‘Blending’ learning

Bindu Subramaniam

Before the pandemic, almost everyone was strongly of the opinion that online classes were just a poor substitute for in-person learning. Self-paced courses and virtual classes always existed, but they were rarely the first priority for students.

In 2020, we were forced to move everything online. On the one hand, online learning seemed like a luxury – a chance to make the most of staying at home. We enjoyed the lack of commuting and the flexibility of setting our own schedules, but a year and a half into the pandemic, we continue to live in uncertainty. What’s more, we’re struggling with the drawbacks of online learning, like lack of community development, networking, and peer interaction. Today, as we continue to debate the safety of going back to school entirely, it seems as if the best way going forward is a hybrid learning model.

Here are some things to understand about hybrid learning

What is hybrid learning?

Simply put, hybrid (or blended) learning is a combination of online and in-person learning. Students spend roughly 25-50% of their time in the physical classroom, and the rest learning online. It is predicted to be the future of learning.

How does it address the flaws of in-person and online only learning?

While in-person learning was largely the norm before the pandemic hit, it came with its set of disadvantages. It didn’t offer access to remote learners, it was a lot more expensive, and the schedules were inflexible. While these were very real concerns, online learning also came with its drawbacks of technology issues and lack of social interaction.

Hybrid learning manages to solve most of these issues. Since there is a blend of learning formats, remote learners will find it easier to arrange for travel when coming in for occasional in-person classes. Peer interaction will still take place, while allowing all students to work flexibly. And, it’s still a safe option at a time when we’re still not sure about whether or not we should transition fully into in-person classrooms.

If you are an educator transitioning back into the classroom, there is some uncertainty around the process. Here are some tips to help you create a smooth learning experience for yourself and your students — both online and offline.

1- Plan the course material that will work best for each format: Divide your curriculum into two broad categories: information and discussions. Assign all information-based tasks, like pre-reading, research, etc., as online self-paced learning material. It will make the time spent in person productive and useful. One of the biggest advantages of in-person learning is the networking opportunities it offers. Ensure that you maximize time spent in class for community-building.

2- Find ways to keep learners engaged online: If students are not engaged in online classes, they won’t be able to make the most of in-person classes either. One of the mistakes educators tend to make: they see Zoom classes as ways to pass the time before in-person learning opens up again. Use video conferencing to its full potential – create polls, breakout sessions for deeper discussions, and check the chat for contributions. You can also use online whiteboard tools for collaborative online learning.

3- Ask students what their ideal hybrid learning environment looks like: This is a new space, especially for young students in India. It’s natural to have some trial and error before finding a rhythm that works for you as well as your learners. One easy way to do this: Create a survey and ask students how they want to learn, and try and incorporate some of their feedback into your plan.

4- Know your classroom: virtual and in-person: Familiarize yourself with the physical classroom and make sure you’re following all safety guidelines. When you have a sense of the physical space, you can plan lessons and activities accordingly. Since the risk of COVID still exists, it’s crucial to keep yourself and your students safe.

When teaching online as well, log in early and do a quick audio and video check. Familiarize yourself with the video conferencing app you’re using, and test out features like polling and breakout rooms. Knowing the layout will only make the session smoother.

5- Bring the best of online learning to the physical classroom: Since the pandemic hit, educators have gone above and beyond to make things easier on the students. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) took centre-stage, and teachers found new and interesting ways to help children cope with uncertainty and the sudden loss of community time. These are great tools, and educators should continue to use them in the physical classroom – especially since students are now experiencing a new kind of transition.

Another tool that educators used while teaching online: playing soft, instrumental music so that students could focus better on the task at hand. This is an excellent use of music as a teaching tool, and educators should bring it into the classroom as well.

6- Don’t hesitate to ask for help: Remember, we are still navigating uncharted waters. It’s natural to feel lost, or not have all the answers. Engage with fellow educators online or speak to your school administrator if you need perspective on how to create a hybrid learning setup that works for you. And, if you find specific practices that work for you, don’t forget to share them. Other educators are looking for your insights, too! 

The author is a singer-songwriter, author and Founder and CEO at SaPa – Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts.   

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