Blended and Hybrid Learning


I am teaching a hybrid class this semester. I mentioned this to a professor at another college and she said, "Oh, we call them 'blended' classes." Are blended and hybrid classes the same thing? Are those words educational synonyms?

Blended courses are usually defined as classes where a portion of the traditional face-to-face instruction is replaced by web-based online learning. To further muddy the water, some schools use the term "mixed-mode" courses. 

In 2005, when I was the manager of instructional technology at NJIT, we were exploring building a "Weekend University" program to address working IT professionals who lacked a degree in the field. The courses were to be offered face-to-face on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays with at least half of the coursework to be delivered online. 

researching how much of the face-to-face (F2F) instruction must be replaced by online coursework, we quickly discovered that this varied greatly by school and also by class, discipline, and learning objectives. 

The Sloan Consortium defines blended learning as a course where 30%-70% of the instruction is delivered online. Some courses met once rather than twice a week every week. Others met twice a week some weeks and only online other weeks. (This seemed popular with project-based courses.) And other courses met F2F at the beginning, middle and end of the course, while working online the rest of the semester. (Kind of a "low-residency model in a single semester.)

In 2004, during our research on blended course, I did a presentation on "Online, Collaborative and Enhanced Modes of Course Redesign" as part of a day on redesigning courses at Seton Hall University. I recall that there was trepidation from faculty about these new models. Some of the fear was that speakers said that with this approach, the school needs fewer teachers overall. Cost savings were definitely part of the moves to redesign in many cases.

If the only significant difference in the course is the F2F versus online time, then I think "hybrid" works well as a label. But "blended" has always suggested to me that there was a blending of pedagogies and techniques too. When we were redesigning courses to be hybrid, we always talked with faculty about what worked best in their F2F classroom. In what today is usually called the "flipped classroom," the part most often moved online is the lecture, but some professors are excellent and engaging "lecturers." Then why move that online? 

I was happy to see faculty who really used the move as a time to rethink and redesign the course. They might record 15 minute mini-lectures for online but retain other lecture components for F2F. Some would begin discussions online prior to class and then pick up on those topics and questions that were raised online in the classroom. In some ways, classrooms have always been "flipped." Assigning students to read a short story or chapter as homework before a class is really the same thing. Everything can't happen in the classroom.

In a paper on
six elements for a better blend(Selectivity, Extended reach, Freed time, Accountability, Authority and Rewards) the authors take a look at the issues from two points of view: Blended Learning Implemented Without Enhancing Teaching and Blended Learning Combined with Enhancing Teaching Effectiveness Effectiveness. For example, in "freed time," taking the first approach, you would "add digital learning within current schedules, making no changes to the amount of time available to teachers for collaboration, planning, and professional development." Taking the combined approach, you would "rethink scheduling within new, blended models. The time students are spending on digital learning can be used, in part, to enable teachers to develop, collaborate, and plan. And schedule shifts can make teachers more effective by giving them time to analyze the increasing amounts of data available in blended models, using the data to inform instruction. All teachers can produce excellence as part of a team and gain opportunities for job-embedded development under the guidance of their excellent peers."

The University of Central Florida was a college we looked at carefully in our early research. They are still championing blended learning. I recommend their site at and their "toolkit" available at that site. UCF is also offering its free MOOC (massive open online course) for blended learning faculty and designers: BlendKit2012 again this month. Based around the open-licensed BlendKit Course instructional materials contained within the web site, BlendKit2012 will run as a five-week cohort (from Monday, September 24 to Monday, October 29, 2012) The goal of BlendKit2012 is to provide assistance in designing and developing your blended learning course via a consideration of key issues related to blended learning and practical step-by-step guidance in helping you produce actual materials for your blended course (i.e., from design documents through creating content pages to peer review feedback at your own institution). Unlike many traditional courses, registrants are encouraged to select the course components they find relevant as they participate at one of several engagement levels (i.e., completer, participant, auditor).  Course components include regular communications from facilitators, weekly readings, hands-on tasks, a variety of real time and asynchronous interaction opportunities, and weekly webinars with experienced blended learning instructors.

To close on a lighter note, blending always makes me think of Dan Ackroyd's Bassomatic commercial from Saturday Night Live (1976!) and also of  where they like to do bassomatic-like things to smartphones and other technology using their blenders. Let's hope that in creating our blended and hybrid courses, we are not destroying them at the same time.

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative - including a report on a national focus session and a framework for faculty workshops.
National Center for Academic Transformation - course redesign, including the innovative use of technology for blended learning


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