How Edtech Makes Hybrid or Blended Learning Possible

Insights from the chief product officer for one of the largest edtech companies.

GUEST COLUMN | by Steve Halliwell

For most districts and schools, the 2020-2021 school year likely will include a mix of in-classroom and remote learning as the proverbial light at the end of the pandemic tunnel remains dim.

While educators are using various terms – blended, hybrid, remote – often interchangeably, to describe the new classroom environment, many teachers, parents, and students are unsure what to expect this fall. And further, what technologies schools and parents use to adapt.

Some schools across the U.S. already have returned to the classroom in some form – whether with teachers teaching from classrooms while students learn remotely; others with teachers and students both remote; and others where students and teachers will be in the classroom together with distancing measures in place.

‘As we prepare for a very unique back-to-school season, let’s explore what blended vs. hybrid learning really means in practice…’

Whatever the scenario, the move to these varied instructional scenarios is testing the significance of education technology as a true teaching tool. Out of that work, schools are finding that they rely on educational technology that provides a maximum amount of flexibility and integration. These attributes allow schools to pivot should the need arise, especially if COVID-19 cases continue to increase.

As we prepare for a very unique back-to-school season, let’s explore what blended vs. hybrid learning really means in practice, how to leverage existing edtech solutions, and ways teachers can enhance the online experience for their students.

Differences in blended and hybrid learning

Historically, educators use the terms “blended” and “hybrid” learning interchangeably (and some still do) but in today’s environment, they are developing new and distinct meanings. Blended learning occurs when a student controls at least in part some element of control over time, place, path, and/or pace.

“Hybrid” learning, on the other hand, is when part of the student body learns in classrooms while the rest learns the same lessons from home. With hybrid learning, there can be some lessons that are taught simultaneously to the entire class regardless of where the student is located – think of students and a teacher in a Zoom session having a lesson. This technique is sometimes referred to as “synchronous” learning. Hybrid can also include an “asynchronous” approach. This is one where the lessons are accessed by students on an individual basis, which also affects engagement and remediation techniques by teachers in a significant way today. In both synchronous and asynchronous learning, the physical space that teachers and students occupy can be consist of teachers and students all in-person (classroom), some in person (teacher in the classroom, some of the students at home, a teacher at home and all students at home, etc.) The number of scenarios is varied, depending on the school or district decisions.

Whichever modality is used – there is a role for education technology to better facilitate some part of the learning process. And with these different approaches to instruction, there is pressure on administrators and teachers to ensure hybrid learning is as engaging as possible. Whether with trusted solutions or new tech, there are a few ways to make them more successful this semester and beyond.

Leverage the familiar tools

The State of Technology Report, which surveyed U.S. administrators and teachers, found that 82% of administrators selected “technology use will be routinely combined with traditional teaching methods” as the most likely trend the American education system will see over the next decade. And in the short term, some experts predict that hybrid learning will be the most widely adopted option for this fall.

Schools and districts in the spring adapted to a new normal, using a wide variety of content from edtech providers to try to ensure lessons were delivered to their students. Teachers learned they could teach remotely with tools they knew how to use in the classroom to do things like record lessons, send those recordings to students, and poll students to assess whether they understood the content.

The number one takeaway in talking with educators, not only nationwide but worldwide, has been that they should leverage the technology that’s already in place and maximize it going forward for hybrid learning to succeed. Being able to use the same software and content whether in class or remote is not only efficient but bridges the gap experienced in the spring when everybody was trying to learn something new – such as new devices, connectivity, or software.

In short, now is the time to use the tech that’s already available to work with students in a different way. And for those who don’t have the edtech in place, now is the time to thoroughly research edtech providers to ensure the technology works in all learning environments.

Work toward improving student engagement

If a school or district lacked edtech infrastructure prior to COVID-19, then a learning curve with newly implemented solutions will be at play this fall, and that’s okay. My advice to educators working to use solutions new to them in the classroom and the administrators that support them is to focus on the foundational uses of edtech: making sure the teachers can create lessons, deliver them, poll students for understanding and be able to record what they’re doing for playback later.

A large number of administrators and teachers have found they can use, for instance, interactive panels located in their classrooms, along with a camera, to capture everything they do on that panel and stream the lesson to students located remotely when needed. They have learned to create and deliver lessons regardless of where students learn or from where they teach. The final step is ensuring your hardware and software are working in sync to make sure the effort of lesson creation and recording is accessible to students wherever they are learning.

Going forward, hybrid learning situations should lean toward improving pedagogy by mixing digital content with in-person interactions to come up with a more engaging learning environment.

‘Going forward, hybrid learning situations should lean toward improving pedagogy by mixing digital content with in-person interactions…’

The education system is learning lessons that districts will continue to apply for years to come. When the pandemic has passed, other situations will arise when students cannot learn from the classroom. The right edtech tools can ensure that teaching continues, regardless of where educators or students are located.

Steve Halliwell is Chief Product Officer at Promethean, he’s been with the company since October 2017. Before this Steve held executive leadership roles at Amazon Web Services (AWS) since 2011. Contact Steve’s team here.

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