EngagementHybrid and multi-mode learning

Day 1: Designing for a “hybrid” or multi-mode model of teaching and learning – what is it and what is involved?

Image of dragon decorative

A hybrid beast?

As the fanciful dragon image indicates, the word “hybrid” has the feeling of a strange and wild creature – and for some, multi-mode or hybrid delivery across on-campus and off-campus cohorts will indeed seem like a strange and unfamiliar beast.

However, taming the dragon can introduce many of us to worlds and methods we had not thought of before in our higher education teaching approaches.  In this Coffee Course we hope that the dragon can lead us to imaginative, creative ways to ensure we include all students in a stimulating “community of inquiry.” This is what this three day Coffee Course hopes to explore!

A little about naming the dragon

As you may have noticed, we have used a number of different terms to describe the new approaches of learning and teaching being tried during a pandemic situation, when not all students can be on campus.

 Prior to the contingencies that had to be put in place hastily due to COVID19, there have been many years of university teaching and learning taking advantage of the internet and online technology, with terms such as “hybrid learning,” “flexible learning” and “blended learning” indicating an approach that was neither fully on-campus, nor fully online.  With the onset of the pandemic, the word “hybrid” seems to be very common in discussions on how best to ensure students can continue their higher education safely.  It is often used interchangeably with “flexible” and “blended” but there are schools of thought that like to delineate very clearly between these different approaches.  More recently, “multi-mode” and “dual-delivery” have emerged as terms to describe the contingency measures universities are taking.

There is much discussion and different understandings within the higher education sector about what these different terms mean, and we are not going to delve into the different interpretations in depth here.  Hybrid and blended forms of learning incorporate a range of mixes of on-line and face-to-face class activities.  In some hybrid models, off-campus students are asked to attend face to face lectures remotely, in real time, from their home computers.  Other hybrid approaches are  more flexible, offering numerous forms and pathways through which students can learn. 

“Flexible” may be a key word here to distinguish learning programs that mandate real-time attendance at classes (whether online or on-campus), and those which allow students to choose how they learn.  This notion of flexibility is sometimes combined with the word “hybrid” to create the word “hyflex” to indicate it is a hybrid model of on-campus and online learning, with flexibility as to how students learn.  ANU is tending to use the term “multi-mode” as a generic term to describe our current approach.

Here are two resources which come from these two broad approaches and both of them have some very useful tips and strategies:

An Introduction to Hybrid Teaching (College, of DuPage, Creative Commons license)

COVID19 Planning for Fall 2020:  A closer look at hybrid-flexible course design (PhilonEdTech Blog) 



question mark Having done some of the above reading, which approach do you feel would work for your course/s and why?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


Challenges and opportunities

Challenges and opportunities arise in this environment for both students and teaching staff.  We can use technology to make sure off-campus students can join in online, but there are risks that groups of students may feel left out or forgotten.  We are going to explore the student response in tomorrow’s post.

One of the major challenges is attempting to teach the off-campus and face-to-face student groups concurrently.  Particularly if off-campus students are made to attend on-campus lectures online in real time, this could be stressful for both students and teachers unless the teacher has considerable support, experience and skills to manage the technology and the two different groups of learners. On the other hand, with good support and practice, it is possible for such an approach to be very rewarding. 



question mark How can we maximise positive learning experiences for all students within these new constraints and a divided cohort of students?  Share your ideas in a comments post, as well as what you see as the challenges and opportunities, then read on tomorrow to check out what                        the research says!


More References and Resources

For a range of practical and theoretical resources on multimode and hybrid teaching approaches, go to ANU’s Teaching Remotely site in WATTLE (sorry only accessible to ANU staff) and scroll down to the Section named Multimode (Hybrid) Delivery




18 thoughts on “Day 1: Designing for a “hybrid” or multi-mode model of teaching and learning – what is it and what is involved?

  1. Hi Everyone,

    I thought it was amusing in the DuPage reading that you should plan your Hybrid course 3-6 months in advance! Who can do that anymore!

    In hybrid definitions, there seems to be a clear distinction made between F2F and online activities, but extensive use of synchronous zoom classes makes this distinction quite murky. I surveyed my students at the end and there was an overwhelming preference for all live zoom classes (i.e. lectures and tutes), compared to self guided learning plus some live sessions (ie just live tutes). Interestingly, no one wanted a completely asynchronous online experience. This suggests to me that students crave the ‘presence of cohort’ – that coming together for classes in whatever format (in person or live online) is productive for them. There is a difference, I suspect, between doing so-called ‘passive’ activities together vs doing them alone, for example listening to content asynchronously vs listening to content with the knowledge that your group is there with you also listening, and that at any moment you might be sent to a breakout room to discuss it. There is also a benefit for students who want their weeks reassuringly structured – one student described the live classes as being ‘an anchor’ for his week. My feeling is that offering the timed structure (with synchronous classes) is very helpful for some students (perhaps especially younger ones).


