7 tips from research for effective hybrid teaching

As painful as the decision was to close campuses and force virtual learning in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators must make new, perhaps more difficult, decisions about how to resume classes in the fall. Many schools are asking: can learning happen both digitally and in lecture halls?

The hybrid model of teaching and learning uses both online and in-person options in a purposeful way. Not only does this model give you the flexibility to craft your course to reduce the risk of exposing you or your students to the virus, but it also gives students more ownership over their learning.

Here are our top tips taken from a review of existing research on how to make it work for you.

1. Build around what you want students to learn

Successful hybrid courses fully integrate online and face-to-face instruction, planning interactions based on good teaching practice. That means starting off on the right foot:

  • Don’t think of your hybrid course as your normal course directly translated to be online, or your normal course with added online components. One meta-analysis cited that many blended courses were not successful because they were “a course and a half”.
  • Do build your hybrid course starting with the learning objectives listed in your syllabus. Then, as you’re building your course, select and align the delivery method, technology, and assignments that will best help students learn the objectives and content.

Consider what is best done:

  • in person versus online
  • in real-time versus giving students flexibility
  • facilitated by the instructor versus facilitated by the learning resources

For example, few students reported being satisfied with their institutions creating a sense of belonging during the pandemic. Since it can feel more difficult to build relationships online, take advantage of in-person opportunities.

Online learning resources have advantages that enhance learning, such as immediate feedback and progress monitoring. In fact, across many studies, research shows that on average, blending online and in-person learning is slightly more effective than face-to-face learning.

There are two things to consider when selecting how to approach the online parts of your hybrid course:

  • Is there educational technology that can help solve any problems you have? For example, students may focus on getting through learning activities as quickly as possible, rather than engaging deeply. Adaptive learning technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated at detecting when students are engaging productively and when they are not, and can react to keep students’ attention.
  • Are you at risk of using digital technology solely for its own sake? Purely replicating an analog experience with digital technology can add complexity without bringing any benefits.

For more resources, this paper is designed as a starting point for thinking about how to use technology in your class.

Generally, a hybrid course is balanced to have more online, technology-facilitated work and fewer in-person meetings. For example, one model many schools are considering to encourage social distancing is to hold a large lecture online with small, in-person discussion sections.

Here are just a few examples of how others have blended online and face-to-face learning:

  • This course was delivered via a blended learning format in a flipped model, with online lectures followed by a two-hour face-to-face workshop tutorial each week.
  • This class met both in person and online. They used a flipped learning approach where students were expected to complete assigned activities before coming to a four-hour face-to-face class.
  • This hybrid course met once a week for three hours in a computer lab with the remainder of the course activities completed online.

2. Plan effective interactions

After you’ve identified your objectives, think about what interactions you’ll use to facilitate learning. Hybrid learning gives you a lot of flexibility in how to interact. These different types of interaction fall into the following three categories.

Learner–instructor interactions

Learner–instructor interactions, like emails, announcements, and discussions. Instructor interaction is a major driver of successful learning, but feels more difficult online. You can make a point of fostering connections by using students’ names and humor.

Learner–learner interactions

Learner–learner interactions, like discussions, collaborative group work, and peer review activities. These can either happen at the same time in person, or online and outside of class. Each mode has its pros and cons:

    • face-to-face, synchronous interactions are good for creating a sense of spontaneity and connection, but not as good at fostering participation or giving flexibility.
    • online, asynchronous interactions encourage participation, depth of reflection, and flexibility, but they can lack spontaneity and connection and may let students procrastinate.

Learner–content interactions

Learner–content interactions include activities, like reading content, watching a video, or working through a problem set.

3. Integrate the experiences

You can design the online and in-person interactions in such a way that they support each other, rather than feeling disjointed. For example, assign challenging and engaging online learning activities and then discuss them in person, inviting questions. If you’re encouraging online discussions, reference them in class to confirm their value.

4. Craft a learner-centered approach to learning

In a hybrid model, encourage your students to take control of their learning. Start by enabling students to choose how they engage with the content. Then encourage them to monitor and reflect on their learning.
By using technology with progress monitoring functionality, you can also help them stay on track. Professor Manda Williamson has over 700 students every semester and uses the dashboard in her online course material to give students ownership over their learning. She talks more about it in this guide.

5. Support student success

In hybrid learning, students must be more self-driven. Set clear expectations and build in support for self-directed learning, such as encouraging students to plan, check their understanding, study more as needed, and reflect on their learning.

To further support their success, help them use the tools by holding a technology “onboarding” session on how to use the tech and where to go for help.

This approach can not only help keep students motivated, it also builds an important lifelong skill: self-management. If you’re interested in learning more about how to teach self-management, this paper goes into detail.

6. Assess learning online

Since you won’t be in the room with the students when they are taking the test, clearly communicate the rules and instructions before the exam. The rules may include how many opportunities students have to complete the exam, if they can save and come back later to finish, if they need to put away all mobile devices, and whether it is an open or closed book exam.

Technology can help you reduce the opportunities for cheating:

      • password protect your exam and limit students to one login attempt.
      • require students to complete a statement of honesty before beginning the exam
      • open and close access to your exam session within a predetermined time period
      • shuffle items or create multiple versions of the exam to randomly assign to students
      • create a pool or item bank to pull random questions from, a function built into many learning management systems
        ask students to justify or explain their answers by adding an open response field after each selected-response question
      • if you don’t have these capabilities, use more open-ended question types instead of true/false or multiple choice questions

This blog post gives more advice on crafting quality assessments online.

7. Continuously improve

Keep your approach simple at first and aim for continuous improvement, not perfection. We encourage you to try something, get feedback from your students, and keep improving your course. And you’re not alone: your colleagues may have advice too. You can build an informal or formal learning network to learn from each other.

This fall will be a learning experience for everyone. When faced with the unknown, as researchers we first look to what others have studied and the lessons they’ve learned. These seven tips, which are based on findings from over a decade of implementing hybrid teaching, can give you direction on how to bring together the best of in-person and online learning. For even more detail and research on hybrid teaching and learning, check out this paper.

About the authors
Katherine McEldoon, PhD

Katherine McEldoon, PhD

      • Katherine McEldoon is a Senior Research Scientist at Pearson, and is a research to practice connector. Trained in cognitive science research labs across the country, she has worked to connect insights from the science of learning to educational pra
      ctice throughout her career. Katherine earned her PhD in Cognitive Development and was an Institute of Education Sciences’ Experimental Education Research Fellow at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education. Her research focused on the cognitive development of children’s mathematical reasoning, as well as the causal mechanisms and efficacy of instructional interventions in both laboratory and classroom settings. Her postdoctoral work at Arizona State University centered on a research partnership between The Learning Sciences Institute and ASU Preparatory Academies, incorporating a theory of active learning into middle & high school teacher pedagogy. Since then, she has continued to bridge research and practice outside of academia, working with educational technology start-up companies, state governments, and more. Katherine firmly believes in the power of enabling educators with insights from research and incorporates this mindset into her work at Pearson.
Emily Schneider, PhD

Emily Schneider, PhD

Emily Schneider has spent more than a decade researching and designing learning experiences for higher education. As a Senior Learning Designer at Pearson, she helps product teams create effective and engaging digital learning experiences at scale. Emily believes that we should take advantage of technology for what it offers but never forget the power of the embodied human experience. She holds a PhD in Learning Sciences and Technology Design from Stanford University.