Depending on what part of the US you live in, going back to school in the traditional sense may be entirely off the table. And regardless of how old your children are, navigating these uncertain times have proven to be
a hellish nightmare we wish we could wake up from challenging to say the least. While some families are setting up "pandemic pods" — where a small group of students of similar ages and abilities gathers at one family's home to learn from a teacher — others are working with their local districts using a hybrid learning model.
Naturally, getting a full understanding of various learning setups can be hard for those of us who don't specifically have a background in education. In an effort to keep parents informed about the options their kids may have, we tapped Vanessa Vakharia, the founder and director of The Math Guru and the author of Math Hacks, to help suss out the details regarding virtual learning. Read ahead to learn more.
What Is Hybrid Learning?
Although the concept of hybrid learning might be new to parents, it's been used in educational circles for quite some time. "Hybrid learning is an approach to education that combines online learning with more traditional real-life classroom instruction," Vanessa told POPSUGAR. "Contrary to what you might think, some schools were experimenting with the hybrid model long before COVID times, throwing both 'blended' and 'flipped' classrooms into the mix," she said. (More on those models later on!) "Right now, hybrid learning is being favorited by most school boards as the solution to education in a COVID-world."
What's the Difference Between Hybrid Learning, Blended Learning, and Flipped Classrooms?
With so many new terms being thrown around, it's hard to keep everything straight. After all, how can we know what's best for our kids if we're shaky on the details? Fortunately, Vanessa conveniently broke down each method for us.
- Hybrid learning: "Hybrid learning combines online learning with real-life classroom instruction, but online learning can be synchronous (where students interact online with their teachers in real-time via a Zoom class or something similar) or asynchronous," shared Vanessa. "In an asynchronous model, kids learn by watching videos of lessons or completing assignments online, with zero real-time interaction."
- Blended learning: According to Vanessa, a blended classroom looks a bit different, with face-to-face sessions occurring in real-time and online materials handed out as a followup. "There are online lessons to supplement what has happened in the classroom," she explained. "So classes happen in school, kids get homework, and then supplementary classes take place online. The course is structured to include a balance of both. I know you're thinking: 'Hey, this sounds exactly like hybrid learning - WHAT is the difference?!' And I feel you. It does. BUT there is a minor, teeny difference: a blended classroom has been carefully designed so that the online components supplement in-class lessons, whereas in a hybrid classroom, the online components entirely replace classroom experience in many cases."
- Flipped Classroom: The flipped classroom method offers students a little more autonomy. "Normally, you go to class, learn a lesson, go home and do homework," shared Vanessa. "In a flipped class, kids often learn lessons on their own online. That might be by watching a video, listening to a podcast, or reading a textbook (ew, I know). Then, classroom time is used for homework or for engaging in interactive assignments based on what they learned at home, on their own! It's all backwards."
What are the Pros of Hybrid Learning?
As you can gather from the format of hybrid learning, it's meant to be a flexible option for students. For example, children with learning disabilities or social anxiety who might not flourish in a traditional classroom setting might prefer this model.
"When hybrid learning started to be a thing, the whole idea was that having resources and classes online would make the learning experience more flexible and adaptable to different types of learners," she explained. "For example, teachers could teach lessons virtually and then film them. That way, if students needed a concept repeated, all they had to do was access the recorded lesson, hit rewind, and press play!"
"There are a ton of options for interactive learning that aren't always present in the classroom."
Another big component of the hybrid learning model is its ability to engage kids in various ways. "Depending on how teachers choose to use their virtual platforms, there are a ton of options for interactive learning that aren't always present in the classroom," said Vanessa, noting that discussion groups, chat rooms, and online real-time evaluations are all helpful features associated with hybrid learning that cater to students who might be more "comfortable participating behind a screen rather than in the classroom."
Of course, with the pandemic factored in, giving kids access to their lessons regardless of their location or the time of day is a huge bonus. "Now, as more schools are adopting hybrid models in response to COVID, the whole idea of being able to access lessons wherever you want them, whenever you want them, can be a big bonus for students who will have a ton of time outside of the classroom due to the need for cohorts and smaller class-sizes on real-life classroom days," she said.
What Are the Cons of Hybrid Learning?
While hybrid learning might be a great option for some students, it naturally requires a lot of organization on their part, which could be a struggle depending on the kid.
"Unfortunately, the truth is that most students (and adults, let's be honest!) sorely lack the time management skills needed to make hybrid learning feel as liberating as it sounds," said Vanessa. "One of the criticisms of hybrid learning is that without a structured daily schedule, many students stockpile lessons and videos. All of a sudden students find that they have to watch what seems like 3,248 videos on a Sunday afternoon. The overwhelming factors of planning and scheduling leave many students unable to follow their hybrid learning plan at all, which means that many of them fall behind."
"One of the criticisms of hybrid learning is that without a structured daily schedule, many students stockpile lessons and videos."
Additionally, engaging in any type of hybrid learning means children need consistent access to a computer. "Hybrid learning requires not only proficiency with technology, but access to that technology," said Vanessa, recalling the struggle many families faced early in the pandemic when it came to securing laptops for their children. "With multiple kids in a household engaged in hybrid learning, it can be incredibly difficult to ensure that each child has access to a device when they need it, never mind access to a seamless wifi connection."
While the flexibility of the hybrid learning method is certainly a positive, managing multiple kids on various schedules also comes with a steep downside. "The coordination of childcare and transportation with hybrid learning will undoubtedly be a contentious issue this fall," shared Vanessa. "Multiple kids, multiple in-class schedules, it's going to be tricky for sure!"
How Can Older Kids Engage in Hybrid Learning?
For teens who have different teachers for different subjects, getting them to engage in hybrid learning might make parents scratch their heads at first. However, the key to success is a combination of organization, planning, and communication with their instructors.
"The biggest challenge for kids of any age is coming up with a daily schedule that allows them time and space to create their own hybrid learning vibe," said Vanessa. "This is where teens theoretically have a chance to prove that they're capable of adulting: by scheduling their work week like total pros."
Understandably, getting into the swing of a new learning system will require some pre-planning. "The students of ours that really thrived back in the spring were those who mapped out their days and weeks meticulously, based on the information their teachers gave them," she explained. "As tough as it is, teens need to take initiative, ask teachers for course outlines and schedules, and make their agendas their new BFF."
In order to put older kids in the best position, parents should encourage them to stick to a regular schedule as if they were attending traditional school. "Just like kids know they need to get their butts out of bed to make it to class for 9 a.m., the same philosophy should guide their hybrid learning experience," she advised. "Whether in the classroom or at the kitchen-table-co-working-space-classroom, kids should be dressed and ready to go at 9 a.m. — and expect to work hard until the 'bell' rings at 3:30 p.m. The most important thing you can do as a parent is instill in your kids that school rules still apply — regardless of what back-to-school season looks like!"