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What Is Hybrid Learning? Blended Learning? Understanding the Models

Posted by Ashley Robinson | Dec 20, 2020 2:00:00 PM

General Education



Hybrid learning is a teaching model that combines online learning with in-person instruction. It’s a “best of both worlds” way of teaching students! 

Because hybrid learning is a blend of digital and person-to-person education techniques, it can be a bit confusing to wrap your head around. That’s where this article comes in! To help you understand how hybrid learning works, we’ll:

  • Answer the questions, “What is hybrid learning?” and "What is blended learning?"
  • Explain the differences between eLearning vs blended vs hybrid learning models
  • Answer the question, “What is a hybrid class like?” in elementary, high school, and college classrooms
  • Cover four pros and cons of hybrid learning vs remote learning and hybrid learning vs in-person learning
  • Provide three tips for both students and teachers for getting the most out of hybrid learning.

Let’s dive in!




What Is Hybrid Learning?

Hybrid learning is an approach to education that combines aspects of in-person and online learning. In many instances, these classes are designed to be more accessible to students.

So what is a hybrid class, exactly? A hybrid class is a course where students attend class in-person and through online platforms. For instance, students in hybrid classes might attend school in-person a few days a week, then participate in online learning activities the rest of the week. 

During in-person learning sessions, students attend class face-to-face with their teacher. These class sessions can feature lots of different learning techniques, like lectures, in-class drills, discussion groups, and even student presentations. 

The online portions of a hybrid class can take on lots of different forms. Some assignments might be synchronous, or live. That means all the students log onto the class’s online learning platform or website to participate in lectures, activities, or discussions at the same time. 

But hybrid courses can also include asynchronous elements. That’s a fancy way of saying that hybrid classes often have online portions that you complete on your own time. These can be assigned readings, online discussion questions, homework assignments, or quizzes that all students complete outside of class. There’s no set meeting time or lecture you have to attend—as long as you finish the assignments by the deadline, you can do them whenever! 

There’s one caveat to hybrid learning we want to mention here: while the format we just discussed is the most common arrangement for hybrid classes, there are also hybrid classes that separate online learners and in-person students into two separate groups. (This is most common at the college level.)

In this case, one group of students takes the class virtually, and the other takes the class in person. In these scenarios, online students often tune into livestreamed lectures to learn material alongside their in-person classmates. In-person students do some of their work online, too. For instance, they may turn in their homework through the class's online portal, or watch videos that reinforce the lessons they've learned in class. 



While hybrid learning is easy to confuse with eLearning or blended learning, they're not exactly the same things. Let's take a look at the differences below.


eLearning vs Blended vs Hybrid Learning: The Big Differences

There’s sometimes confusion surrounding hybrid learning because it isn’t the only approach to combining in-person and distance learning. In fact, it’s common for people to mix up hybrid learning with blended learning and eLearning. 

We’ll talk about the differences below! 


Blended vs Hybrid Learning 

What is blended learning? Blended learning is an education model where all students attend class in-person, but they also engage in asynchronous, online learning methods outside of class. For example, in a blended learning model, students may meet in a physical classroom but complete all their assignments online. 

So, whereas hybrid learning accommodates students who may attend the same class in-person and remotely, blended learning models use online learning strategies to supplement the face-to-face learning that makes up the core of the class for all students. 


eLearning vs Hybrid Learning 

Hybrid learning is sometimes also mistaken for eLearning (also known as distance or remote learning). But you’ve probably guessed that there are some distinctions between these learning models as well. 

eLearning refers to a type of learning model that happens completely online. In eLearning courses, students don’t ever attend class in-person. This is because all instruction and course activities happen in an online or virtual classroom that’s housed in a learning management system, or an LMS. 

So in an eLearning class, you would log into your courses and take them completely online—without ever changing out of your pajamas. 


Hybrid learning is possible for students in elementary school all the way through college. But hybrid classes will definitely look a little different depending on what grade you're in.


What Is Hybrid Learning Like at Different Levels?

