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Hybrid vs. Blended Learning: Which Is Right for Your Schools?

April 16, 2024

An empty classroom with a TV on the wall

As technology becomes a more vital part of classroom experiences, terms have emerged to describe how teachers incorporate digital learning. 

Hybrid and blended learning are common ways people describe these teaching models. But they both incorporate digital and in-person learning, right? So what’s the difference?

While people often use these terms interchangeably, there is a difference. If you’re considering bringing digital learning into your schools, here’s a look at the distinctions between these two learning models.

What Is Hybrid Learning?

Hybrid learning is a teaching model in which the students and teacher are generally in different places. It’s a relatively new term coined during the pandemic, developed mainly in response to social distancing recommendations. In a hybrid learning environment, students and teachers log into classroom activities and lessons from different places — usually from home. 

How Does Hybrid Learning Work?

In hybrid environments, all classroom activities and assignments are online using the school’s chosen educational technology platform. Although everyone is apart, hybrid learning models generally involve face-to-face time via videoconferencing, recorded lessons, or occasional in-person classroom time (depending on the circumstances). 

With the hybrid model, you may have some learners attend in person, but also offer pre-recorded lessons for students who aren’t able to attend. 

For example, a teacher for a hybrid science class may schedule a lesson covering weather patterns and offer to hold in-class time for those students who wish to attend and participate in hands-on activities. Students who don’t attend can access pre-recorded videos, guided activities, and assignments they can use to follow along at home in their own time.

Benefits of Hybrid Learning 

The hybrid model combines the best of both tech-enabled and in-person learning to benefit students and teachers. Students can have the interaction and personalized attention of in-person instruction while also getting the interactivity and expanded access of digital learning. 

Hybrid teaching can optimize certain teaching tasks, saving time for teachers. For example, asking students to complete a test online using laptops in the classroom can reduce grading time, as many questions can be graded automatically via education technology software.

The hybrid learning model also offers flexibility that enforces continuity. For example, when schools closed due to inclement weather conditions in the past, students would miss out on classroom time, and districts would often need to schedule make-up days that extended the school year. In a hybrid environment, teachers and students can easily shift that day’s lessons online, helping mitigate learning loss and eliminating the need for make-up days.

Hybrid environments also have the unique ability to offer new activity opportunities, bringing experiences to the classroom that students may not otherwise be able to access. For example, you can “bring in” a guest zookeeper from a city hundreds of miles away via video conference or visit a faraway museum via virtual tours. Diversifying classroom learning activities this way can help instructors reach more students with different learning styles. 

Drawbacks of Hybrid Learning

Hybrid learning may present challenges for students who find it difficult to engage in self-directed learning — or those who don’t have access to reliable internet or technology.

It can also be challenging for educators, as they need to balance the demands of both in-person and online instruction. This may result in a difference in quality between the in-person and online lessons, giving students an inconsistent experience.

What Is Blended Learning?

Blended learning is when traditional face-to-face teaching is supplemented by asynchronous online materials that students access on their own time. 

In a blended learning environment, the students and teachers generally are in the same physical location. However, students have access to additional resource material online that complements the lessons they attend in person. This self-paced learning is an important element of blended learning. 

How Does Blended Learning Work?

While the details vary, blended learning often operates as a “flipped classroom” model involving e-learning. Students usually engage with learning texts at their own pace inside and outside of the classroom, including supplemental readings, watching videos, and taking quizzes. 

These hands-on activities don’t replace in-person lectures — instead, they enhance it. The class time is reserved for discussion of learned material and interactive activities.

Blended learning classrooms usually meet five days a week, just like traditional classes. Then, using technology, they access material that supports in-class lessons. For example, let’s say that during a unit on poetry, an in-class discussion in a blended English class focused on sonnets one day. Then, the teacher may provide supplemental reading through the ed-tech platform with famous sonnets and a supplemental online activity like a sonnet identification quiz. 

Benefits of the Blended Learning Model

The main benefit of blended learning is that it helps teachers use classroom time for interactive learning. Since students and teachers have limited time together, that time is best spent working collaboratively rather than in lecture. Blended learning allows teachers to use classroom time for interactive lessons, participate in hands-on activities, and complete assignments with teachers present to help. 

Studies confirm that blended learning has a positive effect on student achievement. Pairing virtual learning with a classroom experience can create better student outcomes by making in-class time more meaningful and giving the students more opportunities to get direct teacher intervention.

Plus, 75% of students surveyed found blended learning an interesting way to learn. Modern students are comfortable in digital environments and may find it effective to take in basic information through e-learning. 

