Hybrid Learning: The best of both worlds?

Hybrid learning is a method of education which blends in-person interaction and online content. By necessity, the pandemic has shifted students to this new learning sphere: from the lecture hall to bedrooms and from labs to desks. We are almost two years into this new academic routine, but what has the impact been on student life and what lessons should we carry moving forward?

I sat down with exchange students from the UK (Chad Allery, Sarah Moberly and Shivi Durve) to explore their experiences. They spoke to me about how they sorely missed in person classes during the pandemic. Back home in the UK, lectures became online recordings and groupwork almost non-existent. Chad, who studies Geography, noted that persistent online learning “detaches you from the content, almost like you’re watching Netflix rather than learning”. Sarah and Shivi concurred and emphasised the importance of working alongside classmates. Whether it was to discuss specific problems with the course or brainstorm ideas for a presentation, they said that in-person conversation kept them engaged and supported.

This reflection seems applicable to most students I have spoken to – there is a huge loss associated with shifting fully from in person to online learning. Some have noted that there exists a social pressure during in-person lectures which encourages active listening and discourages scrolling through social media, which is a habit I can also admit to during zoom lectures.

The issue of focus and concentration was a recurring theme in my conversations and seemed to be coupled with a tendency to procrastinate. Since online learning removes the physical commitment to be present and engaged, the opportunities to procrastinate, waste time and study inefficiently seem to increase significantly. Tim Urban, writer of the famous ‘Wait But Why’ blog and self-identified ‘serial procrastinator’, notes that procrastination is the biggest threat to that feeling of flow that arises from deep engagement in a task. From my perspective, and that of my peers, online learning exacerbates these bad habits. Whether it’s watching pre-recorded lectures days before the exam or multitasking during a zoom seminar, the impact on passion for your subject is significant.

The impact of these bad habits doesn’t just take a toll on your studies, but your health can suffer too. The pandemic’s disruption of a consistent daily routine for students came up a lot in my discussions. Chad, with a half-smirk, claimed that he is “not much different to a dog” and craves “fresh air, routine and a daily purpose”. While half kidding, he’s got a point! If our student life consists of only being room and screen bound, we miss out on the wealth of experiences that universities have to offer, spontaneous creativity in different educational spaces and networking with diverse minds. One person described being stuck in their room, without new places or people, as ‘the worst thing ever’. 

However, it isn’t all doom and gloom. The shift from 100% in-person to a hybrid model creates a real opportunity for scheduling flexibility and independent learning. Last semester, while travelling with other students, I found myself reading my economics textbook from a hostel in Budapest and tuning into a pre-recorded lecture in Finnish Lapland! I enjoyed the flexibility of keeping up with content while also exploring the world alongside other students. It was when I returned to Lund, with only online classes, that I felt disconnected from my subject, my peers, and the university. Universities should give students flexibility in their schedule without sacrificing in-person lectures. A solution here, which was popular among students I spoke to, was an online opt-in feature where students could attend lectures in person or online depending on preference and schedule. 

Thankfully, brighter days are ahead. Few classes are now solely online, and most are taking a blended approach. Going forward there is a real opportunity to create a hybrid learning model which is a balanced, or ‘lagom’, blend of the virtual and the physical. One which gives students flexibility. One which recognises the importance of access to creative spaces and genuine in-person interaction with peers. One which takes the best of both worlds to work for students, not against them.

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