Virtual School Meanderings

December 3, 2022

The Time is Right for Hybrid Learning

An item from the folks at the Digital Learning Collaborative.

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The Time is Right for Hybrid Learning

BY KIM LOOMISKim Loomis is a retired Director of Online and Blended Learning from Nevada’s Clark County School District. She is a lifelong learner and continues to follow her passion as an innovative learning consultant helping educators create actively engaging classrooms so that students can take ownership of their own learning. 

We can all agree that the pandemic has upended the education system. Let’s be clear, emergency remote learning was not online learning (like the successful online schools that have been around for decades), yet it did provide insight into the possibility of learning at home – at least part-time. Welcome to hybrid learning – getting the best from face-to-face teaching and from-a-distance online learning.

Hybrid learning and blended learning are sometimes used interchangeably. However, there is a difference between these two learning models. In both, there is a mix of in-person learners and online learners. Yet, hybrid learning alters the 5-day-a-week onsite schedule of blended learning models to a more flexible arrangement. With hybrid learning, students may only go to the physical school building two to three days a week at their convenience, or have particular days or times of day when they are scheduled to be onsite.

In a 2021 EdTech article: What Role Will Hybrid Learning Play in the Future of K–12 Education?, chief transformation officer for the National School Boards Association, Verjeana McCotter-Jacobs, was quoted,  “hybrid learning uses online components for teaching and learning that replaces face-to-face classroom time.” This means having students at home part-time and at school part-time. Hybrid learning offers the advantages of going to school and socializing with being at home.

The reason hybrid learning has become so popular – when done right, it fuses the best aspects of in-person and online learning. Hybrid learning takes a paradigm shift in beliefs about teaching and learning and a dramatic change in instructional practice. Hybrid schools must find the right balance between releasing instruction to digital content and actively engaging students while in the building.

Last April, I had the opportunity to visit three hybrid schools in Colorado, two of which were highlighted in the Christensen Institute Nov 4, 2022 blog: Predicting innovation trajectories in K–12 education. All three schools are islands in a sea of traditional schools in large public school districts. Part of being a different model in a traditional school district means that some things don’t fit. All three had non-traditional buildings (e.g. a former bank and warehouses). None offered busing or lunch services, yet that didn’t hinder a student/family’s desire to enroll, or request being put on the waitlist! Each had created different learning models that leveraged online learning time, alongside on-site learning with teachers and peers.

See pictures of these unique buildings, the number of staff members, the type of digital content providers, the learning management system, schedules, and more on these one-page summaries at Springs Studio for Academic Excellence (grades 5-12), Cherry Creek Elevation (grades 6-12), and Village HS (grades 9-12)

The flexibility of a hybrid schedule had all three buildings with different days and timeframes within the week for dedicated on-site instruction. Several educators noted that if students were successful in their digital classrooms and had competitive sports or fine arts commitments the schedule was even more flexible. Each building used digital curriculum in different ways (some bought vendor products, others used teacher-made content). Even the way on-site instruction was conducted varied. All had onsite tutoring available, plus classroom instruction. Rather than hosting core onsite classes, one school asked teachers to lead student-identified electives, such as beekeeping and outdoor sports. One building leaned on remote learning class periods for live instruction. Assignment calendars were used to attempt to keep students on pace, yet only one building allowed students to test out of content. At all three sites, student success and building relationships were always at the forefront.

When summarizing a Colorado hybrid school big-picture view, I found that all schools were about the same size (approximately 500 students) and had similar 75-minute class periods. Each school had an application process with counseling before being admitted. They all had similar teacher:student ratios (1:150), yet a different number of course preps. When it came to hiring, all principals noted they get plenty of applications and seek experienced teachers, with a high student-relationship mindset. All demonstrated promising results, exceeding the Colorado average graduation rate.

The time is right for embracing hybrid learning! Unlike traditional schools, the flexibility of hybrid schools creates dynamic and unique learning experiences. I invite you to join me and Dan Mahlandt, executive director at Valor Prep Academy, a hybrid charter school in Arizona, at the Digital Learning Annual Conference (DLAC) as we kick off a series of four sessions focused on “Hybrid Schools in Action.”

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