Key Considerations: Is Your Campus Hybrid Learning Ready?

Hybrid learning allows students to participate in the same classes whether they are joining online or in person. It jumped to prominence during the pandemic but now seems a fixed feature of the education landscape.

But what does offering hybrid learning involve? And is your campus ready for it?

What exactly is hybrid learning?

In hybrid learning, students can join a course virtually or in person, receiving the same input and learning opportunities. Some students will be in the classroom, while others use technology to attend remotely. Out-of-lesson work may be set (e.g., coursework, homework, reading), and all students can access this.

It is distinct from blended learning. In blended learning, while there is a mixture of online and in-class learning, all students participate in the same way. For example, they all start in class, and then they all complete the online work.

is your college hybrid learning ready
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Why is hybrid learning still prominent?

The Covid pandemic saw a dramatic rise in the use of educational cloud computing and hybrid teaching models. With illness, social distancing, and shielding to contend with, schools and colleges embraced new ways of reaching their students.

Yet, these models have persisted. While their implementation was a response to an emergency, their use demonstrated more general social, educational, and organizational benefits. Indeed, a similar pattern is visible in other spheres. For example, the adoption by businesses of hybrid work software reflects the widespread recognition of the advantages of remote working.

Hybrid learning, in particular, offers the following benefits:

  1. Better access: Remote learning may suit students with physical or mental health challenges. It allows students to participate in sporting or cultural activities. Moreover, it can be life-changing for students who are geographically isolated. 
  2. Organizational resilience: It can support schools facing teacher shortages as hybrid classes can accommodate more students. The classroom no longer sets a physical limit. 
  3. Personalized learning: Many tools and approaches can enhance learning experiences. For example, AI-powered platforms provide tailored learning paths and feedback.      

5 features of a hybrid-ready campus

So, is your campus hybrid learning ready? Consider these factors:

  1. Does your campus have the infrastructure in place to support hybrid learning? 
  2. Do your teaching staff and students have appropriate resources?  
  3. Do your teachers and students have the right soft skills to benefit from hybrid learning?  

With those questions in mind, let’s take a look at the features of a hybrid-ready campus.

1. Have you got an appropriate infrastructure?

A certain level of infrastructure is required. First, have you got the hardware?

  • Computers – for student and teacher access.
  • Webcam and video recording & streaming facilities.
  • Interactive whiteboard – supports more engaging and shareable teaching.
  • Audio equipment, i.e., microphones.

Moreover, is this hardware deployed to optimize learning? Can remote students see and hear everything? Are microphones optimally placed?

how to get your campus hybrid ready
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Second, do you have the necessary software?

  • A Learning Management System (LMS): These pull all the resources and activities into one place – for staff and student access.
  • Conferencing / live streaming software: to support synchronous teaching for remote students. Some LMS platforms offer this.
  • Interactive classroom software: to bring your hybrid teaching alive, helping educators engage students.
  • Communication tools: to facilitate dialogue. So many tools are available. For instance, Slack and Gmail integration helps casual chats evolve into something more supportive. You can also use an online signature generator so contracts and forms can be signed without having to be present in-person.

Third, has your campus got technological resilience?

  • Do staff understand how to use the technology? Can they troubleshoot easy-to-solve problems?
  • Do you have access to IT specialists to resolve more complex issues?
  • Do remote students have technical support?
  • Do you have an asynchronous back-up plan if technical problems thwart lessons? We will look at that in more detail next.
  • Are appropriate cloud security measures in place?

Finally, have you built a coherent vision of hybrid teaching across your team? How do you ensure that all learners have a high-quality experience? And are you using all the above assets optimally across your campus?

2. Are you embracing asynchronicity?

Synchronous learning is when in-class and remote students share the experience simultaneously and collectively. Asynchronous learning is the opposite of this providing direction and resources for student to learn on their own time. It can be particularly useful for older or disabled students, but younger students may also benefit depending on the course or their circumstances.

Some activities are often better suited to an asynchronous approach:

  • Students read or research in their own time.
  • Completing independent or group tasks.
  • More individual interactions between teacher and learner.

Other tasks, meanwhile, are better suited to a synchronous approach – time together, either in-person or remotely. Examples might include explicit instruction, discussions, collaborative learning, and community building.

Asynchronous learning has intrinsic benefits if done well. It allows students to develop their autonomy and resilience, taking more or less time, depending on their needs. Moreover, it means educators can provide optimum value from time together (synchronous).