    1. Susy, I planed my teaching last year for blended delivery, with an emergency online contingency built in. The core of the course design was delivery online in asynchronous mode, supplemented with workshops in a face to face classroom. I planned to be able to replace the face to face components with online asynchronous delivery, if needed.

      This was in case the international students were prevented from getting to Australia, due to a regional crisis. I was expecting a small war in the South China Sea, not a pandemic. I had not expected all the students to be kept from campus, or that I would have to teach from home. But when COVID-19 struck, it was reasonably easy to replace face to face workshops with Zoom equivalents, while leaving the rest of the course unchanged.

      What I am not sure of is how easy it would be to have some students on campus and some online (ie: hybrid). Apart from the logistical difficulty of the hybrid approach, there are ethical and legal problems. If online learning can achieve the same outcomes (which it can for the typical university student), is it lawful and ethical to expose anyone to the risk of infection a classroom?

      1. Tom, very good point! I would like to see what others have to say about this. I guess the answer will be yes, with adequate precautions, we can operate on campus within OH&S – but whether this is really possible is up for debate perhaps.

    2. Hi Susy, thanks for your comments and for sharing your experience in Semester 1 – very interesting to hear about the reactions of the students. I think you have given very good reasons why many students prefer synchronous, live events online than continuous asynchronous, lone activities. Particularly for early undergraduate students, I am sure they would find this reassuring. I did have a thought when you mentioned the positive response to the group “presence of cohort” – even in their private lives many young people now engage with videos on line in groups called “watch parties.” I did wonder if we can learn anything from this group watching model.

    3. Hi Susy,
      The points you make about the social dimension of synchronous learning are so important. We spend so much time thinking about how to deliver material in online contexts (especially with all the practical constraints of students in different time zones, etc.) that we can forget about all the other functions university is supposed to serve, namely a sense of community, or what you call a ‘presence of cohort’. We all know our students need as much of that connection as we can give them, this year in particular.

      1. Hi Gemma,

        Thanks – You’ve made me realise that I don’t mean ‘presence of cohort’ as a synonym for ‘sense of community’. I mean that there is somehow more adrenalin (or something) involved with listening live than there is with listening on your own later, and that this (probably) makes learning more possible and the experience more interesting. I actually feel the same way about the online talks I’m attending as a silent audience member. There are now lots of these talks going on and for me, watching them later on is different from watching them live with the rest of the world, even though I wouldn’t be interacting with the speaker or other audience members in either circumstance. As Jill suggests – kind of like a ‘watch party’ (not that I’m doing anything vaguely fun in lectures, heaven forbid).


        1. I agree with Susy and Gemma about the importance of the social dimensions of learning. This was one of the biggest challenges for me in moving to online learning, and particularly given asynchronous delivery. My course last semester included a film (which was available to stream via the ANU library) and some of my students did organise a ‘watch party’ for this film. This was done simply by setting a time to start watching the film in the wattle forum and then discussing it in real time (predominantly using social media apps outside the ANU system). In the future, I would like to explore this further. Wattle discussion forums or Microsoft Teams might be a good option to give students a space to react to the film and replicate the experience of a screening. I would be interested if anyone has any other suggestions for platforms.

  2. I found the first of the readings confusing. College of DuPage describes in the first paragraph hybrid learning having about half the class sessions on-campus. Later it talks about hybrid substituting internet based activities for seat time in the classroom. To me this is not hybrid, it is just old fashioned blended learning: separate classroom and online activities planned by the teacher for all students. The teacher chooses the mix: they set an activity the classroom, or online and the student has to do it that way. In contrast, Kevin Kelly’s post on Hybrid-Flexible (HyFlex) is what I think of as hybrid: each student can choose to be in the physical classroom, or remote online. So for each activity there will be some students in the classroom and some linked online at the same time for the same activity.

    1. Hi Tom, I agree with you about the DuPage description of hybrid learning, and for me it is a little too inflexible. However I included it because there seems to be very little consensus out there on these various terms, and I am aware that different needs are met by different models. I thought it would be good to do as you have done – compare and contrast! The DuPont resource does have some nice diagrams and models that might be useful.

  3. I enjoyed reading the resources you provided, however, after following links after links…. and a couple of hours of reading, I realised that I only scratched the surface on online teaching approaches. Clearly, I still need to learn a lot. Thank you for the useful material.
    During the quick changeover, similarly to Tom, I organised my teaching around asynchronous online lectures and the practical classes became online “F-2-F” tutorials, where students worked in small groups with demonstrators, and then I led sessions to the whole class, to discuss and solve clinical problems/cases. Student feedback has been positive regarding the F-2-F classes, but to my surprise, students were less satisfied with asyncronous online lectures. Their biggest complaint was that the passive listening of the lecture doesn’t allow them to ask questions, and interact with the lecturer. Why was I surprised? Lecture attendance have been notoriously dwindling. Typically, I would have 50-60% attendance in the lecture theatre, and I know some lecturers have even lower numbers. In addition, lately there has been a lot of debate about the usefulness of lectures, but it seems students still like the opportunity to sit among their peers and have direct contact with the lecturer.
    Looking forward, and planning for next year, I would like to design hybrid teaching which is flexible enough (HyFlex) to be easily modulated. My challenge is that I teach a very visual and experiential subject and I don’t think we can stay away from F-2-F laboratory activities on the long run. But how can we do that? As Tom mentioned, one of the issues is the safety of the students and staff, but once we put protective measures in place, the next challenge is, how do we support students who are remote and may not be able to travel? And if we offer in-person sessions, are we fair to all our students?

