Hybrid Learning vs. Blended Learning: Which Fits Your Classroom Needs?

College classrooms may look different today, but this new normal comes with a range of benefits.

The hybrid learning model offers students flexibility in how they attend and interact with course content. A 2022 study published in the International Journal of Progressive Education also found that hybrid classrooms offer the best of both face-to-face and virtual classroom experiences.

Similarly, blended learning augments in-person classroom environments with interactive resources and tools. Studies show this blend of online and face-to-face learning positively impacts critical thinking skills, listening and speaking skills, motivation, and more.

How can instructors take advantage of these benefits? Let’s take a look at the difference between hybrid learning and blended learning and the pros and cons of each. Then we’ll explore several ways you can use these two classroom models along with teaching tech to engage your students.

Hybrid learning vs. blended learning: What’s the difference?

Though they sound similar, hybrid learning and blended learning aren’t the same. The primary difference lies in the amount of flexibility students have when it comes to choosing their learning environment.

Did you know? HyFlex learning is another take on the hybrid classroom that gives students the choice to attend class virtually, in person, or a mix of both.

What is hybrid learning?

Hybrid learning involves both in-person and virtual students attending class at the same time. This type of learning combines both synchronous and asynchronous methods to create a flexible learning environment.

With hybrid learning, students engage in learning activities outside of in-person class time, either independently or through online discussions and activities. A key feature is that students can access these online resources when they choose.

For example, an instructor streams live in-person lectures that remote students can tune into from home. Recordings of the lectures are posted online for students to review or watch later if they can’t attend class synchronously.

Ideally, hybrid learning creates a singular learning experience between both virtual and in-person classes.

What is blended learning?

Blending learning “blends” in-person and online learning. Face-to-face in-class experiences are supplemented by online learning materials that can include web articles, videos, podcasts, and more.

With technology becoming widely available to instructors and students, most modern classes are blended to an extent. But while access to online materials gives students some control over the time and place of their learning, the blended learning model still requires physical, in-person interactions between instructors and students.

For example, an instructor can lecture in a traditional classroom and share online components, like a video or news clip, for self-paced learning after class.

Discover blended learning tips: Dr. Jenny Hooie, author of Blend: Implement Blended Learning in Seven Days or Less, offers tips for blending your classroom in a two-part special series. Part one shows you how to get colleagues on the same page when it comes to understanding blended learning, while part two shows you how to implement a blended lesson.

Comparing the benefits of hybrid vs. blended learning in higher education

5 benefits of hybrid learning

1. Improved engagement

While the stereotype of online learners often brings to mind a checked-out student nodding off at their desk, hybrid courses actually encourage more engagement.

Introverts in particular may find virtual classroom discussions more approachable and inclusive than the physical classroom. Tools like Poll Everywhere give shy students a chance to participate without feeling put on the spot.

Additionally, inclusive classrooms are essential for providing equal learning opportunities to all students.

2. Better accessibility

Hybrid learning creates a more accessible learning environment for students with demands outside of school or disabilities that may make in-person instruction difficult. Hybrid learning is shown to make education more accessible to the following types of students:

  • Caregivers of family members, such as older parents
  • Those who have trouble understanding in-person lectures and prefer closed captions or transcripts
  • Students who grasp course material more readily through different learning methods
  • Those who learn at a different pace than what’s offered in person

A 2022 EDUCAUSE student survey found that 29% of students prefer mostly or completely online courses. Some respondents noted that online classes accommodate their disabilities such as difficulty focusing and auditory processing. Additionally, the ability to rewatch lectures was beneficial for those who missed class or needed to review the content.

3. Increased flexibility

Similar to accessibility, the flexibility of hybrid learning benefits students who find it challenging to attend class. It allows students to engage with the course material in a way that suits their needs at the time.

Some of the situations where students may find hybrid learning beneficial include the following:

  • Sickness or injury
  • Caregiving responsibilities
  • A long or difficult commute to campus
  • Work schedules that conflict with class time

4. Reduced stress

Many of us experience increased social anxiety after the pandemic, including students. A year or more of social distancing and isolation made group gatherings, like college classes, feel more awkward than usual, and the residual anxiety remains. A 2021 study found a 25.6% increase in anxiety disorders globally, adding up to an estimated 76.2 million additional cases.

Hybrid learning helps reduce stress and anxiety that may come from social interaction or other triggers by giving students the option to learn at home or any other location that’s more comfortable for them.

5. Communication development

It may seem surprising, but hybrid learning formats add additional opportunities to develop communication skills. With online classes, students must learn to communicate digitally as well as in-person. This may involve asynchronous discussion forums, live video presentations, or even real-time chats in Slack or other apps.