There are some requirements to make asynchronous learning work:

  • Infrastructure: As mentioned above, you need an LMS to allow students to access all the resources independently. It should provide a complete library for the entire course.
  • Expectations: These should be explicit. Students may need help and encouragement to build self-discipline and resilience.
  • Support: What help can students turn to if they struggle with asynchronous work? That may be resources (e.g., videos, documents, lesson recordings) or ways to reach out to educators or peers for guidance.  

An asynchronous approach buffers you from technical failures or teacher illness. If much of the curriculum is available for students online (on the LMS) – ready for independent study – it can act as a failsafe if there’s a disruption to synchronous teaching.

hybrid learning
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3. Is your curriculum planning hybrid ready?

Hybrid learning requires careful planning and balancing synchronous and asynchronous learning. Activities and resources need to support in-person and remote students. 

How will assessment work in your hybrid world? Plus, your educators may need to increase their availability around lessons. Using scheduling software like Orchestra to manage your team’s time can really help balance all these requirements across your campus. 

Consider sharing plans with students. For instance, there may be elements where in-person would be more beneficial – students could prioritize coming in for these. And they are likely to be better motivated if they know where the course is heading. That is especially true of weekly and daily plans: students can prepare for that day’s learning, ensuring their environment is suitable.

4. Do your teaching and learning tools offer the best support? 

A wealth of great EduTech is available. You do not need a vast amount of this. Indeed, just a few strategic educational software investments may do the trick.

Have your educators got the means to promote the engagement of all students? Have teachers got tools that enrich the experiences of in-person and virtual students? What helps build a sense of community across all your learners?

That might include the following:

  • Conferencing platforms to enable discussion and collaboration. There are many to choose from, including Zoom alternatives like Dialpad.
  • Presentation tools that support synchronous dialogue and collaboration between all your students – remote or in-person. Take a look at Peardeck and Nearpod, for instance.
  • Subject-specific, AI-powered applications can support courses. They coach students through content, often utilizing powerful chatbot platforms to tailor individual feedback.

Investing in such software is just the first step, of course. Have your staff been trained in its use? Is there a shared vision of how it will enhance learning?

5. How are you supporting student well-being?

All educators will understand the relevance of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in their work: students will only be ready to learn once their basic needs are satisfied.

Evaluating a student’s well-being can be hard when students are remote. But it should be a priority. How does your campus prioritize safeguarding all students, including remote? Addressing this needs a clear vision, robust policies, and capacity.

Physiological needs are every bit as important for your virtual students as your in-person ones. Some questions to ask yourself as you build policies are:

  • First, how do you ensure basic physiological needs are not impacting a virtual student’s academic performance? That includes food, warmth, hydration, and rest.
  • Second, how do you ensure virtual students feel safe? Are they joining your lessons feeling secure and comfortable? How do you know if there are welfare concerns?

Next, we have social and esteem needs. Education provides students with rich opportunities for meeting these. But how does that work with virtual students?

  • How do you address the social needs of virtual students? Relationship building is crucial in any educational setting. It requires even more effort on a hybrid campus: all your students need to feel that they belong. You need to foster friendships, camaraderie, and collaboration.
  • How do you build the esteem of your remote students? Encourage feedback strategies that celebrate the successes of all students.

Distance learning should not mean students feel distant. Your web conference platform may make students visible, but that is not enough. How do you make your remote students feel heard – that they matter? How do you reach out regularly and encourage them to respond?

keeping an eye on your students mental health
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Keep learning!

There are many more elements to building a supportive and vibrant hybrid campus. For example, do not forget soft skills. Your educators may need to adjust aspects of their practice (e.g., their speaking volume and tone). And learners need to understand netiquette (e.g., around muting, using chat, raising questions, etc.)

And finally, do not expect to get everything right immediately. How can you, given the novelty of the approach? Listen to student feedback – ask them what is or is not working. And keep an eye out for fresh ideas and insightful research elsewhere that could improve your provision. Remember, education is a permanent learning curve!

About the Author

Jenna Bunnell – Senior Manager, Content Marketing, Dialpad

Jenna Bunnell is the Senior Manager for Content Marketing at Dialpad, an AI-incorporated cloud-hosted unified communications system that provides valuable call details for business owners and sales representatives with features like Dialpad’s visual voicemail app. She is driven and passionate about communicating a brand’s design sensibility and visualizing how content can be presented in creative and comprehensive ways. Jenna has also written for other domains such as GetAccept and FreshySites. Check out her LinkedIn profile.

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