To flex or not to flex

This week we had an excellent discussion about blended learning and the different definitions of the term. Dr. Couros shared a tweet to ask for opinions of what blended learning is all about, and I was intrigued by one of the replies:

“Hyflex learning” is a new term to me, and I decided to dig deeper and learn about the model and how it is used in education. My classmate Jocelyn explored the concept of HyFlex Learning in her post this week and a great article, 7 Things You Should Know About the HyFlex Course Model that gives a definition of the HyFlex model as an “instructional approach that combines face-to-face (F2F) and online learning”. For the purpose of this post, I decided to focus on how the HyFlex model works best in a post-secondary environment, the advantages and disadvantages of the model and possibilities in a K-12 setting.

What is it?

The Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) explains that HyFlex model combines the terms “hybrid” and “flexible” to create a learning environment with both synchronous and asynchronous learning components. The “flexible” part means that students get to choose which learning avenue they will follow and understand that all students will be provided the same quality instruction and assessment. The three participation paths include:

  1. Face-to-face synchronous sessions in person (in a classroom)
  2. Face-to-face synchronous sessions online (ex. via Zoom)
  3. Participate fully asynchronously using the learning management system (LMS)

The most important takeaway is that all students will achieve the same learning objectives.

The Logistics

I found the description of different scenarios and ways to set up HyFlex Learning by the Columbia CTL to be very useful to understand the model. For example:

An example using video, audio and chat for synchronous learning and all content posted on the LMS – Columbia CTL

Another area to consider are the different student-instructor interactions. The example below is from Hybrid-Flexible Course Design edited by Brian J. Beatty.

Examples of student-instructor interaction – Hybrid-Flexible Course Design (Beatty)

Advantages

From the outset, the HyFlex model looks like a dream! Students have the autonomy to choose the learning path that suits their needs best. For example, student athletes do not have to worry about missing content if they are travelling for games or tournaments, students with special medical needs can find a way to the make content fit into their schedule. And the biggest advantage is that in-person classes could possibly continue throughout the COVID pandemic. Until there is widespread vaccination, it is difficult to imagine massive lecture halls with 500+ students taking place on university campuses.

Disadvantages

Unfortunately, I feel that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages in the HyFlex Model. In “Fall Scenario #13: A HyFlex Model“, the authors explain that,

“…navigating the challenges of teaching to both in-person and online students, while also creating rich interactive learning experiences for students participating in the course asynchronously, is hard. If done poorly, faculty run the risk of making the students at a distance feel like second-class citizen.”

The time, training, technology and organization required to run a successful HyFlex course, where all students have a rich learning experience almost seems impossible. An instructor would likely need an assistant to monitor different aspects of the class (like the chat feature in a synchronous online meeting) and then also have someone competent to make sure all the technology is working at all times. Also, designing the material to provide engaging learning experiences for both synchronous and asynchronous learners would require a lot of out-of-the-box thinking. How would you manage class engagement with asynchronous learners? Anyone who has taken an online course that relies on forum posts for student interactions understands how difficult it can be to stay engaged.

E-learning platform and distance learning
The Chronicle of Higher Education – ISTOCK

HyFlex Possibilities?

The HyFlex model is promising in the post-secondary world with the proper training, technology and support, but I feel like it would not work in a K-12 setting. First, I think for the model to work, students need to have the ability to work independently without support from a learning mentor or guardian. Second, students need access to technology and broadband Internet access. This may work in a high school setting, but then you are dealing with teachers who will likely lack the training and support to succeed with the model.

Kevin Gannon wrote an opinion piece called “Our HyFlex Experiment: What’s Worked and What Hasn’t“. Although he describes many of the challenges of the model that have swept across campuses during the COVID pandemic, he mentions that some colleagues have had success. While he notes the HyFlex courses are hard to build, they are even more difficult to teach.

So the real question is, do you think HyFlex courses are here to stay? I think it depends on the type of course and the willingness of a school to support the successful implementation, training and technology to run a HyFlex course. A good final reminder through the HyFlex experiment this fall,

“All of us are learning how to increase our capacity for compassion, flexibility, and empathy. Given the circumstances in which we find ourselves, that may be the most important outcome of all.”Kevin Gannon

Would you ever take a HyFlex course as a student? Would you ever teach a Hyflex course?

Until next time,

@Catherine_Ready

4 thoughts on “To flex or not to flex

  1. I too am new to the term HyFlex, but you laid it out so clearly. I have a much better understanding now… so thank you! It really does seem like a mix of both Blended Learning and Online Learning, but more complex. I think you were spot on about the disadvantages. I also can’t imagine the stress the teachers must be under when managing so many elements of their course. This reminds me of how some schools are doing in-class learning, but still have to record their entire day for the students who are unable to be there. This makes it difficult for teachers to focus on the students they are teaching face-to-face as well as the students they have online. It can pull them into two directions. Sometimes a new model or framework of teaching can seem new and exciting, but we have to look at it from a critical lens too. Thanks for such an informative post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the feedback! I agree that is puts a lot of pressure on the teacher to meet the needs of students in very different situations. I think the hardest part for me would be balancing the asynchronous students and keeping them as engaged as the synchronous in person and online learners.

      Like

  2. I agree with Amanda’s comment here. I can’t imagine that amount of stress that some less technologically-savvy teachers are under, now balancing the roles of face-to-face classroom teacher and content creator. That being said, I have seen some seasoned teachers do pretty incredible things in online spaces. I am not sure how sustainable some of these practices are, especially when/if we go back to “normal” with extra-curricular activitires.

    Liked by 1 person

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