It’s difficult to believe that residential programs were once the exclusive option for learning in higher education. The number of delivery models has expanded over the years to include offerings that are fully online, hybrid, competency-based and more. Higher education institutions became more familiar with online instruction as COVID-19 forced an abrupt end to face-to-face instruction during the spring of 2020, but there’s an evolving new modality that’s come to the forefront as a direct result of the pandemic.
Short for “hybrid flexible”, HyFlex learning is a variation of the hybrid programs we’ve come to know. It includes in-person, synchronous online and asynchronous online options for every course. According to Dave Lungren, vice president of content solutions at Collegis Education, universities have an opportunity to evolve into the University of Tomorrow through the flexibility offered by this modality.
“The pandemic has changed everything,” Lungren says.
“In the interest of the safety of students, faculty and staff, institutions have been forced to embrace remote learning but the opportunity exists to strategically implement hybrid models like HyFlex and make the investment required to deliver effective learning that is scalable and sustainable for the university,” he elaborates.
While the HyFlex course model gained widespread attention as a result of the pandemic, there’s every reason to believe it will remain relevant going forward. With that in mind, it presents an opportunity to better understand this alternative delivery model, how to effectively support and scale it, and the advantages to the university community and those they serve.
What is HyFlex learning and how does it work?
While the HyFlex model probably sounds much like a standard hybrid course, it’s a bit more complex. Part of this is because there are really a few ways to approach it. According to Dr. Brian Beatty, one of the professors who conceived this alternative delivery model, schools can offer the online component synchronously, asynchronously or by incorporating both options. That said, it’s safe to assume that a modern HyFlex model will feature live online sessions.
“As learning technology has matured, hybrid teaching models have leveraged synchronous learning delivered via web conference more and more instead of just relying on traditional classroom instruction,” Lungren explains.
The other distinction between a typical hybrid model and HyFlex is that the former usually involves instructors determining which elements are taught in a face-to-face class and which are more suited for online delivery. In a HyFlex model, the choice shifts from the instructor to the student and permits them to participate in classes however they choose. This, as Lungren points out, is beneficial both for residential students who want more flexibility and for online students who crave real-time interaction with classmates and instructors.
Because students will be participating in a variety of ways in a HyFlex course model, instructors need to ensure everyone is able to engage with the material. As EDUCAUSE points out, to receive the same quality of education every student needs to have the same access to resources, the instructor and their fellow classmates. This means that all education materials need to be made available online, and remote students also must have the ability to join discussions from wherever they’re located.
What are the benefits of a HyFlex course model?
Some skeptics point out that incorporating HyFlex models requires a lot of time, not to mention resources. These are fair criticisms. It’s true that faculty need ample training and will face the somewhat challenging task of reimagining a course that supports every learning experience. And there are certainly greater technology needs than is typical for most courses.
“The technology aspect will be the most daunting for many institutions,” Lungren says. “The biggest challenge, beyond rethinking the course experience, will be the live streaming of the classroom.”
Despite the drawbacks, there are some obvious benefits to leveraging a HyFlex course model. It allows students more flexibility than ever before, meaning they can adjust as needed to accommodate their schedules. It also gives students access to a greater breadth of learning materials than they would otherwise receive.
One study reveals that students enrolled in a HyFlex course reported this alternative delivery model helped increase their understanding of concepts and also encouraged them to participate more. Furthermore, there’s a growing body of research showing there are no significant differences in learning outcomes for students who choose different delivery options.
This alternative delivery model also allows institutions to enroll more students in a course without risk of overcrowding classrooms, which matters even in times when social distancing isn’t required. But it’s also important to acknowledge that the COVID-19 threat (and possibly future risks) makes a HyFlex course model practical should it become impossible to hold in-person classes once again.
“All institutions must be prepared to transition to a fully online model on very short notice and also think about how they can reach more students more effectively,” Lungren states.
Once the institution has the infrastructure, courses and mindset that all programs can be delivered in a HyFlex model, the traditional geographic barriers are removed. And, at the same time, the institution has also effectively built a business continuity plan.
Essential elements for a successful HyFlex model
Every program that is fully or partially online needs a number of key elements to provide a quality education experience. When it comes to online delivery, these factors break down as follows:
- A technology ecosystem that supports online learners
- Courses that are designed with online delivery in mind
- Teaching methodology that incorporates online best practices
- Student and faculty learning technology support
Beyond these basic online education needs, HyFlex courses require some additional elements. “The HyFlex model is much more complex since learning is being delivered in three modalities,” Lungren notes.
Unlike a typical online offering, HyFlex courses have the added complication of live online streaming. This requires an even more robust array of technology tools.
“Without the proper setup of cameras, microphones and supporting technology in the classroom, the experience for remote students participating online, whether synchronously or asynchronously, will be very poor,” Lungren says.
Because HyFlex learning includes a combination of modalities, it requires thoughtful planning and development to ensure every student’s needs – and the learning outcomes – are being met regardless of their mode of participation. This applies to the course itself, the learning activities and even the assessment strategy.
“Faculty may need to revise their traditional assessment techniques to ensure that the assessment of student learning is still valid, reliable and secure when delivered in the HyFlex modality,” Lungren says.
The way faculty lead a class and interact with students is different in a face-to-face environment than an online one. With a HyFlex course, instructors need to be comfortable wearing multiple hats.
“Faculty must be trained to teach a class where they are serving the needs of both the residential students sitting in front of them and the online students participating virtually,” Lungren elaborates.
Student and faculty support
The element of real-time streaming means HyFlex courses have even greater needs when it comes not just to the technology itself, but also technology support. In the event that something isn’t working once a class starts, instructors will need swift access to technology assistance. Not to mention routine support needs.
“The cameras, microphones and platform required to support online streaming need expert and effective management,” Lungren says.
Flexible options for the future
While there are some undeniable benefits of using a HyFlex course model, it isn’t necessarily the best choice for every institution. Some schools will inevitably find that it’s better to instead focus on other alternative modalities. Still, one thing that’s become clear is every college and university must be better prepared to leverage available technology and instructional models to offer programs remotely so they can continue education students during the next crisis or event.
Providing remote instruction is just one part of what goes into offering an effective education experience. Find out what else contributes to a positive experience for remote learners by visiting our infographic “How to Create a Positive Student Experience in an Online Environment.”