Even before the pandemic, e-learning / online learning was seeing rapid growth, to over $325 billion by 2025. Blended learning as a model — that combines online and offline delivery of courses — was also gaining ground. COVID-19 made online education the only viable option, expediting this even more. While every higher ed and K12 institution fast adapted and moved to online instruction, we saw that more and more students felt disconnected and unsupported.
The missing link in learning online: The student experience.
College is more than just the lessons. Much more. Extra-curriculars, sports, and independence excite students more than classes and assignments do. Also incredibly valuable for them is the sense of community they find on campus, their support network, access to resources, the opportunity to build long-lasting relationships, and the first steps towards personal and professional growth.
In the post-COVID world, the longing for such a real-world experience is certain to be more, not less.
Until the pressures of pandemic completely go away, the responsibility of balancing social distancing and student safety on one hand with delivering a stellar campus experience on the other is on universities. Earlier we shared ideas on building campus community for remote students. Now, with ~21% of colleges choosing a hybrid or a HyFlex model, here are five ways in which universities and professors can engage students towards a rewarding experience.
1. Don’t feel constrained by the location
Many instructors, who are experienced in delivering in-person classes, treat the online part of the HyFlex model as an inevitable distraction. This way, they might end up focussing their attention only on students on campus, leaving students at-home to learn passively.
Flipping the thought-process to become location-agnostic helps engage students better. To make this work, follow a flipped classroom model, making lectures available online before class. Use the classroom time to enable conversations. Those on campus might speak up, those learning from home can speak on video, or backchannel messages via text/comments as one would do in a webinar.
2. Encourage organic interactions
Traditional lectures follow a system where a large audience listens to a single speaker, the teacher. In a hybrid or HyFlex model, this is no longer necessary — the same lecture is available to them as a video recording at the click of a button.
Professors can use the classroom time for creative student engagement strategies. For instance, let students form small groups, moving to virtual breakout rooms to apply their learning, and debate their findings.
- Breaking your class into groups that have both in-person and remote students ensures that the community experience is balanced.
- Pairs of one person on campus and another remote also work perfectly.
- Just like in class, professors can jump between groups and guide conversations as needed.
3. Make office hours just as useful, in-person or remote
Learning from a distance can be uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing for your remote students just as it might be for professors to navigate. Leverage office hours to build relationships with students, offer help, and bring them up to speed. Whether they’re on campus or joining through a video call remotely, treat office hours the way you’ve done always.
Depending on how busy or how connected you are, you can also set up office hours on voice calls and chats.
4. Embrace asynchronous learning
The generation today is seeking the freedom to learn when they want and how they want. Not everyone is excited by a lecture, some learn better with visuals, yet others have heightened attentiveness at night. Hybrid / HyFlex models are a blessing to encourage asynchronous learning, optimizing learning outcomes for each individual student.
Traditional concerns of the one-size-fits-all approach to a college education can truly be addressed with a hybrid / HyFlex model. To say nothing of the inclusivity and diversity it can bring to a higher ed experience.
5. Create powerful challenges
It has always been easy for students to doze off or scroll through Instagram while professors are lecturing breathlessly. This is even easier in hybrid / HyFlex classrooms. To overcome this, create meaningful challenges for your students. Allow them to do the ‘boring’ parts asynchronously in their own time, and use the classroom time to seek and receive help with their challenges — either from you or their peers.
Even as the world is grappling with the impact of the pandemic, and learning new ways to navigate the aftermath, campus technology can be the shot in the arm that college education needed. Shifting away from practices designed for a previous era, hybrid and HyFlex models can help usher in the new future for learning.