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The challenges and opportunities of hybrid learning


Hybrid learning: The journey so far

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Teaching challenges: Supporting staff and students

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Flexible edtech: A properly implemented hybrid learning system

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Strategy: A holistic approach to learning

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Looking ahead: Long-term solutions

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The global pandemic has brought disruption and complexity to education. But, at the same time, it has catalysed the unification of teaching and technology.

As predicted by educators in The UKI State of Technology in Education Report, this fast-tracked digitisation of learning has brought huge opportunities and significant drawbacks. With the return to full-time face-to-face learning unlikely for some time, hybrid learning is a solution to keep education going.

So what actually is hybrid learning? Since schools closed, educators were forced to balance teaching a small group of students in-person while simultaneously providing remote lessons to the majority of learners at home. To do so, they’ve drawn upon the blended learning model which combines traditional classroom methods with digital resources.

While educators may have anticipated this digital trajectory in the education landscape, how well have they adapted their school strategy and pedagogical approach to support staff’s teaching and students’ learning?

Nothing can ultimately replace face-to-face education, yet a strategic hybrid learning approach, grounded in effective edtech, can help staff overcome the challenges they’ve experienced with remote teaching, while supporting student engagement and attainment.

Many of these issues predated the pandemic, such as digital inequity and the attainment gap, but a holistic approach which prioritises in-class learning with a seamless digital backdrop can help rectify them in the long-term. 

Indeed, an opportunity exists for educators to embrace high-quality teaching and learning which keeps students engaged in and out of the classroom, by finding a streamlined solution that equips them for simultaneous remote and classroom teaching.

So where is hybrid learning at now, and how can educators position themselves to effectively cater for hybrid learners however the situation changes?

Hybrid learning: The journey so far

The pandemic exposed the faultlines in educators’ ability to facilitate teaching outside the classroom, as many weren’t confident or proficient enough in using the edtech they would come to rely on. While the classroom remains the nucleus of the learning experience, educators were forced into a reactive mode when some of their conventional teaching practices were no longer viable.

The tireless efforts of educators to adapt at short notice and innovate in ever-changing conditions have inflicted a burden on their wellbeing which has only tested their resilience further. While IT managers may have appreciated greater importance and value attributed to their role, they also felt significant pressure to support their colleagues’ tech use, maintain the equipment, troubleshoot technical issues and fundamentally keep education moving.

However, the greatest hurdle was students’ access to essential edtech. Globally, less than 20% of the world’s population have access to broadband, and for the students who do, they experienced a ‘lockdown learning fatigue’ contributing to an engagement drop of 30%. Staff, too, suffered a shortage of crucial equipment to facilitate remote teaching — only 38% of respondents told Teacher Tapp’s lockdown survey that they have a platform for setting work remotely.

It’s taken time for educators to fully appreciate the reassurance of the reliable edtech which has supported them even before school closures, realising this has given them a foundation of extensive, proven tech trends to identify the tools and resources which can add the most value to their teaching practices. So does hybrid learning need to be a daunting step into the unknown? Instead of resisting the renewed emphasis on edtech, educators can use their experience with it to supplement their lesson delivery and bolster motivation.

They’ve since discovered new tools or how to use old tech in new ways, opening up further possibilities and efficiencies which enable them to combat factors like unequal tech access and the attainment gap so students can continue accessing a high quality of teaching. What lesson have educators ultimately learned? Hybrid learning doesn’t replace the classroom approach, traditional teaching or what they know works; it’s about adding to their existing pedagogical practices, rather than abandoning them.

Hear Head of International Education Strategy, Dr John Collick break down the context and key considerations in his BettFest 2021 talk

Teaching challenges: Supporting staff and students

Against this backdrop of a shifting education landscape, those at the heart of it must remain the key priority. It’s not just the edtech which is being tested more than ever: new pressures demand more of staff and students. The most successful hybrid learning system will ensure they’re fully supported, so they can overcome the residual challenges from a lack of preparation and ensure that doesn’t continue going forward.

Educators have relied on edtech more than ever, but have they been supported with a commitment to training? With less than 20% of respondents telling Teacher Tapp they received training in how to support remote learning, there’s a clear lack of confidence which needs addressing with more training, guidance and resources. Treating it as a necessity, integral to the wider school strategy and informed by staff views, rather than a sporadic, inconsistent afterthought, will help staff feel more included and make the most of their edtech.

What should training focus on? Helping staff reevaluate their tech use without feeling overburdened will make it easier to blend edtech with their traditional teaching methods. This dual approach will provide them with the techniques to cater for synchronous and asynchronous lessons, so they’re comfortable providing consistently high-quality teaching wherever and whenever students are learning.

Effective training extends beyond technology, however, to support teachers online and offline across their diverse needs. Reflecting how hybrid learning involves more than just technology, training should encompass students’ social-emotional needs and online safety, as well as strategies to manage time pressures and reduce the strain of staff’s increased workload on their wellbeing.

Above all, there should be a concerted effort to make staff lives easier through simple processes, easily accessible learning resources mapped to the curriculum and robust ongoing support. This will ease the pressure so they can feel more confident using edtech, embracing hybrid learning and continuing devising innovative ways of working.

