A Quest to Serve All Learners, Everywhere, Anytime

A hybrid is something made by combining two different elements.  My earliest understanding was that of the mule, the result of crossing a horse and a donkey. In the field of education, hybrid learning is best defined as some students participate in person, whereas others are online. Educators teaching virtual and in-person learners at the same time.  

Though often used interchangeably, hybrid models are not the same as blended learning.  Blended learning is resultant when educators combine in-person instruction with online learning activities, completing some components online and others in person.  A hardly foreign approach in technology-rich schools.  

In an article authored by Celisa Steele titled, “Hybrid vs Blended Learning: The Difference and Why It Matters,” further distinction is made.  “Both types of learning involve a mix of in-person and online learning, but the who differs in the two scenarios. With hybrid learning, the in-person learners and the online learners are different individuals. With blended learning, the same individuals learn both in person and online.”

360° Accommodation

The pandemic ushered in a necessity for renewed flexibility and inversely spurred creativity to strategically design schedules to accommodate all learners wherever they may be, at whatever time.  The terms synchronous and asynchronous more than mere buzzwords, were essential to take into account.  

Amidst a background of more questions than answers, scheduling becomes anything but dichotomous. Dr. John Spencer illustrates five different models for structuring hybrid learning.  

Differentiation Model:  students at home and in-person engage synchronously on the same lesson.  The two groups frequently interact with one another.
Multi-track Model: students work on the same lessons but they are divided into cohorts that exist in separate tracks. The cohorts rarely interact.
Split A/B Model: students alternate days between being at-home and being in-person.  Most at-home learning is asynchronous with a few opportunities for video conferencing.
Virtual Accommodation Model: When the group at home is small (3-4 students) they can function as a virtual small group but use video chat to join the in-person classroom.
Independent Project Model: When a face-to-face lesson doesn’t work off-line and only 1-4 students need to work virtually, an independent model works best.

Spencer recognizes how every model has strengths and weaknesses.  Further he comments, “As educators, we need to be strategic about which model we select based on the needs of our students.” Furthermore, Spencer attests to the importance of being intentional if hybrid learning is to work. A one-size fits all approach could not be justifiable, equally choices must be made instead of kidding ourselves that every model might be implemented with success.

Various Hybrid and Blended Models Mixed to Make a Jambalaya 

Currently, we find ourselves ushering in a sort of Wild West.  If nothing else, a spirit of innovation prevails and we must remain optimistic; to at least give things a try.  Yet, upon first or even second glance, some ingenious scheduling options, might leave an educator wondering about their skill set and abilities to nimbly bounce between different modalities; designing lessons and supporting learners in-person, while at the same time virtually, both synchronously and asynchronously.  A reality where some schedules may be a combination of hybrid and blended models.  Possibly three of Spencer’s models, and an overlooked delineation of the difference between hybrid and blended learning.  In effect, models proposing eighty minute lessons with a combination of physically distanced learners in-person and virtual synchronous but also asynchronous learners; cohorts on A/B days; and sixty minute entirely virtual synchronous and asynchronous lessons.  One may tire reading about such a schedule, so the exhaustion in implementation is unimaginable. Further, some families may be weary of sending their child to school, resulting in some learners always virtual in real-time, whereas others remain in different time zones and always asynchronous.  And to spare a bit more confusion in schedule design, we will not examine what it might mean when educators similarly do not feel safe to return to in-person instruction and remain entirely virtual.  

Amidst the jambalaya, some educators as well as families may question the very nature of a school and its identity, especially if a variety of hybrid and blended models overlap.  The motivation is apparent, complex scheduling for the sake of providing access to all learners. Though a noble hill to die upon, an analogy of diversification may not be so far-fetched.  Would Nike ever expand to brand potato chips?

There is legitimacy in questioning, “Who are we?”  Especially so, as educators tethered to the values of excellency constantly dedicate themselves to honing their craft.  Some may be filled with intimidation, wondering if in our attempt to be everywhere, at all times, for everyone; might we be spread thin?  The result is one of mediocrity, where some learners are served, in some places, some of the time?”

Time will only tell.

As we embark on what appears unchartered waters, a spirit of voyage hopefully seeps into our being.  A focus on the potential and not the peril.  One of the greatest explorers of all time, Sir Ernest Shackleton attested to the “need to put footprint of courage into stirrup of patience.”

Poised and positive we set sail.

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