Now that you know the difference between hybrid, eLearning, and blended learning models, it’s time to talk more about how hybrid learning works at the elementary, high school, and college levels. 


What Is Hybrid Learning Like in Elementary School?

Hybrid learning works for even the youngest learners. To make hybrid learning effective for elementary school students, many schools use a model that has students participate in some in-person learning and some online learning. 

Here’s what we mean: in this type of hybrid model, students may have in-class instruction three days a week, just like you would see in a typical elementary school classroom. However, during the remaining two school days, students attend class virtually and/or complete assignments online from home. 

It’s pretty typical for teachers to take advantage of in-person learning time to introduce new learning material and implement active instructional strategies, such as limited lectures, group and partner activities, and student movement. 

The distance learning portion of class is usually used to supplement in-person instruction and reinforce learning that’s already happened in the classroom. This can involve students completing homework assignments, taking short quizzes, or even watching videos that reiterate things students already learned in class. Virtual learning tools are also an excellent way for teachers to connect with parents about students’ progress, too! 


Real-World Hybrid Learning Example

For a real-world example of hybrid learning at work, let’s look at Lakeville, Minnesota’s area schools' hybrid learning plan

Lakeville Schools split grades K through 5 into two groups that operate on an AA/Flex/BB schedule rotation. That means all Lakeview elementary students learn in-person and on campus two days a week, then engage in distance learning three days a week. 

To help out parents, Lakeview Schools places all students living in the same household on the same schedule rotation. Here’s what Lakeview’s rotation looks like: 

Learning Group A
Flex Learning Day for all students in all groups
Distance Learning
Distance Learning
Learning Group B
Distance Learning
Distance Learning


When elementary students at Lakeview are in the classroom for in-person learning, teachers cover subjects like literacy, math, social studies, science, and health. A “specialist” session is also offered at the end of the day, when students can focus on either art, physical education, music, or STEM.

On a student’s distance learning days, they’ll complete online assignments provided by their teachers. These learning tasks vary between teachers and subjects, but they include everything from worksheets and homework to watching recorded video lessons. The key here is that almost all lessons, activities, and assignments reinforce things that teachers went over during in-person instruction. 

It’s important to realize that online learning days don’t involve students sitting in a chair staring at a computer screen for six hours straight. Lakeview recommends that students of a certain age sit for active distance learning in limited time frames. For example, Kindergarten and first grade students are recommended to study for no more than two consecutive hours, while second and third graders should work for up to three hours at a time. 

Lakeview’s example is just one possible way to implement hybrid learning for elementary school students! There are many different approaches that can be effective. What’s most important for a successful hybrid learning program is assessing the needs of your students, evaluating the resources you have at hand, and collaborating with fellow educators to design effective curricula for younger learners. 




What Is Hybrid Learning Like in High School? 

Because high school students are more advanced, educators have an opportunity to implement virtual learning tools to supplement in-person learning in more complex ways than at the elementary level. 

Hybrid learning in high school involves splitting students into groups and creating a set schedule for in-person and distance learning. Unlike hybrid learning in elementary schools, high schools are more likely to ask students to learn new concepts through online learning modules. 

For instance, in a biology class, an in-person class session might go over the different parts of a human cell. Then, on online learning days, students may watch videos, read textbook chapters, and complete assignments that help them learn more about each part of the cell (like the endoplasmic reticulum!) The online material will be new for students and not just reinforce information they learned in the classroom. 


Real-World Hybrid Learning Example

So, what is hybrid learning like at a real high school? South Oak Cliff High School in Dallas, Texas provides a great example of what hybrid learning can look like for high school students. 

Under this model, high school students are split into two “cohorts” based on last name, with Last Names A-L attending in-person classes on Mondays and Tuesdays, and Last Names M-Z on Thursdays and Fridays. Similar to Lakeview Elementary’s hybrid model, South Oak Cliff designates Wednesdays as a “flex” day for all students. For most students, Flex days are much like distance learning days. Students will attend virtual classes from home during this time, but they also have the option to access remediation, tutoring, and office hours with instructors. In other words, these days are “flexible” for both students and teachers! 

