Hybrid learning: Can it really be that bad?
Updated: Feb 14, 2022
I read a lot of newsletters every week, trying to keep up-to-date with the latest in education and edtech. A few weeks ago, I received one of my regulars, the American newsletter Edsurge (published by ISTE). The headline read:
Call it a confirmation rather than a newsflash: Hybrid teaching doesn’t work very well.
This surprised me a bit. Having just written a report for the OECD on Distance Learning in Arab Gulf States, I have done a lot of research recently into hybrid and distance teaching and learning both during and before the pandemic. I clicked through to the article, which linked to a blog from the Hechinger report. Both pieces referenced a study in Educational Researcher titled, “Specifying Hybrid Models of Teachers’ Work during COVID-19”. This is the first piece of research I am “vulgarising” in this blog.
Hybrid teaching can be defined quite simply as a combination of online and face-to-face teaching and learning and although it has been around for a while, it became mainstream during the COVID-19 pandemic as schools struggled to stay open for face-to-face learning while some students were still learning from home, whether due to illness or by choice.
Contrary to what one might think after reading the Edsurge article, the object of this study was not to evaluate the success or failure of hybrid teaching in US schools, but rather to identify models of hybrid learning that could help clarify and validate future research and practice. Through her data collection and analysis, the researcher identified three main models of hybrid teaching, which she defines as follows:
Parallel: In this model, students choose to participate in learning either 100% remotely or 100% face-to-face. Teachers, then, teach either the remote or in-person students, but not both.
Alternating: In this model, schools or districts split students into two groups that alternate between home and school learning. Thus teachers must teach students both online and face-to-face, but not simultaneously.
Blended: The blended model is as it sounds: one teacher is responsible for teaching a class in which some students are learning at a distance and others are at school – at the same time.
The article provides several quotes from teachers who were teaching using a blended model (or a combination of blended and alternating models) and a discussion about how challenging this way of hybrid teaching was for these teachers. However, before we decide just how significant this finding is, we have to take a look at the sample used in this research.
The author surveyed 75 teachers from nine US states and conducted two interviews with a “Focal Group” of 36 of those teachers. This sample is too small to allow the findings to be generalised to other US teachers, but the author does point out that the background characteristics (age, gender, experience, location) of the surveyed teachers reflect those found in the larger population of teachers. Unfortunately, as the article does not specify how the interviewees were selected, it is impossible to know whether this smaller sample of 36 teachers also shares the same demographic characteristics as the larger US teacher population.
But the sample gets even smaller once we look at the hybrid models individually.
Of the 36 teachers interviewed, only 22 teachers had worked in a school using a hybrid teaching model during the period of the study.
Of those 22 teachers, only seven teachers reported using a blended hybrid model. An additional five teachers worked in schools using both blended and hybrid models.
What this means is that the finding about the extreme challenges facing teachers who used the blended model, on which both online articles based their arguments, came from a sample of at most 12 teachers across a nation of well over 3.5 million teachers.
This brings me to why I wanted to write these blogs in the first place. It may well be that a blended hybrid teaching model is the worst kind of hybrid learning out there. But this journal article, with this sample, does not prove that -- and the author isn't trying to. Yet if you only read the headlines and don’t dive into the details of the research, you would never know. This is an important learning for policymakers, school leaders, teachers, educational technology providers and even parents looking at academic research. This article is actually incredibly useful in providing models of hybrid learning for schools to trial in order to understand what works best in their context. It could also help technology companies have more productive conversations with schools about how their products might be used in these models. But doing away with hybrid learning altogether is not the point of the article, and may not be the best solution for anyone.