HYBRID EDUCATION | The New Normal of Learning?

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Industry and academia have been debating for years that a new model of education is required that would enable students to gain knowledge within classrooms, as well as, real world practical experiences. Scarcity of time and lack of access to technology were some of the usual suspects that acted as speed bumps to adoption of such a proposition. As more than a billion school students in over 180 nations were affected by closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, educational institutions had to promptly adopt virtual technological alternatives. As such, the argument for adoption of hybrid education models is now a very viable reality.

 

 

Socially impactful technology has progressed based on the realization that it will require pioneering methods for mass instruction to address the lack of information dissemination and development globally. Start-ups lead the disruption in the education sector by tapping into platforms proliferated by a dramatic increase of smart-phone devices. The World Economic Forum reported that more than 1.2 billion children in 186 countries got affected by school closures as a consequence of the global pandemic and this was the much-needed catalyst for edu-tech. Academia responded by adoption of technologies and countries have been exploring a variety of hybrid learning modalities as they reopen schools. However, what really is Hybrid Learning?

UNDERSTANDING THE HYBRID WAY
Hybrid instruction is an amalgamation of online and traditional classroom instruction in higher education which combines conventional classroom experiences, experimental and observational learning objectives, and online courses to deliver the best teaching method. In other words, hybrid instruction, or hybrid courses, refer to those classes where there is a carefully planned blend of both traditional classroom instruction and online learning activities. Students are able to make a meaningful connection with their instructors, as well as other students, and yet they are no longer required to travel to campus on a regular basis in order to attend. Most importantly, in hybrid learning, learners get the chance to select what style suits them most effectively.

TO BLEND OR NOT TO BLEND
Although hybrid learning is similar to the blended approach of learning, there are some distinct differences.
Hybrid learning tools include video conferencing, learning management systems (LMSs), online exercises, online discussion forums, pre-recorded video instruction, and others. It is a teaching and learning model that meets the needs of students, teachers, and staff with integrated edu-tech tools that address blended learning, professional development, staff support, the learning gap, social emotional learning, flexible scheduling, and attendance that are profoundly individualized, pertinent and engaging. As students can choose between participating online or in person, it favors individuals living in remote areas or overseas. For example, a class can be simultaneously attended by students in-person and broadcasted virtually.
In contrast, blended learning combines in-person education and online resources. Some activities are done in the classroom and some are done online. However, the main similarity is that both mix online and face-to-face learning.
As such it important to think of hybrid education as an umbrella term that includes blended learning, but is not limited to just that.

 

 

 

DRIVING WITH DISTINCTION
There are 3 distinctive features that categorize Hybrid Learning.
Time (when): It be synchronous (at the same time, also known as ‘real time’) or asynchronous (sequential, at different times) or both.
Space (where): It can be in person (also known as face-to-face, sharing the same physical location) or can be remote (two or more people in different physical locations).
Interaction (how): The direction of the communication can be unpacked (one-way; bi-directional or multi-directional) or type of engagement, from no-participation (an individual is learning alone without interaction with others), limited participation (where the interaction with others is limited, structured or controlled) and high participation (active and dynamic exchange with others is regular and essential).
Taking these dimensions and their sub-components into consideration, there are varieties of hybrid learning combinations. The best combination is unique for each scenario and each one of these combinations of distinctive technology can be utilized. These aspects will eventually factor the kind of hybrid learning provided.
According to edsurge.com there are some possible degrees of hybrid learning based on country experiences:

 

  •  Synchronous, hybrid, multi-directional and high participation: Estonia or Uruguay
  • Synchronous and asynchronous, hybrid, bi-directional and limited participation: Cameroon
  • Synchronous and asynchronous, remote, multi-directional and limited participation: Nigeria (Edo)
  • Asynchronous, remote, bi-directional and high participation: Peru, Cambodia or Rwanda
  • Asynchronous, remote, bi-directional and limited participation: Brazil, Sierra Leone or Malawi
  •  Asynchronous, remote, one-way and no participation: Kenya, Afghanistan, Nepal, Mozambique or Pakistan

 

 

