In view of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, educational institutions have turned to digital solutions to support the continuity of learning. As such, hybrid learning (HL) has gained popularity, and with it came the need for effective implementation strategies to help align the use of emerging technologies with intended learning outcomes. This is important, as the forced shutdown of schools in 181 countries worldwide has left 87.4% of the global enrolled students without access to traditional education settings since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic (David et al., 2020). Now more than ever, educational institutions are relying on emerging technologies to safeguard the continuity of learning. With the pandemic having nudged educational institutions out of their comfort zone, they are now free to experiment with different models of learning and technologies to enhance the learning process, offering students new experiences and opportunities in education. One main challenge to contend with is the use of emerging technologies to facilitate learning, that is – how can we design clearer educational policies, and more impactful learning designs to implement hybrid learning in classrooms?
Moving forward, let us first look at how we can arrive at a concrete definition of hybrid learning. Currently, there seems to be an absence of a universal consensus on the definition of hybrid learning. Some researchers use the term hybrid and blended learning interchangeably (Kumar, 2012; Allen & Seaman, 2004; Klimova & Kacett, 2015; Jusuf, Ibrahim, & Suparman, 2019) and others differentiate the two learning approaches based on the extent to which technology is used in the overall design of learning (Smith & Kurthen, 2007). In Table 1, an effort is made to compare various conceptions of hybrid learning (HL), blended learning (BL) and mixed mode learning in the relevant educational discourse.
It can be noted from the analysis that the term mixed mode learning is less referenced and usually equated with BL and HL (Poquet et al., 2015; Inuoe-Smith, 2018). For a universal working definition of HL, this paper adopts the one put forth by UNESCO (2020) which defines HL as “a learning approach that combines both remote learning and in-person learning to improve student experience and ensure learning continuity” (p. 11). The specific approach to implementing HL depends on the context, and it is recommended that institutions prepare for HL by first “defining guiding principles for hybrid learning strategy” (p. 17) and evaluating the student needs and the institutional capabilities.
In an ideal situation, HL classrooms would include a mix of delivery modes, various technologies to assist the learning process, a balance between synchronous and asynchronous approaches, practice-based remote learning, and a student-centric approach, all of which is guided and shaped by modern HL pedagogies (Sharpe et al., 2006; Velverde-Berrocoso et al., 2020; Milne et al., 2014).
However, in reality, educational institutions adopt HL approaches along a spectrum, with the bare minimum reflecting little to no change in teaching methodologies, instructional design, or learning spaces. To counter this, Sharpe et al. (2006) have identified Three Theoretical Levels of HL Implementation from low, medium to high, based on the level of change embraced by educational institutions along the eight dimensions of HL implementation. The characteristics of each level, and its corresponding dimensions, are summarized in the Table 2 below.
In the following sections, this paper will explore the efficacy of the HL implementation in educational institutions from New Zealand, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia using the Sharpe et al’s Eight Dimensions of Hybrid Learning Framework.
The Case of a School in New Zealand
One secondary school in rural New Zealand was investigated on how HL was being implemented using one-on-one interviews, observations, group interviews and secondary research. Approximately 750 students attended this rural secondary school under the guidance of 60 teaching staff. The findings of the study are summarized in the table below (adapted from Zaka, 2013):
The Case of a University in Malaysia
To explore the implementation of HL approaches in Malaysia, the researcher gathered primary data from the managers who implemented HL at the Asia Pacific University of Technology & Innovation (APU). Over the past two years, APU embarked on a digital education transformation journey by implementing Online Learning (OL)—a system that complements on-campus teaching with online resources and virtual systems. Through OL, students can access lecture materials, tutorials, assessments, performance monitoring, back-end support and measurements of effectiveness. The summary of the findings of APU’s HL are presented in the following table:
APU is an example of a higher education institution in Malaysia which has pioneered innovative ways of implementing HL models in classrooms in a way that is aligned with course requirements, learner styles, and learning outcomes. As such APU has 3 different HL setups as follows:
In a basic level classroom setup (See below) there are no additional technologies apart from the normal ones that are being used. The instructor uses a laptop and projection system with the synchronous software such as Teams or Zoom and connects the in-class students with the remote students.
In a mid-level classroom set-up the most important technologies are the tracking camera, the big screen and flex classroom monitor (as seen below).
In a high-level classroom setup (in this case an auditorium), it has a tracking camera with a strong sensor to track speaker movement. The speaker can move around the auditorium with ease.
Saudi Arabia’s Tatweer Project in Secondary Schools for Girls
In order to evaluate the effectiveness of HL implementation in a girls’ school in Saudi Arabia, Bukhari (2016) conducted a mixed-method study surveying 446 female students from three schools covered under the Tatweer project. The findings are summarized in the table below (adapted from Bukhari, 2016):
Based on the three case studies, the following five best practices for the incorporation of effective hybrid learning are proposed:
- Work with the relevant parties to ensure that students have access to internet outside of school as challenges appeared when students in rural areas/islands had problems accessing their learning resources due to the low speed of their dial-up internet.
- Educate parents on the effectiveness of HL approaches to eliminate any scepticism that may arise due to the change in the education delivery methods (from face-to-face to highly digital).
- Constantly offer upskilling opportunities to teachers and students in order to develop their confidence in using emerging technologies and to transition into independent learning.
- Consider utilising new pedagogical approaches for HL management as educators found it a challenge to divide time between in-class students and remote students.
- Provide teachers with adequate training and support on how to design and manage HL classrooms. Different classroom setups will entail different pedagogical styles.
In sum, HL is an important pedagogical set-up that caters to the needs of students. Government proponents, policymakers, and cooperating organizations, along with local communities, must begin by enhancing the awareness of the community on the importance of HL within the realms of today’s new normal for education.
Written by member of OEB’s advisory committee Abtar Kaur, Professor, Innovative Digital Learning at the Asia Pacific University of Technology and Innovation. Acknowledgements. The above insights on HL are part of a bigger report commissioned by UNESCO to the author.