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What is a Hybrid Course?

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At Stanford, the term hybrid describes a course where some sessions take place in person and some sessions take place fully online. Hybrid courses have distinct requirements and policies associated with them. This page aims to clarify these requirements and policies to help you determine whether the hybrid format is right for your course.

Hybrid courses mix in-person and remote participation

At Stanford, hybrid specifically describes a course where some sessions take place in person and some sessions take place fully online. While the in-person meetings may often include blended teaching elements, hybrid courses set the expectation that all students will engage in some parts of the course in person and in other parts of the course through remote, fully online participation.

The following are examples of hybrid courses:

  • Students regularly meet in person twice a week on Mondays and Fridays and meet fully online on Zoom on Wednesdays. 
  • Students meet regularly in person throughout the term, but there are a significant number of scheduled sessions where students meet online, or work asynchronously instead.

In contrast, the following are not hybrid courses:

  • Using Canvas or other learning management systems to organize course materials, assign and collect student work electronically, and facilitate online discussions.
  • Recording course sessions as a study aid or for students to make up for missed classes, according to your course’s policies. 
  • Allowing students to join a class by Zoom on occasions when they are not able to come to class, according to your course’s policies. 
  • Holding an occasional session online using Zoom when the instructor is traveling.
  • Having a guest speaker join the class by Zoom.

What about HyFlex?

Hybrid-Flexible or HyFlex refers to a subset of hybrid courses that emphasize flexibility and student choice. In HyFlex courses, individual students choose how they will participate from session to session. For example, in a HyFlex course, a student may have the option to attend any session in person, attend remotely on Zoom, or watch the recording and complete additional activities later.

Traditional, blended, fully online, and hybrid courses are similar in that all of the students participate in the same modality together. However, in HyFlex courses, some students may be online and others in person or some may participate synchronously and others asynchronously. Therefore it is critical that equivalent learning experiences and opportunities are provided for all students regardless of the modality they choose.

While HyFlex courses offer significant benefits to access and flexibility, they must address the logistical and pedagogic challenges of the different course modalities all at once. This makes them potentially the most technology-dependent and resource-intensive modality. There are a number of classrooms that can support HyFlex from a technical standpoint, but as with all hybrid courses, there are departmental, accreditation, and other factors to consider. 

For these reasons, if you are interested in offering a HyFlex solution (e.g., allowing students to choose whether to join in person or via Zoom), we strongly recommend you first seek support from your department chair or unit director. Refer to the recommendations below.

Hybrid courses have unique accreditation requirements

Stanford's accreditation body, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), has additional accreditation requirements pertaining to distance education. Hybrid courses may be considered distance education for these purposes because of the built-in expectation that students will fulfill some parts of the course through online, remote participation. Offering hybrid courses can therefore affect accreditation for a degree program as a whole. Remote learning during the pandemic was possible because of a temporary accreditation waiver. 

Because of the possible impacts on accreditation, we strongly recommend you consult your department or unit leaders before offering a hybrid course.

Hybrid courses can be resource-intensive

Because hybrid courses require the expertise, techniques, and tools of traditional or blended courses and fully online courses, they can be particularly resource-intensive. Adapting an existing course into a hybrid format typically takes iterations over a period of time. The interdependence of technology, pedagogy, and content is heightened in hybrid formats, so we recommend careful consideration of the overall design of a hybrid course.

Despite these challenges, a hybrid course can be a very effective format, particularly when there is a teaching team and ample support resources. Hybrid courses tend to be a good fit for students that are independent and have strong learning skills. They are also suited for courses that are project-based or leverage learning communities.

Consider whether a hybrid course is right for you

Considerations around technology tools, classroom resources, teaching team workloads, and accreditation may factor into your decision to offer a hybrid course. If you are considering hybrid teaching, the following questions are good places to start.

What are the current policies about hybrid teaching?

Policies can vary by school, so you should first check with your department chair or unit director about teaching a course that:

  • has some in-person sessions and some fully online sessions (Hybrid).
  • combines in-person and remote students; for example, students choose whether to attend classroom sessions in person or on Zoom (HyFlex).
  • might fall under the WASC definition of distance education.

How will in-person and remote sessions offer equivalent learning experiences?

A critical aspect of hybrid learning is ensuring that students have equivalent learning experiences and opportunities, regardless of whether they attend in-person or online. Hybrid courses should offer equivalent opportunities for learning compared to similar courses in other formats.

What resources and support do you have?

Consider whether you will have TAs or co-instructors. Support from departmental IT experts, academic technology specialists, and instructional designers is helpful if available. Time is a valuable resource as well, so plan ahead and give yourself enough lead time when developing your hybrid course.

Because of the many factors involved in hybrid instruction, we strongly recommend you seek expert support from the following groups:

There are also school-specific units, such as:

Developing a hybrid course

If you have decided that hybrid instruction is a good fit for your students and situation, we recommend the following steps:

  1. Speak to your department chair or unit director about your intentions.
  2. Consult with instructional designers, academic technologists, and other experts in CTL or your department and school.
  3. Give yourself ample time and resources to plan and develop your hybrid course.
  4. Implement and teach the hybrid course and gather feedback from students, your teaching team, and note your own observations.
  5. Continuously implement changes based on feedback to iterate and improve your hybrid course.