Digital learning can offer multiple options to take in information, such as video, text, and audio. This means blended learning provides more opportunities for students to engage with material in a way that suits their learning style.

Drawbacks of Blended Learning

Because blended learning integrates technology and online learning into a traditional classroom setting, it can be challenging for some teachers to implement it effectively. Educators need to take careful measures to ensure that the online and in-person aspects of lessons complement each other and enhance the learning experience rather than detract from it. 

This modality may also require more technological resources (apps, programs, physical equipment, etc.) that require time, training, and money.

What Is LIVE Learning?

LIVE learning is a unique approach to addressing teacher shortages nationwide, providing students with a LIVE synchronous instructor using in-class technology. LIVE learning provides certified teachers to schools with teaching vacancies, offering a sustainable alternative to long-term substitutes for filling staffing gaps.

How Does LIVE Learning Work?

While the exact mechanics of LIVE learning may vary based on the provider, typically this model features a remote teacher that is live-streamed into a classroom onto a large screen or projector. The LIVE teacher can see and hear the students in the classroom through installed video cameras.

For classroom management, the district or school will usually employ a paraprofessional or aide who monitors classroom behavior. This individual can also provide support to the remote teacher, help students one on one, and assist with administrative tasks like grading.

With many LIVE teaching solutions, students will engage with lessons through a digital classroom or learning platform. This may be through an integrated third-party tool, or through a proprietary lesson delivery portal. Just like in the hybrid and blended models, lessons can be delivered through many methods such as video, text, and audio.

Elevate K-12’s LIVE teaching solutions were designed to look and feel just like a traditional classroom experience — the only difference being that the teacher isn’t in the room with the students. LIVE teachers work alongside your district’s paraprofessionals for a seamless, supportive learning experience that provides better outcomes.

In a LIVE classroom, the teacher gives live, synchronous instruction via smart board or other camera-enabled device. They’re not in the classroom with the students (and might not even be in the same state!), but the students are together in the same classroom along with a district-provided paraprofessional. While the LIVE instructor gives the lesson, the in-class paraprofessional or classroom coach makes their way around the room to address additional support needs as they arise.

Benefits of LIVE Learning

Possibly the most significant benefit of LIVE Learning is its capacity to put real, certified, vetted teachers into your classrooms quickly and efficiently. If you’re having trouble finding a qualified math teacher in your area due to the national teacher shortage, Elevate K-12 can easily provide an engaging, high-quality, certified professional teacher to fill the vacancy — even if they’re in another state!

Unlike hybrid classrooms, LIVE environments are synchronous, giving students and teachers the opportunity to interact, ask questions, and form relationships in the same way they could in a traditional classroom.

The best LIVE learning environments are set up to look and feel just like a traditional classroom. LIVE classes can be held at any time, so districts can seamlessly integrate LIVE teaching to be aligned with their bell schedule. Students feel no disruptions to their routine or learning schedule.   

The benefit of incorporating an online learning platform into lesson delivery is that it opens up new channels for students to engage with the lesson, their teachers, and their peers. For example, a private chat feature can help more timid students gain the confidence to speak up.

Drawbacks of LIVE Learning

Of course, there’s no replacement for a great in-person teacher. However, just because a teacher is in-person, doesn’t mean they’re great. When you have limited options available to you, the most important thing to remember is to prioritize quality instruction — not just any in-person teacher. Quick fixes like long-term subs that aren’t subject matter experts or retired teachers that aren’t up to date on contemporary pedagogy might check the in-person box, but at the detriment of quality. 

With the right LIVE teaching provider, you’ll be connected to teachers that are always highly qualified and experts at teaching their content areas. That way quality instruction is prioritized for students.

Because LIVE environments rely on technology to connect students and teachers in real time, LIVE learning may not be the best option for schools with technology gaps. Schools that lack solid infrastructure for internet connectivity, or poor access points, may not be able to take full advantage of a synchronous learning environment.

Hybrid Learning vs. Blended Learning vs. LIVE Learning

While these different learning models have many similarities, the nuances in their differences can result in totally different learning experiences. How technology is integrated into the space and how students engage with the class defines the contrast between these three learning models.

Classroom Learning

Hybrid learning incorporates technology as the main channel for learning — video conferences, online activities, and online assignment submission. However, there’s very little (if any) in-person class time. 

In blended learning, technology is secondary, although important, focusing on enhancing what’s taught in person. This supplemental learning can happen in or outside the classroom, leaving the in-classroom time for interactive work with the teacher.

An alternative to hybrid and blended learning models is LIVE learning by Elevate K-12. This is a synchronous class that meets in the classroom with a LIVE remote teacher. This option uses the classroom as a space to meet and interact with both a synchronous educator and a supportive in-classroom paraprofessional. It also increases access to teachers in areas with teacher shortages.

