Hybrid learning is the future of education

As an educator, I can tell you firsthand just how difficult these last two pandemic school years have been (not only for teachers but for students and parents).

In March of 2020, like many schools around the world, mine shut down for the remainder of the school year, and we went to distance learning. The teachers frantically installed Zoom, figured out how to create channels, how to call our classes, and how to share screens. We had no idea what we were doing, but we tried our best.

The next school year started online, and we had to meet our new students on Zoom. Students had to meet other students on Zoom. It was tough. But at least teachers had figured out how to deliver content online, and how to engage students the best we could.

Now, in 2022, covid has once again mutated and ravaged schools—causing not only illness within communities, but causing major disruptions in face-to-face learning. In fact, several of my classes are currently receiving online instruction, while others are in-person. This changes daily, depending on cases; and this unpredictability has forced us all to be more patient, live day by day, and of course, figure out a successful hybrid learning model.

So, what is hybrid learning?

For me, the term "hybrid learning" has changed dramatically over the last two years. At first, it was just teaching in-person while also Zooming students who were home, learning remotely. We'd often forget these kids were remote learning, focused on the in-person instruction.

It sounds horrible, but between getting back into the classroom and trying to get used to teaching in a mask, talking into the computer screen was just one more piece of a really complicated puzzle.

Now, two years later, teachers have pretty much gotten the hang of hybrid teaching. For me, this means remote students are partnered with in-person students (aka "Zoom buddies"). Before classes, I make sure to upload course materials to Google Classroom to allow for self-paced learning, and so students can follow along with in-person sessions.

When my classes are all online, or all in-person, I now make sure to have some sort of hybrid learning component. Teaching with a hybrid model in mind (with online learning materials and instructional videos students can access remotely) allows students the opportunity to more successfully engage in project-based learning.

The Benefits of Online Learning

Virtual learning looks different for younger students than older students, and of course, math classes look different than journalism courses (which I teach). But regardless of the subject matter, there are definitely measurable benefits of learning online.

Personally, I have really grown as a teacher these last two years. Having to teach online meant that I had to change the format of many of my lessons—ensuring that I had enough visual resources to support students on Zoom. I also had to make sure these visual resources (like Google Slideshows) were interactive enough for student engagement, so I started using programs like Pear Deck and Jamboard for small group collaboration. These interactive programs increase student engagement and provide teachers with immediate data to understand how students are learning.

Another huge benefit to hybrid teaching is allowing students the opportunity for asynchronous learning. Particularly when students are engaged in project-based learning, they work at their own pace.

By having a blended learning model in place (like Google Classroom in my case), teachers are able to easily pop into working documents to comment on students' work and give more regular and more meaningful feedback.

This feedback can vary from class to class, but online learning provides opportunities to promote student success and development in new ways. For example, instead of hand-written comments on a test or worksheet, students are now able to get a screencast from their teacher, which they can replay during revision processes, or to better understand how they can improve on similar assignments.

Potential Downfalls of Hybrid/ Blended Learning

Students have struggled with too much screen time in hybrid learning

While there are many exciting outcomes from all the distance learning that's happened these last couple of years, it's no secret that students have had a difficult time coping without face-to-face instruction.

One of the biggest problems students and teachers have with online learning is the amount of screen time we face in online environments. Even with a hybrid learning model, students are often required to spend the majority of their school days learning with online instruction, which results in exhausted, unmotivated learners.

The trick is to find a balance and to allow students opportunities to change their learning environment (there are countless benefits to nature-based learning) and work asynchronously, while also allotting enough time for in-person classes.

An online environment also makes it difficult for students to engage in meaningful group discussions, even when they're in online breakout rooms. This is simply because students engage differently in person than they do online.

When kids learn remotely, there are so many distractions: often times their cell phones are next to them (at least this is true for my high school students); they have access to online games; and, most importantly, there's no teacher nearby to direct them.

This makes it especially difficult for students with learning support needs. In particular, students with ADHD need an active education, even in blended learning situations.

The Need for In-Person Instruction

Students have fun with in-person science experiment.

At the beginning of this school year, we all started off in person, and I've never seen students more excited for face-to-face classes. Even with masks on, I could see the excitement in their eyes, and their appreciation for the opportunity to attend classes in person.

When we were 100% online, many of my students were struggling with their mental health. According to a CDC report from 2020, this is due to a combination of distance learning consequences: less time spent being physically active, less time spent outside, and less time spent with friends. As we all know, in-person learning is not only about face-to-face instruction, but learning how to socialize and develop important relationships.

Students also missed out on important hands-on learning, like participating in school plays, creating a documentary for their film class, or learning how to play instruments.

For me, I was able to create a pretty similar learning environment online versus when students attend school, but many teachers were not.

My husband, for example, is a middle and high school science teacher and plans practical labs for his students every few weeks. His solution during distance learning was to have the kids do at-home experiments with house plants and build electrical circuits with a kit they could pick up from school. It worked out pretty well but wasn't the same.

Even with hybrid learning, there still needs to be an in-class component where students can apply their acquired knowledge in a fun, in-person learning experience.

What Hybrid Learning can Look Like

While learning models are quickly changing, and more and more schools are adopting online components to their classes, educators are still in the experimental phase, trying to understand the correct balance between virtual learning and in-person.

For Galileo, this means splitting blended learning into two parts: online instruction and in-person application. Additionally, Galileo's instructors are doing something I'd love to implement as well: using technology to connect students from all around the world so they can collaborate on asynchronous learning projects.

Galileo students experience hybrid learning

Galileo Learning Experience Designer Serj Hunt explains that he recently experimented with connecting a group of students in Bali to a group of students in Taiwan.

They were all using Galileo's on-demand courses called Nanos. Instead of following the course completely online, structured like a self-paced project, the students engaged with the instructional content at home, then came together after meeting online to meet in person to do the final project together.

This type of hybrid learning "connects the individual to the collective," says Serj.

"They might start with something or an idea inside their own head, and that seed will kind of grow throughout the project, and the learning experience, and then they might bring this to the Galileo online community, or their own physical community, connecting them to a greater network of ideas and people and thoughts and support."

Like Serj, I've found this type of hybrid learning to be the most successful. Students seem to retain most of the direct instruction learned online, but when they get the chance to apply it in-person, that's when they gain lasting knowledge.

Galileo's Co-Founder Kelly Davis adds that it's not only knowledge acquisition that makes this hybrid learning method so successful. "One of the most powerful parts [of this recent project] was bringing the Galileo students in person for the first time," she says. "I have seen after that, that they have attended each other's birthday parties, they're traveling to other cities to continue these meetups...they became friends through learning."

And it's this type of learning that students remember—the reason hybrid learning (when done right) is so exciting.

To learn more about Galileo's on-demand hybrid learning courses, check out Nanos.