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Blended, Hybrid, and Online Instruction Models: Definitions and Resources

What are the options for structuring classes that might be on-campus, online, or a mix of both?

In higher education, many factors impact how courses are organized. When classes occur entirely face-to-face, we might think primarily of factors like class size (large vs. small) or class activity (lecture vs. seminar) when structuring a class and its activities.

As classes span across in-person and online modalities, a broader range of factors might impact how an instructor might structure a course and its activities. On this page, we will detail the basic range of technology-mediated course models that instructors might consider when designing classes that range from fully on-campus (i.e. in physically distanced classrooms this academic year) to fully remote.

At Stanford in the 2020-2021 academic year, many classes will be fully remote and some will be a hybrid with some in-person components and some remote components. Read on for some definitions of these models and resources for teaching approaches within these models.

Fully Online Classes

In this course model, class time is spent entirely in a virtual learning environment (i.e. online).

Students may be expected to attend real-time (i.e. synchronous) class sessions over a video-conferencing platform, like Zoom. Instructors teaching in fully online environments also design learning activities that students can complete at the students' own pace (i.e. in asynchronous activities in the learning management system or a class website).

All class materials and activities are available and accessible in an online format (e.g. in the learning management system).

Hybrid Classes

In this course model, class time is evenly split between time spent in land-based classrooms (i.e. on-campus) and time spent in virtual learning environments (i.e. online).

Students are expected to attend land-based class meetings at designated, scheduled times. Time spent online is most commonly at students' own pace (i.e. in asynchronous activities in the learning management system or a class website) rather than at a designated, scheduled time. However, in some hybrid class environments, online class work is also scheduled to occur at designated meeting times over a video-conference platform like Zoom.

All class materials and activities are available and accessible in an online format (e.g. in the learning management system).

Blended Classes

In this course model, all class time is spent in land-based classrooms (i.e. on-campus) at a designated, scheduled time. All students are expected to attend the classes in-person at that designated time, engaging in class activities using a mix of land-based technology (like looking at slides on a projector or following along with notes on a whiteboard or chalkboard) and mobile technology (like mobile phones and laptops). Instructors teaching in fully land-based environments also design learning activities that students can complete at students' own pace (i.e. asynchronously, as homework).

All class materials and activities are available and accessible in an online format (e.g. in the learning management system).

How do I design my class based on these models? 

Once you consider what teaching model will be best for your class, you'll want to think about designing your class activities. 

Knowing what percentage of your class sessions will be held face-to-face and what percentage will be held online, you can then decide on the balance of activities that can happen synchronously or asynchronously

  • Synchronous activities refer to class activities that occur in real time.
    • Examples include: real-time discussion, collaborative writing, collaborative white-board drawing, timed quiz or exam-taking.
  • Asynchronous activities refer to class activities that happen at the student's own pace and on their own time.
    • Examples include: reading, writing, problem solving, low-stakes exam or quiz-taking.

You've likely designed synchronous and asynchronous activities when you've taught fully face-to-face, but as you start to think about teaching across different modalities, you'll want to think even more carefully about which interactions absolutely benefit from happening in real, scheduled time, and which could be just as appropriately suited to students' work at their own pace. Bear in mind that if you are teaching in a face-to-face classroom for Fall 2020, you will need to consider how social distancing guidelines and safety procedures may impact your teaching and the activities you design. 

In general, real-time or synchronous interactions are strengthened by social interaction. The greatest benefit to sharing time and space with other people is the ability to communicate, collaborate, and be nimble in response. For activities, like lectures or reading, students might find greater benefit in approaching that work on their own time so that they can process, absorb, and engage with that content at their own pace. Read more: "Find a Mix of Synchronous and Asynchronous Teaching."

Resources and Ideas for Active Learning Across Online Course Models