    1. Hi Krysztina

      I was also surprised at the student preferences for the same reason as you – they don’t attend face to face, so why would they want a structured timetable with live class meetings?! In fact, the online zoom lectures had less attrition than ever. BUT, I don’t think I should interpret this as any indication of their preference for online delivery generally or the quality of my online classes. I think last semester, we all had a ‘traumatic’ change together and this was unifying. This semester, the psychology will be quite different. I won’t have met my new students F2F initially and there will be no sense of ‘we’re all in this together’. Our learning community building will have to be much more proactive.


      1. Hi Krysztina and Suzy, thank you both so much for contributing your thoughts and your experiences from Semester 1. It is quite a puzzle that students are expressing such a strong preference for synchronous class attendance with their peers during this period of enforced remote learning, compared to an apparent reluctance to consistently attend face to face classes/lectures! I can only think it is to do with the strangeness of the new world where we have no choice BUT to do things online – the students felt unsure of themselves and suddenly wanted to return to old certainties, perhaps!
        Krysztina, I agree, there is so much information out there and so much to learn about effective online delivery, or hybrid delivery. It can feel quite overwhelming! I guess this is why in these coffee courses we try to curate some material into something meaningful – but we can never capture the full range and it is hard to choose sometimes.
        I guess the new world we are living in is an opportunity to explore new ways of doing things and to develop new skills – both for the students and for teachers. However we can’t fail to acknowledge that it is a heavy burden on everyone – particularly at universities in Australia which are under particular stress in terms of staffing and resourcing now.

  4. The resources and readings provided are really interesting and as Krisztina mentioned, we have only just begun to scratch the surface of this arena! Thank you for providing these resources and support.
    At the beginning of the changeover (we went from F2F to online over a weekend – no pause) I was able to contact a couple of old colleagues who had been doing Distance Ed. from the very beginning in the 1980’s to ask about their findings and the most effective experiential models for students. The response was essentially some learners will achieve better results when all material is provided and they are left to their own resources, some need more interaction and F2F. Basically it seems we need to establish the model that works best for us and roll with it. I realise that’s a rather simplistic view, but I don’t think it’s ever going to be possible to provide for all contingencies and all requirements equally which is why we have appeals processes, academic skills advisors, tutorials and student support groups.
    So far the response to the blended model we have been providing has been as positive and negative as the response to any other major change.
    The biggest positive I have seen is the push to learn how to adapt and provide better course design and more flexible delivery from all sides. It’s refreshing to see new focus from those who normally roll out the same thing year after year.

    1. Hi Liddy, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Your Distance Ed friends provided a valuable insight in terms of the diversity of student response to distance learning. Of course as you note, this all happened overnight and so many teachers had to do a last minute scramble to get their courses up online so students could just make a start. There have been decades of research now into what is generally effective and what is detrimental to student learning, in online courses and remote learning models. But often it boils down to something quite simple – the human touch, the sense of presence of a teacher, communication effectiveness, building a rapport with students. All a big ask with large cohorts studying off campus! I welcome your positive observation of a willingness on the part of all parties to learn, adapt, with teachers trying different things with their course design and flexibility, and students being tolerant and adaptable for the most part.

      1. I agree 100% with the human touch. I have found that announcing the availability of new lectures to view in Wattle, checking in on students with a quick “hiya!” and rapid response times all have a very positive effect. It’s just so important to let our students know they are not alone and we are still here and above all that we care about ALL of them in whatever way we can.

  5. Yes, absolutely, I think students craved the assurance from peers and academics alike. As Susy said, they could feel that we are all in this together, and that had a calming effect. Besides that, communication was paramount in helping students navigate in the new learning environment, and follow the changes.

    1. Hi all, I just had a thought, Krisztina, that the Q & A feature in Echo360 would allow students to ask questions and discuss videos made available via that platform. Another possibility is that a recorded Zoom lecture or other form of personal lecture capture on the desktop could be posted with a discussion forum to allow students to discuss and ask questions in the context of the video. If they wanted a more synchronous experience for recorded lectures they could run a share screen with the video, in their own Zoom session, to sit and watch together. That way they could use chat to ask questions and make notes for each other, then discuss afterwards.

      I am just thinking of the issues you are facing and trying to help with possible ideas to suit our context – but I know none of it is easy!

  6. I wish I had read some of these articles 3-6 mo ago! Fortunately, my course has lab assignments, tutorials and quizzes. Having read them now, i hope to try the “The instructor lectures and facilitates class discussion in the face-to-face classes,” students completes assignments based on these classroom activities,
    The asynchronous discussion forums for online discussion sound interesting and I will try to incorporate thise into some lab assignments

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