Flexibility in the Learning Environment

Hybrid learning is more flexible than blended learning. While blended learning usually requires in-person classes on a set schedule, hybrid environments allow students and teachers to attend from anywhere.

LIVE learning makes it easy for students to get an in-classroom experience while still benefiting from hybrid or blended learning. It takes these models one step further by providing the next best thing to an in-person teacher, enhancing the quality of their learning experiences and still offering a convenient alternative for school districts.

Teaching Approach

Blended learning allows a uniform approach to teaching because all the students in class are together in person at the same time. Usually employing some ideas from the “flipped classroom” model, blended learning emphasizes doing active work in class.

Hybrid learning usually involves multiple approaches used at the same time. To adapt to the needs of virtual and in-person students, teachers must be able to manage both sets of students differently.

LIVE teaching from Elevate uses tested methods for engaging students in a classroom with a remote teacher using digital interactions, live conversation, and the support of a district-provided in-class paraprofessional.

Technology Integration

Hybrid learning uses technology in the classroom experience. Hybrid classrooms use tech to teach remote students via video conferencing. The schools may also give students laptops in hybrid classes to ensure they can access the lesson material. 

Blended learning can use technology in the classroom in similar ways. Still, the primary way these classrooms use technology is to invite students to expand their understanding of what they’re learning during in-class time via supplemental digital materials.

LIVE learning uses live streaming technology. Students have laptops to interact with the teacher in the classroom, including asking questions during lectures.

Student Autonomy

Blended learning relies on students taking the initiative to complete online components such as reading, watching videos, and engaging with learning texts outside of class. Students need to be autonomous enough to engage with these materials, learn from them, and seek out help as needed.

In contrast, hybrid learning offers a different form of autonomy. While students won’t have so much independence in learning the material, they will have the flexibility to log in whenever and wherever they choose since classes are primarily asynchronous.

With Elevate’s LIVE teachers, students will have a similar experience to a traditional class setting — meaning they’ll interact with their teacher in real time with a paraprofessional in the room. This model is especially helpful for students who may benefit from personalized learning and close attention in the classroom.

Which Model Suits Your Schools Best? 3 Major Factors To Consider

To understand what learning model is best for your district’s schools, you must dig into the nuances between hybrid and blended learning. What method you choose can depend upon the learning needs of your students, your district’s specific challenges, and what resources you have on hand.

1. School Infrastructure and Resources

How you can integrate technology into student learning can depend on the technology your school can access. In hybrid learning, for example, students often need laptops, as not all families have the appropriate technology at home.

In blended learning, students also need additional access to computers outside of the classroom, but this need is less urgent than in hybrid models. Adequate access could be provided through on-campus equipment in computer labs and libraries or through computer and WiFi access at home.

LIVE learning makes it easy to get started — all schools must provide is one large TV, projector, or smartboard, a reliable WiFi connection to the classroom, and a laptop, tablet, or desktop for each student. Everything else you’ll need for instruction will come from Elevate K-12.

2. Student Needs and Learning Styles

Different student populations may need different things. Keep in mind the acute needs of your students when putting together a plan for integrating virtual learning into your classrooms. 

Hybrid learning, for example, may not work as well with students whose learning style is not compatible with self-guided learning. Thus, it might be less likely to be effective with younger age groups or classes with special education needs compared to a more flexible LIVE learning solution like Elevate K-12.

3. Educational Goals

What goals do you want to meet by bringing hybrid or blended learning into your school? Thinking about how these different teaching models can contribute to your big-picture vision for your students can help you decide. For example, if you want to increase class access to students who can’t attend in person, hybrid might be the way to go.

LIVE teaching is an excellent option for bringing in teachers who can fill in teacher shortages. This permits schools to offer new classes to their students that previously would have seemed impossible. Picture a real-time, remote French teacher who lives in another state.

Empowering Educators To Make Informed Decisions

Whichever learning model you choose to implement, integrating digital learning in your schools can help you increase accessibility, meet the learning style needs of different students, and fill teacher shortages. By reading this article to understand hybrid vs. blended learning, you’ve taken the first step.

If neither hybrid or blended learning feels like the right fit for your school district, LIVE teaching could be the answer.

Designed by seasoned teaching experts, Elevate’s LIVE teaching is designed to fill teaching shortages and offer new class options to your school by bringing teachers with hard-to-find credentials right to your classrooms.

Ready to bring the benefits of digital learning into your classroom? Learn more about Elevate LIVE teaching today.

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