Increasing Effectiveness
As per the recommendations of a World Bank article, policymakers can take the following into account when developing the hybrid model most appropriate for them
Using Time Effectively: The amount of time invested in face-to-face is different for hybrid environments. Some activities might require more time while others less. For example, remote school days and in-person school days timings could be appropriate points to keep in mind when designing models.
Hybrid Learners’ Basic Skills: It is critical to equip learners with the skills to learn by themselves, be motivated, resilient, and empowered as not all will be equally proficient. With proper guidance this can be reached as these skills can be learnt.
Support to Learners: Unique problems will require customized solutions. Blended solutions like remote coaching programs, asynchronously contacting students or a simple helpdesk where students can request support. Monitoring and supporting well-being of all concerned is also a critical component.
Basic Skills for Hybrid Teaching: It will be critical for teachers to build digital skills, pedagogical effectiveness, or ability to identify the suitability of different forms of hybrid learning depending on the context. Effective teacher professional development, supporting coaches, and monitoring tools will be critical.
Positive Relationships and Engagement: Positive energy must be encouraged in class and frequent interaction promoted between educators and learners.
Content’s Adaptation: The same amount and diversity of content usually covered when teaching face-to-face may not be transferred into hybrid learning. Adaptations will be required in terms of volume and type of content selected.
Coherence: Rather than jumping between different systems, to assist learning continuity, education systems can warrant that the lessons learned remotely can be also discussed in person or translate them into project-based learning with the students.
Technology: The well-documented problem of lack of access to technology and the relevance of those chosen must be addressed. The optimal solution has to also look into issues like “Zoom fatigue”.
Innovation: Technology like artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR) that students like in order to drive engagement in the classroom and online classes.

WHY GO HYBRID
Flexibility: Hybrid learning allows students to utilize their time efficiently. For instance, they can participate in online classes anywhere and anytime even if they can’t attend in-class lectures. As such, there will be fewer reasons for missing classes.
Affordability of Quality Education: Some students who cannot transport themselves to the lecture venue or to another country may find education to be expensive. However, with hybrid models, they can access the online course remotely. This democratizes the access to education.
Freedom: For students who prefer freedom and privacy, hybrid learning allows students to have total independence as they can read, reread the lesson material on their own and at any time and so have the freedom to watch lectures repeatedly for proper understanding.
Efficiency: With this learning method, students don’t have to squander their time and energy unnecessarily because of the flexibility of hybrid learning. Besides, lecturers can plan their schedules and use their resources efficiently.
Effectiveness: Rather than having students sit in a lecture hall taking notes, instructors can teach through more “active-learning” assignments such as case studies, self-tests, tutorials, and online group projects, all of which take place over the Internet.
Campus Traffic and Classroom Space: Hybrid learning reduces traffic on campus and frees up valuable classroom space.

THE FUTURE IN HYBRID
The Emerging economies’ job markets have been suffering from a lack of synchronization for quite some time. The hybrid education model can train and boost self-confidence to prepare learners to be self-disciplined and self-dependent. In addition, hybrid classes also develop self-directed learning, time management, problem-solving, and critical-thinking skills in those who participate in the programs. These are traits that have real-world implications and assist in better prospects for personal and professional growth.
Smart use of Artificial Intelligence will help lecturers with class planning, crafting courses, student profiling, learning predictions, record-keeping, designing remedial measures for each student, thus helping with experiential learning for more personalized experiences.
Highly developed assessments, reporting, extensive student evaluations, peer benchmarking facilities and granular reporting can all be made possible through the use of technology under the hybrid education model.

HYBRID AND BEYOND
We have observed that education could not be held hostage to a global pandemic. Therefore, flexible systems such as the hybrid model will help teachers to educate and evaluate in more innovative ways which will eventually assist students to remain relevant with mainstream ideas. A silver lining of COVID-19 can be seen with the acceptance of virtual classes that have freedom of subjects and flexible assessments. In turn, this will facilitate easier training of the next generation of the workforce who are already accustomed to the technological platforms. While hybrid education offers many prospects, the options come tied with some opportunity costs. Nevertheless, with the right experimentation with various degrees of engagement, frequency, and teaching methods at educational institutions, countries can improve over time. By recording experiences, comprehending pitfalls, supporting educators & learners and acclimatizing quickly, the new normal in education may just lie in the hybrid model of learning.

The Writer is the CEO of MCFG and the Executive Director of Global Chamber Dhaka. He can be reached at maimun@globalchamber.org

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