On in-person class days, students participate in regular instruction and activities that are typical of face-to-face learning models. But distance learning days are also classroom days! For instance, students at Oak Cliff attend live virtual lectures and class discussions on distance learning days, too. It’s kind of like having a normal class period...just online!




What Is Hybrid Learning Like in College?

Hybrid learning is probably most common at the college level, where instructors and professors have more flexibility about how they structure their courses. These types of classes can also be part of online degree programs, where students are able to attend classes and complete a degree completely online. 

In a college environment, hybrid learning may be used to accommodate students who are not able to attend class in-person, or to give all students flexibility in choosing to attend class in-person or from a distance. College instructors will typically offer most class sessions in an in-person format, but also live stream these in-person sessions for distance learning students. All students will learn the same material and complete the same assignments throughout the semester. 

Because college courses are highly specific, hybrid courses will adapt to each class. So while one hybrid course might be almost completely synchronous, another class might ask students to learn large chunks of material using asynchronous online methods only. It depends on the class, the instructor, and what the course objectives are! 


Real-World Hybrid Learning Example

There are many different approaches to hybrid learning at the college level, but one school that offers a variety of hybrid classes is Penn State University. Penn State uses hybrid learning to reduce the number of required face-to-face class sessions in order to provide greater flexibility for both instructors and students. 

In this school’s approach to hybrid learning, students typically use virtual learning resources to complete “individual space activities” that will prepare them for the “group space activities.” Put another way: at Penn State, the online portion of a class is designed to help students get ready for in-person instruction.

Individual space activities (completed online) might include reading pages in the textbook, commenting on discussion board posts, or completing homework assignments. During group space (in-person) activities, instructors reinforce what students learned online, introduce new topics, and prepare students for the next round of individual space activities. 

While Penn State’s approach to hybrid learning is an effective one, it is by no means the only way to do hybrid learning at the college level. Whatever approach you choose, it’s important to think about hybrid learning the way Penn State does: by considering your goals for student learning and optimizing your hybrid classes to help students achieve those goals.  




2 Pros and 2 Cons of Hybrid Learning vs eLearning

Weighing the pros and cons of different hybrid learning models can help educators choose the approach that best suits their school’s needs. 

Below, we’ll provide four pros and cons of hybrid learning versus remote learning to help you get an idea of how these learning models compare. 


Pro: You Can Use More Instructional Methods

One of the coolest things about hybrid learning is that it allows teachers to implement instructional methods that are ideal for in-person learning and online/distance learning. This means that hybrid learning gives teachers the chance to design course activities that appeal to various learning styles. 

Not everyone learns the same way, but it can be hard to reach different types of learners in a typical class format. For example, students who are visual learners might benefit more from an online video they can pause and rewind multiple times versus a normal class lecture. In the same way, a hands-on learner might struggle in an eLearning class where everything happens remotely. A hybrid class, however, lets hands-on students get the benefits of in-person instruction, too. 

That’s why hybrid learning can often be more effective for a diverse group of learners than remote learning.


Pro: You Connect With Students in Multiple Ways

Another definite pro of hybrid learning is that it gives teachers and students more opportunities to connect and communicate. For many students, feedback and positive reinforcement from a trusted teacher is crucial to their success. Remote learning can sometimes remove that connection from the learning experience. 

In hybrid learning scenarios, teachers can check in with students through in-person conversations and follow up later through email, video conferencing, or instant messaging through the online classroom. In general, hybrid learning can help teachers be more accessible to students than remote learning. The hybrid format may also help students who are wary of opening up in face-to-face conversations feel safer about talking to their teachers through virtual channels.


Con: Your Learning Tools Aren't Consolidated

This is a con that’s specific for teachers: when you’re conducting in-person and distance learning, it may feel like your course tools are all over the place. For example, in hybrid learning courses, it’s common for teachers to provide both print and digital copies of course documents, give verbal reminders both during class time and later through announcements on the course learning management system, and offer in-person office hours and virtual office hours.

