Hybrid classrooms are a unique opportunity for educators. This design allows students to take control of their academics and become more self-directed learners with deeper critical thinking skills.
Understanding the Hybrid Classroom
You may wonder what we mean when we use the term 'hybrid classroom' in the context of K-12 education. I didn't know myself until my school district asked me to teach one. A hybrid classroom is a carefully designed curriculum that seeks to blend the best of online resources with traditional classroom techniques to enhance learning.
In my hybrid classroom, I don't do a lot of whole class direct instruction. Instead, most of what I do takes place on a virtual classroom platform using various digital tools. This strategy enables my students to accomplish two goals that make them more successful than the average student:
- Develop into self-directed learners
- Become better problem-solvers and users of critical thinking techniques
Self-Directed Learning & Student Success
By using a hybrid model in my classroom, students have much more control of the learning process than they would in a traditional classroom. Think back to your own experiences in school. Probably much of it was spent sitting back and passively taking notes while the teacher lectured. While that method may have worked just fine for some of us, sitting in classrooms listening to teachers talk for hours on end left other students disengaged, rather than engaged, from the learning process.
Students in my hybrid classroom have the opportunity to work through material on their own, either independently or in collaborative groups, which gives them the chance to develop into more self-directed learners. Rather than just passively listening to me talk every day, students take control of their own learning. For example, they may start to notice how they learn best, when they need help, and when they don't. The independent and collaborative learning experiences that take place in hybrid classrooms can help students succeed in traditional classes in that they begin to rely on themselves, not just their teachers, when learning new material.
Importance of Motivation
Allowing students to sit in the driver's seat in a hybrid classroom helps them to break through the mindset of 'I can't …' We have all heard that line before, right? Using a hybrid model of learning helps my students realize that motivation is not some outside force that originates with me as a teacher, but rather it comes from within them as learners. When students embrace the chance to develop mastery over materials or skills, it can bring a sense of purpose to their learning.
Think of it this way: Why do people choose to learn to play an instrument? They have a purpose in mind - usually a love of music. That purpose helps motivate them to learn how to play the music. How do they develop mastery over the music? They have to learn to overcome all sorts of challenges along the way, from reading music to actual playing techniques. I want my student to approach all of their learning the way they approach learning an instrument, with passion and drive to overcome challenges.
Preparation for the Workplace
Using a hybrid model helps my students develop into self-directed learners who will be more successful in the workplace. This is because they have acquired the skills they need to preserver in challenging situations and find ways to solve problems. In a hybrid classroom, I am more of a facilitator. I guide students through the process of solving their own academic problems, rather than just solving them.
Self-Directed Learning & Critical Thinking
Another way hybrid classrooms help my students succeed is by giving them the chance to develop critical thinking skills, which doesn't always happen in a traditional classroom for a variety of reasons. First, I provide more small group instruction to engage students in deeper, more meaningful conversations. When I am having a discussion with a group of 5-7 students, instead of 25 students, no student gets left behind. Each student gets much more one-on-one attention and can't hide from the conversation.
I also have more time for inquiry/project-based learning when using a hybrid model because I am not up lecturing every day. Project-based learning, or PBL allows students to engage in deeper, more open-ended projects related to the content. This type of project goes beyond the traditional 'make a model of the solar system' type project. Students actually engage in analysis of information and the creation and testing of proposed solutions.
Research on Hybrid Classrooms
A common misconception is that teachers in hybrid classrooms are 'not really teaching', mostly because they aren't lecturing everyday. However, there is plenty of evidence that learning is occurring at a much deeper level in a hybrid, rather than a traditional, classroom. For example, a 2013-2014 study compared students in hybrid programs at 14 different schools to their peers in the same buildings. Compared to their peers, students who learned in hybrid classrooms consistently outperformed their peers in all subjects. This pattern is consistent with a 2011 study that looked at the impact of blended learning on student achievement.
Value to At-Risk Students
Using a hybrid model in my classroom also gives me an opportunity to engage at-risk students, who in the past, may not have even graduated from high school. When I have students with medical issues, they can still participate because the direct instruction component can be done at their own pace outside of class if needed. When I have students with other struggles, such as behavior problems, I can work with them on a one-on-one basis. I can also establish a learning plan appropriate for them rather than being tied to a district pacing guide. The hybrid classroom model gives me more flexibility in how and when I deliver instruction, so every student can be successful.