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Decoding the Differences Among Virtual, Hybrid & Flipped Classrooms

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In the ever-changing landscape of modern classrooms, it's important to keep up with new innovations and teaching techniques. Understanding what separates virtual, hybrid, and flipped classrooms is the key to educational success in the digital age.

A Multitude of Educational Options

Choice is abundant in our modern, constantly-evolving world. This even applies to classrooms, because now, educators are faced with various options for how to structure their classes. With so many learning opportunities available, keeping up can be tricky. Some possibilities for schools are virtual, hybrid, and flipped classrooms. Many students, parents, and educators are still uncertain of the differences between these types of class, though, so here's a quick rundown.

Technology is mixing with education now more than ever.

Virtual Classrooms

A virtual classroom is a completely internet-based educational experience. Everything is done online, and there is typically a portal, provided by the school, where the teacher can upload materials and address students. Meanwhile, students can access lectures, notes, and resources, receive assignments, submit work, ask questions, and interact with the teacher and other students, all via the internet.

Virtual classrooms have no in-person component, though occasionally, some subjects may require students to meet for major exams or presentations. These classes, therefore, require much more independence from students. Coursework, deadlines, research, and even seeking support will fall more heavily on the students, and teachers might have a harder time realizing if a student is ''slipping through the cracks.'' It also allows for distance learning and makes it easier for students to catch up.

Hybrid Classrooms

In hybrid classrooms, students still attend class and see their teacher--as well as other students--in person. The internet and other technology (depending on the system used) are heavily incorporated into the learning, and students are taught to incorporate their learning from the classroom and the screen into real-world situations so that they may utilize technology, as well as personal knowledge, to succeed.

Hybrid classes are closest to traditional classrooms, but with increased technology usage. While it will still require independence from students, the in-real-life aspect of the teaching will still allow for teachers to keep a closer eye on things. However, the nature of the classroom style might lead to some confusion, especially early on.

Flipped Classrooms

For the flipped classroom, students learn new content at home, then practice it at school. The idea behind this is that students are more likely to need help working through material, rather than during their initial introduction, so with the help of technology, students can access new concepts at home, typically through video lectures, then go to class to do their work and learn to apply what they've been taught.

Flipping the educational model gives students more assistance with implementing their learning. Since no classroom time is devoted to lecturing, more time can be spent on the fine-tuning of students' skills. Alternately, if students are not diligent about keeping up with lectures at home, teachers can quickly find themselves bogged down with trying to teach the material, rather than working on practical applications during the designated time.

Incorporating technology into classrooms helps students adapt to the digital age.

Similarities Among the Types

One thing all these classroom styles have in common is their reliance upon technology. While they all utilize technology in different ways and to different degrees, whichever is used will require a lot of computer access and time online. Students and teachers alike will have to make checking their educational portal part of their daily routine, and the more tech-savvy an individual is, the more confidence they'll feel in the class, and the greater their potential success overall.

These classroom styles all also foster independence, which can be helpful or hindering, depending on the age and preparedness of students to be left to their own devices while learning. It will also hinge heavily on how equipped the teacher is to let go of the reins, so to speak, and let students take a more active role in their own education.

Pros & Cons of Each Style

Each classroom type has strengths and weaknesses, and deciding which one is the right fit for you and your students will be very much about personal preference. There is no fixed 'better' or 'worse' scale upon which we can rate these options, but if you're considering any of them, here are some key points to keep in mind.

Virtual Classrooms

Pros

  • Fosters independence
  • Students can learn from anywhere, and at their own pace
  • Class material and resources can be updated immediately

Cons

  • Students who don't reach out but still need help might go unnoticed
  • More difficult to teach real-world applications of work when all interactions are virtual
  • Some teachers and/or students dislike the impersonal nature of virtual learning

Hybrid Classrooms

Pros

  • Similar to traditional classrooms; familiarity
  • Teaches students to utilize technology
  • Provides opportunities to learn how to apply teachings to life

Cons

  • Can be time-consuming for teachers
  • Initial adjustment period can be a struggle for some
  • Requires balancing-act from both teachers and students

Flipped Classrooms

Pros

  • Very hands-on approach to teaching
  • Students get the help they need
  • Can be a very efficient way of educating

Cons

Preparation is Key

Blended learning can be a huge success.

One problem educators have faced is resistance toward the shifting landscape of modern classrooms. Many teachers are afraid to make the switch, and some even lament that doing so ruined their classrooms, despite the fact that many of these learning options provide amazing benefits to educators and students alike.

If you are considering changing to one of these classroom styles, prepare students and parents well in advance. Ask questions, provide answers, gather feedback, and confront any fears they might have. Many parents have their own negative associations, and many students are uneasy with change; giving plenty of forewarning, addressing any concerns, and easing everyone into the new system will prevent anxiety from tarnishing an otherwise wonderful transformation.

By Elena Jacob
January 2017
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