In remote learning-only courses, managing these different teaching methods isn’t really a problem: everything is consolidated to a virtual classroom and online environment! 

If not managed well, the hybrid learning format can become a lot of work for teachers. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t manageable. To address this con, it’s important for teachers to have a plan in place for how and when they’ll provide course materials, information, and student support. Having clear and consistent policies for how you’ll use hybrid learning tools to distribute and gather important course documents and info will help teachers avoid feeling overwhelmed.


Con: Drawing Boundaries Can Be Tough

Another possible con for both teachers and students in a hybrid learning environment is the “always on” accessibility. When you spend the day in a brick-and-mortar classroom then return home to emails and messages and assignments spilling out of the course learning management system, it can feel like you don’t have any boundaries between your school life and personal life. 

With eLearning classes, everything happens online, so you can literally unplug when you’re not at work or school. But with hybrid classes, it can feel like you're spending 10 hours a day with your teacher...and vice versa! 

That’s why it’s important for teachers to set clear parameters around when online communications will happen outside of regular school hours. Setting limits on accessibility is healthy for teachers and students and can give everyone the space they need to recharge before another day of hybrid learning begins. 




2 Pros and 2 Cons Of Hybrid Learning vs In-Person Learning

Hybrid learning and in-person learning share some advantages, but there are also some things that hybrid learning may offer that in-person learning doesn’t, and vice versa. 

We’ll cover four pros and cons of hybrid learning vs. in-person learning. 


Pro: You Meet a Wider Range of Learning Needs

Since hybrid learning involves more than one format for learning, there’s a stronger chance that more learning needs will be met under a hybrid learning model than through in-person instruction only. 

Some students might learn more effectively in a face-to-face environment, while others might learn better in a virtual environment. Since hybrid learning incorporates both, there’s a strong likelihood that most students will find assignments and activities in a format that works for their learning style. Ultimately, that means students have more opportunities to succeed! 


Pro: Students Complete Work at Their Own Pace

In an in-person learning environment, there can be a lot of pressure for teachers to move students through in-class activities as quickly as possible so all the material gets covered before the bell rings. In a hybrid learning environment, students have the opportunity to complete some lessons and assignments at their own pace online. 

On distance learning days, students are typically working from their homes, and sometimes on their own schedule. Teachers might host a required virtual lecture, then give an assignment that students are to complete before the next in-person class meeting. This gives students the chance to organize their learning time and environment in a way that works best for them. Having this flexibility can make students feel more empowered and engaged with their education. 


Con: It Can Be More Work for Educators

We’ve already mentioned how hybrid learning can be more work for educators, and when comparing hybrid learning to in-person learning, that’s definitely true. Having to prepare learning materials for both in-person class sessions and virtual learning is simply going to take up more time than just preparing learning materials for in-person classes. Additionally, as technology upgrades, teachers will have to rework their online materials. That’s not the case for in-person classes, where teachers can reuse materials from one year to the next. 

That’s why it’s important for hybrid teachers to remember that they shouldn’t try to use both learning methods for every single thing. That’s double the work! For instance, you wouldn’t necessarily need to have students keep a journal during face-to-face class time and post in a virtual journal during distance learning time. It makes more sense to keep the journal confined to one learning context or the other. The same goes for quizzes: having all your quizzes in-person (or all online) will help you keep your prep time streamlined. 

Designating certain types of activities for in-person and online learning will help teachers stay organized...and it will keep students on track, too. 


Con: Technology Access Isn’t Consistent

One thing that students typically won’t have a problem with in a face-to-face classroom is access to learning materials. Textbooks are provided by the school, and as long as a student shows up, they can learn the material for the day. 

With hybrid learning, there’s no guarantee that students working online will have access to working technology or reliable Internet access. It’s important for teachers to realize that not all students have 24/7 access to the internet or computers, which impacts their ability to learn effectively. 

That means teachers need to be extra cognizant of the learning hurdles their students face in a hybrid class. Teachers should be ready and willing to step in to accommodate struggling students. 