Dr John Collick explains more about how staff and students have responded to these new pressures:

Flexible edtech: A properly implemented hybrid learning system

A properly implemented hybrid learning system shouldn’t be understood as opposing classroom teaching, but as a continuum between classroom and remote learning, in which education can operate flexibly — but just as effectively — at any point along that range. Instead of catering for one or the other, educators can achieve this hybrid capability using edtech, equipping them with the agility to repurpose or adapt their teaching practices to any scenario, as well as fundamentally providing a more rich and diverse style of lesson delivery.

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However, hybrid learning doesn’t require a radical reinvention of pedagogy to align with the expanded scope for involving edtech. Teachers can continue using the assets they developed in class, without having to recreate content from scratch in new or unfamiliar platforms. Reinforcing this moving forward, it’s never been more important to refer to the evolution of edtech trends to know the most valuable tools, their various uses from engagement to collaboration, and which stand the test of time with long-lasting benefits.

What role does classroom edtech play in hybrid learning? Educators can incorporate practical front-of-class technology, such as the ActivPanel, to be used in combination with other edtech solutions to deliver similar synchronous or asynchronous experiences to students inside and outside the classroom. This is why front-of-class tech can’t be neglected, as it remains the central foundation of the classroom experience staff and students expect and depend upon, preserving the invaluable greater interactivity, engagement and attainment this tech provides.

This should direct tech use towards prioritising tools which boost attainment, so educators can discern the most effective edtech from the shiny gimmicks or overly futuristic solutions. Using edtech in this way helps educators both deepen and streamline the learning experience for students, so hybrid learning can feel as straightforward as the sole classroom environment they’re used to, and consequently address any engagement or attainment deficit.

Dr John Collick shares more insight on how using trusted edtech can ease the burden:

Strategy: A holistic approach to learning

Enhanced edtech use will only be fully effective if it’s predicated upon a strategy which combines all the strands of hybrid learning into a comprehensive, targeted approach. Instead of thinking a mass drive online automatically solves the problem, schools should develop holistic strategies which minimise disruption with clear objectives for academic success. This covers the needs of staff and students much better than hybrid on its own.

Essential to this is an environment which attends to the social and emotional learning of students, fostered by the teacher. Education remains a social activity which prepares students with the skills to be part of a community; students thrive when growing interpersonal skills from collaborating with peers and teachers.

It’s this role of the teacher as a student’s guide and mentor, providing authentic familiarity and motivating them with a one-to-one connection, that should be maintained in the hybrid learning approach as much as possible. Educators have found recreating the intimacy of the classroom clinical online, but should prioritise the social component to find ways of sustaining interactivity and the human social experience, instead of video lessons resorting to a one-way exchange. This will enable them to teach skills and concepts in an engaging way without cramming content.

Indeed, while school focuses have changed over time, the primary purposes of education, such as socialising, endure, so educators should monitor how priorities have evolved to ensure they’re not losing sight of what’s most important or effective. Therefore, fully considering and communicating a hybrid learning strategy which focuses on robust tech infrastructure and online security is vital if staff and students are to be supported.

Furthermore, if schools are going to continue strengthening their hybrid learning approach, the voices of all staff need to be heard so it meets everyone’s needs and everyone can inform the positive growth of their institution. A collective vision needs this level of insight, as educators such as IT staff will have pivotal input on the wisest tech investments, tech trends on the rise and areas that need targeting.

To meet the most important school priorities, hybrid learning strategies should refer to what we know about the importance of the role of the teacher and social connection, while sensitive to changing staff and student needs, with edtech used to achieve this in and out the classroom.

Hear more about the need to remember education is a fundamentally social activity from Dr John Collick:

Looking ahead: Long-term solutions

Any long-term solution should form around the understanding that hybrid learning is a combination of the classroom and the remote. Schools should neither expect students to just adapt, nor overburden teachers with the full responsibility of seamlessly realigning pedagogical practices. Instead, edtech should be seen not as a short-term solution, but as ongoing support, adaptable for delivering engaging lessons remotely or in the classroom.

Hybrid learning promotes a flexibility which educators have already utilised. Some teachers already appreciate the benefits of a rounded classroom, and reconfiguring classroom layouts can appeal to different styles of learning and lesson delivery. Similarly, with students taking more ownership of their education at home, staff can use both student-led and teacher-led techniques to proactively deliver a synchronous and asynchronous experience which encourages students’ active involvement.

Senior staff, meanwhile, need to consider which investments will support their key goals and frameworks, while promoting teachers’ professional development with ample support. Pursuing a digital-first strategy recognises the role of technology in education throughout school closures and hybrid learning — beneficial now and in the future.

Above all else, educators should underpin their hybrid learning approach with the importance of the classroom’s recognisable, supportive setting which drives motivation and maintains the sophisticated social support structures. Embracing both traditional pedagogy and the digitisation of education will enable educators to maximise their opportunities for long-term engagement and attainment benefits.

Dr John Collick rounds up the responsibility of schools, educators and edtech providers to reassess how we deliver education:

So, keeping sight of both the learnings from lockdown and the educational imperatives which have always guided school strategy, while leveraging the most valuable edtech, will help staff and students navigate this period of remote and classroom learning. But is hybrid learning a long-term solution? Ultimately, education in the personal classroom setting is unparalleled in helping close any attainment or engagement gap, so should remain the end goal rather than believing the hybrid approach is permanent or fully sustainable — find out more in our blog.

For more insight into the changing educational landscape, watch our full BettFest talk on ‘EdTech Strategies for a Fairer World’. To take a strategic first step to an effective hybrid learning approach, request a free ActivPanel demo to discover the benefits for engagement and attainment this edtech can bring your school.

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