How do you define hybrid, or hyflex, learning?

I struggled recently to define hybrid learning to a client. They asked how they could go about creating ‘hybrid learning’ for their learners. A reasonable question?

There appears to be some confusion, in practice and in the literature, as to the differences between hybrid, hyflex (hiflex, hi-flex, etc), and blended learning. So, I would like to take a minute to propose some definitional parameters, and wait to see if you agree or disagree.

The terms hybrid and hyflex are, in my mind, essentially the same thing, but they differ from ‘mainstream’ blended approaches. Blended learning, as curricula and teaching practice, determines where a learner studies, and what they are doing in each space. The blend is anticipated and written into the curriculum. The teacher knows what the student will be doing in-person or as a distance learner. Indeed the course is most probably designed ‘flipped-classroom’ style, to optimise the precious time in face-to-face-face contexts, whether in-person or virtually. There are a few flavours of blended learning but they are all pre-determined by the course creator.

Hybrid, or hyflex, approaches attempt to give some agency, some control, to the learner as to the nature of their learning experience, the when, where and how. Both aim to empower the student to choose what learning should be studied face-to-face and that which should be studied online, and how to go about engaging with that learning. The only apparent difference, largely in US practice, appears to be the unpacking of the the distance participation element as asynchronous or synchronous online engagement. To me it’s a definition without a difference.

This hybrid/hyflex nature very often means courses spawn new hybrid ‘spaces’ in which there is an attempt at seamless integration between real-world in-person and virtual learning experiences. This means that designers of courses that aspire to be hybrid/hyflex learning may be required to enable the same (or equivalent) learning experiences to be modelled in multiple forms or alternative spaces (Bennett et al., 2020; Goodyear, 2020). This could be significant burden. Think about it as Universal Design for Learning (UDL) on drugs.

Blended, hybrid/hyflex are in fact all flexible learning models of delivery. They all make use of different combinations of the two modes of learning, in-person and distance. And they all fall within a regulatory and validation authority that determines the relative openness of programmes of study. Flexible is anything that is less than fixed. Its merely a question of degree. It’s clearly a spectrum. Courses are on a spectrum of curriculum delivery between rigid and flexible.

I persuaded this particular client that they did not need to go ‘all-in’ and design courses for hybrid delivery. Rather, they simply needed to consider what learning and teaching activities were best suited for ‘away-from-the-classroom’ study and to determine whether these required independent study or collaboration with others. To be a bit more… flexible.

It wasn’t the answer they wanted. After all, being ‘hybrid’ is so very much, you know, ‘now’. But it’s the answer they got.

Dr Simon Paul Atkinson

15 July 2022

Bennett, Dawn, Elizabeth Knight, and Jennifer Rowley. “The Role of Hybrid Learning Spaces in Enhancing Higher Education Students’ Employability.” British Journal of Educational Technology 51, no. 4 (2020): 1188–1202.

Goodyear, Peter. “Design and Co‐configuration for Hybrid Learning: Theorising the Practices of Learning Space Design.” British Journal of Educational Technology 51, no. 4 (2020): 1045–60.

Image generated using OpenAI DALL-E

Author: Simon Paul Atkinson

30 years as an educational strategist, academic practitioner and developer, educational developer, educational technologist, and e-learning researcher. Simon is now an Educational Strategic Consultant. An experienced presenter and workshop facilitator. Previous roles include Head of Learning Design at the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning (BPP University), Academic Developer (London School of Economics), Director of Teaching and Learning (Massey University - College of Education), Head of Centre for Learning Development (University of Hull), Academic Developer (Open University UK)

One thought on “How do you define hybrid, or hyflex, learning?”

  1. Hi Simon,
    Thank you for your insight of these definitions. People tend to use all of them but often do not differentiate differences between them. For definition of blended/hybrid and hyflex I use Tony Bates interpretation So hyflex would be 3in1, while hybrid is type of blended learning where you have clearly set part which is in classroom and which is online. But I would happy to discuss this further with you.
    And I agree with you point, the issue should be on what we could do better with use of digital technologies and when we need to be physically present in order to ensure the quality of educational process. How it is called is less important 🙂
    with best regards

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