex Model: Completing most work online at the student’s pace, with teacher involvement as needed face-to-face to help and lead discussions
  • Individual Online Courses: Taking the entire course online with an online instructor, completed either at home or at school where the student completes other classes face-to-face
  • Enriched Virtual Model: Completing a course or particular unit through students pursuing online activities after teacher interaction initially

Each of these models has merit. 

Regardless of the model, the vast array of articles, case studies, and scholarly research share the positives of student outcomes of hybrid learning and the importance of students learning and teachers demonstrating the 4Cs of 21st century  skills: collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking.

Essential Supports for Successful Hybrid Learning

Prior to the pandemic, iNACOL noted that “state, district, school, and classroom leaders recognize that the ultimate potential for blended and online learning lies in the opportunity to transform the education system and enable higher levels of learning through competency-based approaches.” Findings from five meta-analyses show that “blending technology with face-to-face teacher time generally produces better outcomes than face-to-face or online learning alone.” 

For blended learning to have that type of positive impact on students, school districts need to first establish the supports necessary for blended learning to be implemented successfully. Those essential supports are:

  • Leadership
  • Instruction
  • Assessments for Learning
  • Managing Change; and 
  • Professional Development

Leadership in Hybrid Learning

In the words of John Maxwell,  “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” For something as fundamentally important as student success, leadership must be at the forefront of the processes involved in implementing intentional, long-term hybrid learning plans.

Rather than starting with a particular canned online program, or even a particular model of computer, a clear plan has to be established. Districts are guided to “create a vision for what your students will get out of your class and ensure that every decision you make feeds into that vision.”

Leaders should communicate the vision for using hybrid learning, set expectations for its implementation, and hold stakeholders accountable to the same. Experts suggest that leaders provide “a strategic design guide—informed by robust theory—to help educators  with the ‘hows’ of putting blended learning into action to boost achievement for their students.” 

Instruction in Hybrid Learning

When implementing blended or hybrid learning, it is more than just adding technology activities to instruction. iNACOL affirms that “true blended learning requires that teachers approach their roles differently—as coaches, concierges, guides, and mentors, instead of purveyors of information.”

With this fundamental shift in the role of the teacher, it is important that not only students collaborate, but teachers work together as well. When they do, not only are they modeling for their students, they are also supporting each other as they adjust instructional practices.

Assessments for Learning in Hybrid Learning

Assessment is an essential support for any learning, especially blended learning. Because students progress through their learning objectives by demonstrating mastery, they are assessed along the way not only to inform their own learning, but for teachers to understand where they may need to provide additional support. iNACOL affirms that “the utilization of data, formative assessments,  and performance-based assessments to guide mastery-based learning” is key to personalized learning in hybrid or blended environments.

By providing assessments online and embedded in the learning activities, students will have a positive experience by knowing exactly where they have achieved mastery, and where they need additional practice. Through teachers working together to analyze the assessment data of their students, they can target their instructional supports effectively and efficiently. 

Managing Change in Hybrid Learning

It is important to remember that when something as significant as hybrid learning is adopted as a long term practice, it is a change. As such, remembering key components to managing change is important. Those include:

  • Communicate the vision early and often.
  • Provide readily available and reliable resources.
  • Promote collaboration, not only a modeling for blended learning, but also creates communities of support for staff.
  • Devote time to planning, ongoing professional development, and sustained dialogue at staff meetings. 
  • Kids are going through a change, too! Monitor the mental and emotional health of students as they learn to thrive in the new hybrid environment

Professional Development for Hybrid Learning

Sustained professional development for all is a key in order for teachers and administrators to learn and model the shift from teacher-focused to student-focused, and learning environments that expand beyond traditional walls. 

The focus can’t be on just a few educators who might pilot long-term hybrid learning. Since blended learning involves changing curriculum, modes of instruction, and increasing personalized learning opportunities, professional development must be provided from the central office to the classroom. 

Additionally, professional development should model the same type of environment that the students experience. It should be delivered as a blended learning model. Provide professional learning opportunities both during school and outside of the school day, online, where virtual collaboration within a professional learning team is encouraged. This will naturally include online and face-to-face reflection as staff plan for the new model of learning. 

For more support, here  are great resources that provide professional development for educators:

Conclusion

In order for long-term hybrid learning to be successfully embraced by a school district, it is important that it is supported. Through intentional planning and attention to the essential supporting elements, blended learning will be successful. 

More importantly, by monitoring student progress and assessing for learning along the way, the blended learning environment will be rich in opportunities for promoting student success.

 

 

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Illuminate Education equips educators to take a data-driven approach to serving the whole child. Our solution combines comprehensive assessment, MTSS management and collaboration, and real-time dashboard tools, and puts them in the hands of educators. As a result, educators can monitor learning and growth, identify academic and social-emotional behavioral needs, and align targeted supports in order to accelerate learning for each student. 

Ready to discover your one-stop shop for your district’s educational needs? Let’s talk.

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