Challenges of hybrid learning

Hybrid approaches support student choice, but they also come with potential limitations:

  • Asynchronous students require self-discipline
  • Students must learn how to prioritize learning tasks
  • Access to technology is required for engaging with online content
  • Learners may experience feelings of disconnect if they don’t visit campus

5 benefits of blended learning

1. Increased engagement

Blended learning allows instructors to implement interactive activities like role-play, debates, and demonstrations, improving student engagement. Additionally, online discussion forums and collaboration tools offer more ways for students to engage, while resources like videos and other multimedia are shown to improve academic outcomes.

Online or in-person, these types of activities require students to get hands-on with course concepts and apply them in order to practice new skills and contribute to discussions. This also requires development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

How to engage remote students: Promoting a sense of connectedness and engagement among your virtual students is challenging. Check out our guide to engaging students in online and hybrid classrooms for proven strategies.

2. More flexibility

Just like hybrid learning, blended learning environments offer flexibility for students. Because the in-person classroom is augmented by online learning resources, students can review and revisit class concepts when they need to and at their own pace.

The access to online resources also allows them to practice their skills and improve their confidence.

3. Improved personalization

Similar to the flexibility offered by online learning resources, the ability to study and learn on their own time gives students more ownership of their education. Ideally, educators act as guides while students choose their own path forward.

This also supports diverse learning preferences, as students can engage with the online content in ways that best support their academic achievement.

4. More connectedness

The harsh reality of online learning is that it can lead to feelings of disconnect and a lack of support. Multiple studies show that connectedness positively influences student well-being and academic success, and without it students can experience anxiety and other mental health problems.

Thankfully, blended learning can resolve some of those issues by bringing students face-to-face during class time and encouraging connection with online activities.

5. Reduced costs

In-person learning requires significant investment by institutions to maintain the physical campus. Additionally, support costs—including IT, learning management system (LMS) software, and technology—add to the increased cost of on-campus classrooms.

For students, the cost of commuting, which is estimated at $1,360 per student per year, is reduced. They may also spend less on campus meal plans and textbooks. Meal plans alone are estimated to cost students $600 more per year than meals made at home.

Challenges of blended learning

No solution is perfect, and blended learning experiences some of the following challenges:

  • Students must develop self-motivation
  • Tech and internet access is required for online learning
  • Educators must design courses to promote engagement
  • In-person attendance is still required and may pose accessibility issues

When to use hybrid learning vs. blended learning

Hybrid learning: Ideal for flexible learning

If your students find it challenging to attend class in person, whether due to busy schedules, disabilities, or other responsibilities, hybrid learning may be ideal.

Additionally, you as the instructor should be comfortable managing both in-person and online learning—possibly in tandem. This requires thoughtful planning of course materials and setup of the right technology, such as videoconferencing tools, cameras, and projectors.

Blended learning: Ideal for hands-on collaboration

If your course material is best taught in person, a blended learning approach may be best. This option allows you to conduct hands-on learning activities and encourage students to continue learning after class.

Additionally, blended learning provides opportunities for students to connect and collaborate. While these opportunities are also present online, you may find personal interactions contribute more to the learning experience.

How to successfully implement hybrid and blended learning

Craft engaging activities

Both in-person and online class activities benefit from a design that encourages engagement. However, the approach can be quite different for each type of classroom.

Online teaching methods should encourage engagement, spark curiosity, and challenge students’ assumptions. Interactive quizzes, simulations, and group projects can also capture students’ interest and encourage independent learning.

In-person classes should also promote engagement with instructional strategies focused on active learning. Other ways to inspire in-person student participation include brainstorms, debates, role-playing, and group activities.

Cultivate a supportive environment

Online spaces can feel isolating. Foster connection in your virtual learning community with discussion forums, opportunities for student feedback, and virtual office hours.

Additionally, be mindful of different students’ needs and create a safe, inclusive environment that encourages the sharing of diverse perspectives.

Choose the right tools

Classroom tech can help you create engaging and inclusive learning experiences, but it can be easy to go overboard. Be selective and choose user-friendly tools that not only support your teaching style but also your students’ learning styles.

Educational apps should also work seamlessly with your classroom objectives. For example, Poll Everywhere offers multiple ways to engage your students. The app lets you choose from customizable multiple-choice quizzes and polls, Q&As, Clickable Images, Competitions, and more so you can communicate with students and gauge their understanding in non-intrusive, engaging ways.

Promote engagement in your hybrid or blended classroom with Poll Everywhere

Hybrid and blended learning both offer multiple benefits to students and educators. Choosing the right approach requires you to understand your students’ needs, your teaching goals, and what resources are available to you.

Whichever type of teaching method you choose, student engagement is critical for fostering connectedness, inspiring participation, and improving academic outcomes. Educational technology is your friend in this situation, and tech tools like Poll Everywhere offer a variety of ways to engage your students both online and in person.