If you're taking a hybrid class, you'll need to adapt to a new way of learning. Here are three expert tips to help you succeed!


3 Tips for Students Taking Hybrid Classes

Getting used to hybrid learning can be a bit of an adjustment for students, but we’re here to help. Keep reading for three tips on how to have a great experience with hybrid learning as a student. 


Tip 1: Get Acquainted With Course Policies

There’s a strong chance that your teachers will have clear-cut policies for how the hybrid learning process will shake out. These policies will likely be covered in your course syllabus or handbook. 

If you want to have a good experience in hybrid learning as a student, the first thing you need to do is read these policies cover to cover. Understanding these policies will help you know what to expect—and what’s expected from you!—during your hybrid learning experience. It will also help you stay on top of assignment deadlines, class schedules, and how to communicate with your teacher and classmates. 


Tip 2: Get a Planner

This advice pretty much applies in any learning environment, but it’s worth repeating here: to be successful in a hybrid learning course, get a planner and know how to use it. Since you’ll probably be learning in more than one environment, you’ll have to juggle your normal assignment due dates along with knowing where to find those assignments...and where to submit them.

To stay on top of these expectations, consider color coordinating your planner, with one color assigned to your in-person class assignments, activities, and deadlines, and another color for everything you need to accomplish via distance learning. This will help ensure you won’t get confused or fall behind. 


Tip 3: Communicate With Your Instructor and Administrators

Hybrid learning can be implemented in many different ways depending on a school’s needs and goals. If you’re feeling nervous and wondering, “What are hybrid classes like my school,” start by reaching out to your teachers and other school administrators. 

These experts can explain how your school will handle hybrid learning and what it will mean for you. You can also ask your teachers what their expectations for hybrid learning will be. For example, will you be expected to learn some concepts on your own? Or will all the material be covered in-person? That way you’ll know how to prepare yourself for success in your courses and adopt a positive mindset toward this new learning experience. 



Tips For Getting the Most Out of Hybrid Learning For Teachers

There are many ways that teachers can make hybrid learning work for them and their students. Here are three easy tips for succeeding in hybrid learning environments. 


Tip 1: Set Attainable Goals

While hybrid learning offers amazing learning opportunities for students of all ages, it’s important to remember that a hybrid learning model will only be as effective as the goals that you set for yourself and your students. 

Plus, maintaining an in-person classroom environment and a virtual classroom at the same time is a huge undertaking for teachers. So, set some clear goals for the semester that you feel confident you and your students can meet. Not only will that keep you on track, it will minimize your students’ frustrations, too. 


Tip 2: Make a Clear Curriculum Plan

In-person and distance learning each have their own advantages and challenges. Before you start setting assignments for distance learning and planning in-person class activities, take some time to really consider which of your goals can best be met through an in-person learning format and a distance learning format. Not all lessons are suited for all formats! 

Once you’ve considered the best possible ways to use in-person and distance learning to meet your goals for your classes, plan your course activities accordingly. For instance, it probably makes more sense to schedule group presentations during in-person class time, and use distance learning tools to keep up with a class blog. 


Tip 3: Be Patient and Flexible

Implementing hybrid teaching strategies can be a lot--but that doesn’t mean it isn’t rewarding! To have a positive experience with a hybrid learning model, it’s crucial to be flexible and patient with yourself and your students. 

There are going to be instances when a student gets confused about which day they are supposed to be in-person and which day they are supposed to be distance learning. There will probably be times when students have technical difficulties and miss a virtual learning session. Responding to these scenarios with kindness and curiosity will help you and your students feel connected and comfortable, and it will help keep students’ learning on track. 




What’s Next? 

If you’re new to online learning, be sure to check out our tips for getting the most out of your virtual experience. 

Did you know that you can go to high school totally online? Click here to learn more. 

Hybrid and eLearning classes are most common at the college level. While online classes can be super convenient, it can be hard to figure out which courses are right for you. Check out this article for lots of expert advice for picking online college classes! 


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Ashley Robinson
About the Author

Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.

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