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Hybrid learning

The fusion of analog and digital learning processes

visualisation hybrid learning

What exactly is hybrid learning and how does it differ from blended learning? Is hybrid learning a trend your company should also be considering? What are the flipped classroom, seamless learning and pervasive learning? And how can you take advantage of the benefits of both analog and digital learning without seeing them as being in opposition to each other? To enable you to design state-of-the-art learning processes, we explain these terms and tell you what hybrid learning is all about.


The hybrid world

An introduction

It seems the hybrid century has dawned: Two different things are being brought together and combined into one entity. Hybrid cars are powered by electricity and fuel; the pandemic made hybrid working environments the norm. And hybrid societies with complex networks are starting to appear on the horizon, where people are interacting with intelligent digital technologies in a completely new way. Hybridization is also starting to emerge in learning strategies, in the form of a fusion of analog and digital formats.


Distinguishing between blended learning and hybrid learning

Since the late 1990s, the combination of analog and digital learning formats has been known as “blended learning”. The idea behind this is that when two learning formats—face-to-face learning and online learning—are used concurrently, they deliver more effective learning. With blended learning, learning objectives are achieved through the sequential use of face-to-face and online learning. It can focus on 1) eLearning, 2) face-to-face learning in a physical space, or 3) a balance of the two.

Blended learning

Advantages of the different learning formats

Online learning icon

Online learning

Web-based training is a typical form of eLearning, in which learners interactively acquire complex knowledge. They learn anywhere and at any time, and can set their own pace. Two criteria are central to good learning outcomes. On the one hand, training needs to make content less complex through educationally appropriate interactivity. On the other, training should be designed to be user-centric and the digital interface should have high usability.

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Face-to-face learning

In analog face-to-face learning, learners benefit from direct interaction with teachers. This format is particularly well suited to discussion, reflection and tactile engagement with topics. Teaching and learning is intuitive and direct, and takes place in a physical space designed to be as learning-friendly as possible.


Blended learning is often not literally blended, because the formats alternate and provide complementary educational input. One example of this is the inverted or flipped classroom. Theoretical knowledge is built up before being consolidated through discussion, for instance through interactive web-based training. Learners regulate their own acquisition of the knowledge. Face-to-face events consolidate knowledge through collective reflection and discussion. Blended learning thus involves switching between different learning formats and can focus on analog or digital delivery, depending on learning objectives and context.


Digital technologies in the analog learning space

Removing boundaries and enhancing learning: Hybrid learning

Nowadays, we take intelligent and networked technologies with us wherever we go: We don’t just sit in front of computers, we literally carry them around in our pockets. So smartphones and tablets have naturally become a part of training seminars and university lectures. They open up seminar rooms and lecture halls to learning resources from the World Wide Web. They facilitate interaction between the auditorium and teachers. Face-to-face learning interweaves with online technologies, becoming hybrid.

The ubiquity of the technology impacts on the design of learning processes. Digital learning formats enable completely new forms of social and collaborative learning, both synchronous and asynchronous: Virtual classrooms bring social learning into the world of eLearning. Collaboration software provides new ways of working together to co-create knowledge; ways that are not constrained by time and space. The boundaries between physical and virtual learning spaces are blurring, and the learning process is becoming hybrid.

Infographic Hybrid Learning

This dissolution of boundaries is also present in less well-known approaches. Seamless learning and pervasive learning take different views of learning processes. They both believe the best way to learn is to use technology to flow between learning environments, learning formats and learning opportunities.

Seamless learning icon

Seamless learning

The basic idea of seamless learning is that transitions between different kinds of learning are smooth and there are no longer any gaps. Transitions can span different times and spaces, for example. But specific learning activities that involve both analog and digital formats can also entail transitions in the learning process. One of the objectives of mobile seamless learning is to integrate mobile devices as seamlessly as possible into learning and classrooms.

Pervasive learning icon

Pervasive learning

The term was officially coined by Dan Pontefract in his book Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization (Wiley, 2013). It defines pervasive learning as “learning at the pace of need through formal, informal and social learning modalities”. This means that the process of learning includes everything from face-to-face seminars to online courses to informal learning activities to moment of need learning. In other words, learning can take place any time, anywhere and the resources that can be used for learning are almost unlimited. It is not limited to textbooks or to formal learning formats.


Distinguishing between hybrid learning and blended learning

The difference between hybrid learning and blended learning is therefore that the face-to-face and online phases of blended learning take place separately from one another. Hybrid learning, on the other hand, denotes a sequence of learning activities that cannot be unambiguously assigned to either the analog or the digital sphere.

Example: A learning activity starts in the seminar room and involves internet research in groups on various aspects of a topic. The results of the group work are combined into a shared digital document. Despite taking place in a physical learning space, most of the learning activity is digital. Conversely, the next step, discussion and reflection on results, can take place in online sessions regardless of where learners are located; these can be digitally enhanced by linking up with specialists, for example. Here, too, many of the benefits of classroom learning can be replicated digitally.

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The bottom line

Blended learning refers to the sequential use of traditional face-to-face and online learning to achieve learning objectives. Hybrid learning refers to the dissolving of rigid boundaries between analog and digital methodologies. Skills are developed outside as well as inside physical learning spaces. This development is driven by traditional and collaborative learning technologies, which have a major influence on training in companies and on educational institutions’ programs.

Alexander Aust
Alexander Aust
Digital Learning Expert

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