What is Hybrid Learning? – Defining and distinguishing the concept

COVID-19 has redefined so much of the world it can be difficult to keep pace; it has swept aside traditional ways of working and schooling and forced us to adapt at a wild tempo. From this global disruption, new methods and terminology have emerged that many might find strange or unfamiliar.

“Hybrid learning” is one such phrase rising to prominence in the education sector – a response to the challenges suddenly posed by a global pandemic. Still in its infancy as a concept, hybrid learning may yet lack a solid definition in the public arena. We’ll try our best to explain the model and distinguish it from similar concepts.

Hybrid learning: a working definition

At its core, hybrid learning is a seamless classroom experience that plays out both physically and remotely. This means that some learners attend class in-person while others join the class remotely through video conferencing software such as Skype or Zoom.

These lessons are synchronous, meaning the in-person and remote learners are subject to the same learning materials at the same time.

For it to be a true hybrid learning model, there needs to be a roughly 50/50 split between in-class time and time spent working remotely; whether that means students collectively spend half their time in class or the class is equally divided between being present and logging in remotely.

To sum it up in a single sentence: “Hybrid learning is teaching both in-person and online learners simultaneously.


Blended learning: what’s the difference?

The terms “hybrid learning” and “blended learning” are often used interchangeably, but there are differences worth noting.

Try thinking of blended learning as “web-enhanced” learning. While hybrid learning still focuses on the “face-to-face” (whether in person or digitally), simultaneous learning experience, blended learning replaces some of that interaction with online tools and materials that learners navigate on their own and in their own time (ie, in an asynchronous manner).

While hybrid learning sees a more even split between in-class and out-of-class face-to-face learning, blended learning usually refers to traditional classroom learning augmented with online components (such as e-learning courses) to supplement the experience. This is generally facilitated by a learning management system (LMS) that incorporates educational technologies into lesson plans.


In summary: “Blended learning combines online educational materials and online interaction with traditional classroom methods asynchronously.


Both types of learning involve a combination of in-person and online learning, but the who differs in each situation. With hybrid learning, the in-person learners and the online learners are different people. With blended learning, the same individuals learn both in-person and using online tools.

Hybrid learning wouldn’t exist without the technological framework pioneered by blended learning. Hybrid learning walked the path paved by blended learning to solve a unique problem: how to continue education while maintaining COVID-19 regulations on social distancing and social gatherings.

Advantages of hybrid learning

Beyond the obvious safety benefits of hybrid learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, it offers many of the same advantages as working remotely, for example, no morning or afternoon commutes (making it a popular choice among busy parents of K-12 learners). This is particularly beneficial to learners in remote or rural areas.

The synchronicity of hybrid learning means that all learners receive the same information at the same time. It also allows the differently-abled to be incorporated into classroom experiences and alleviates the challenges associated with long learner absences due to sickness or family emergencies.

The Conclusion:

Given the recent occurrence of the hybrid learning innovation, it’s understandable that confusion should arise when comparing it to blended learning. Many articles will use the two terms as synonyms, further muddying the waters.

It’s easiest to think of hybrid learning nesting within blended learning: the latter is all education that integrates digital tools and technologies, while the former is specific to lessons taught physically and remotely at the same time.


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Author: Rob Ewart

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