Hybrid vs. Blended Learning: Is There a Difference?

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Ariele Krantzow ·

Jan 05, 2022

The way we learn has changed in increments for decades, but it’s really just in the past few years that the majority of people have really started to take notice. The ease of new technology (we are now all online learning experts), the availability of resources (WiFi and a smartphone) and being forced to stay at home (too soon to joke about it?) is driving this learning evolution. These new learning methods are now a top-of-mind discussion—and need— for organizations building out a learning management system (LMS)

There’s also a good amount of confusion regarding what these new learning methods actually are. Two effective methods of learning that have puzzled people setting up LMSs are hybrid learning and blended learning. The names themselves are not dissimilar — both suggest a combination of ideas. Which, in truth, is basically what they are, and deciding whether or not to implement them into your LMS is an important decision. But before that decision can be reached, let’s take a moment to define hybrid learning and blended learning to determine if they’re the same, if they’re completely different, or if they share some qualities between them.

What’s Hybrid Learning?

Of the two learning methods we’re examining, hybrid learning is the most frequently ill-defined. And that’s because it can look very different from course to course. That said, the best place to start its definition is the way the session looks to an outside observer. Hybrid learning is a comprehensive approach where some learners will be found in-person in a classroom (or conference room, or training room or the office kitchen behind a divider),  while other learners attend the session virtually. It’s important to note that the teacher is providing instruction to their in-person and virtual learners at the same time — virtual learners aren’t watching recordings or participating on their own time.

To teach remote and in-person at the same time, the instructor will employ video conferencing tools to assist the virtual learners. To ensure everyone has the same opportunity to get the most out of the course, hybrid classes need to be well thought out in advance, especially having a strong wifi connection and the right technology to support the session 

The online components of hybrid learning are designed to replace face-to-face classroom time without losing the appeal and effectiveness of in-person learning. The remote students should still have the opportunity to interact with the teacher and the rest of the students in the class, and the synchronous design of hybrid learning allows them to do just that. 

A great example is what so many of our grade-school students experienced from the beginning of COVID-19 to where they are now. In the places hardest hit by the pandemic, the students immediately went to full-time online learning. But once we had a better understanding of how COVID worked and spread, many schools switched to a hybrid model, where the classrooms saw some children attending in person and others dialing in via video conferencing technology like Zoom. The teachers were delivering the same instruction to all students, in-person and remote, at the same time.

What’s Blended Learning?

Blended learning is a bit more understood, in a universal sense, than hybrid learning, because we’ve been doing it on a larger scale for much longer. Blended learning starts with the classic, in-person learning, then supplementing the time students spend in a physical classroom with online learning material. This combination of physical classroom attendance and tech-driven, online learning goes a long way toward engaging learners of all types along the multimodal learning spectrum.

As we get back to more in-person days at the office, we’ll see more blended sessions pop up. The online portions of the class bring asynchronous, meaning they can be completed by students in their own time, based on a deadline given by the teacher (generally meaning before the start of the next in-person class session). 

The in-person classroom setting of blended learning is where your learners can gain valuable experience from face-to-face feedback, as well as work with you during hands-on training exercises or in role-playing opportunities.

The online portions of these classrooms are becoming more interactive as the average person becomes more comfortable with more advanced content creation, like video and audio. The course content comes in many forms, such as an online activity that needs to be completed or a well-reviewed instructional video, or reading materials, games, quizzes and more. Whether passive learning or interactive experiences, the online learning aspect of blended learning gifts personalized educational opportunities to students in a manner that is self-paced.

Are Hybrid and Blended Learning the Same?

No. Yes. Well … not really. They certainly share some key elements, and at face value, they don’t sound all that different from each other. In fact, the two terms are frequently — and mistakenly — used in place of each other. And that confusion is understandable. Both take advantage of the benefits of in-person learning, as well as technological advancements that enable online learning. The main difference between the two is the manner in which in-person and online learning are used.

In hybrid learning models, the in-person attendees and the remote learners are all experiencing the same class at the same time. The instructor teaches them all at once, and the video conferencing technology is used to ensure the remote learners are receiving the same experience as the in-class learners.

Blended learning, on the other hand, finds all learners attending in person. The online portion, of course, is designed by the instructor to be supplemental — it’s a way for students to learn on their own away from the classroom setting. 

Essentially, hybrid learning is designed to maintain an equilibrium between online and offline learning, while blended learning is designed to give in-person students online material to complement their in-class experience.

What Are the Benefits of Hybrid and Blended Learning?

Both hybrid learning and blended learning come with their own benefits, which should be fully explored and understood in order to determine the way you want to design your specific LMS. 

Benefits of Hybrid Learning

  • Ease of Accessibility: Because hybrid learning gives in-person and remote learners equal access to the class, more people have the opportunity to engage in the curriculum. If a person can physically attend, then great. But if location, illness or personal circumstances make it impossible for a learner to attend in person, they can still get the full experience by attending online.

  • Lower Cost: It can be expensive to logistically get all of your customers, employee, or partners into one place at the same time. Hybrid learning reduces costs by eliminating travel expenses, printed materials and more, allowing you to maximize the provided learning experience while staying on budget.

  • Health & Wellness Safety: If a student is ill, or they fear for their health due to something like, say … a global pandemic, the hybrid model allows them the opportunity to still attend class along with their fellow learners without putting their wellness or personal safety at risk.

Benefits of Blended Learning

  • Easily Incorporate Multimodal Learning: Not everyone prefers to learn in the same way. Some thrive with visual information. Others to best when listening. Some excel through reading and writing exercises. Still, other people do their best when given a hands-on learning environment. A blended learning course allows a teacher to prepare sessions that cater to all these things, ensuring each person is given the type of instruction they need to do their best.

  • Personalization: While all learners in a blended course get the same instruction during their in-person meetings, the instructor can customize (or give options for) the online exercises and activities to best meet the learning needs of the different students.

  • Improved Engagement: We live in a technological world, and giving access to information through different technological means has been shown to drive engagement.

The Key to Hybrid and Blended Learning Success: Understand Your Learners

So what makes the most sense for the LMS you’re developing? The investment you make in hybrid and blended learning should largely depend on who you are training. What sort of learning personas are you dealing with in your organization, where are they located, and what makes the most financial sense? The answers to those questions are what should shape your overall strategy.

For example, if you’re training people from all over the country or the globe, then a focus should be given to the hybrid learning model. This way, you could have people who are located in and around your main area of operation attending in person, while those who are further away can join in via video conferencing technology. 

However, if you’re training a group of people who are highly different in the way they learn, a blended approach may make more sense. That way, you can instruct in person, but supplement that instruction with online content and activities designed to reach people who learn in different ways, thereby improving everyone’s overall engagement and level of success.

Build Hybrid Learning and Blended Learning into your LMS

If you’re interested in learning more about how to incorporate hybrid and/or blended learning into your LMS, the expert team at Northpass is standing by to help you determine the right strategy and how to best implement it. Book a free demo with us today to find out more!

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About the Author
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Ariele Krantzow

Ariele Krantzow is a senior content marketer at Northpass, helping people and businesses harness the power of their learning programs. When she's not staring at a computer, she enjoys traveling, building Ikea furniture, and pretending that chasing a toddler is just as good as going to the gym.

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