The University of Pretoria’s hybrid learning programme proved to be invaluable last year when classes were disrupted by the #FeesMustFall protests. As most of our courses already include robust online components, we were able to make the transition relatively seamlessly to online-only coursework when the campus was closed during the unrest. This flexible approach allowed students to continue their studies uninterrupted and finish their degrees on time.
At university, students have to apply concepts, think critically, manage their time and workloads independently and use technology to succeed in the world beyond the campus — all benefits that hybrid learning can give. But as our experience showed, hybrid learning can also help institutions to navigate unexpected disruptions without reducing the quality of teaching and learning.
The University of Pretoria was the first institution in South Africa to introduce blended courses — more than 20 years ago — and is still leading educational technology implementation for student success with its hybrid learning model. Currently, 88% of undergraduate modules at the university include an integrated online component.
Hybrid teaching incorporates technology into curriculum planning and delivery and empowers students with greater educational autonomy. It can take a variety of formats, depending on the subject matter and necessary module or programme requirements.
For example, an economics module focusing on supply and demand could use a “flipped classroom” model, meaning that the instructor could share readings and viewings (for example, an animation of the drawing of the supply and demand graph) ahead of time online and require students to send in questions on the material prior to class or answer a quick online quiz. That way, a lecture can be tailored to address the topics that students need more help with or to applying know-ledge to answer concept questions or problems, rather than using class time to introduce students to the basic topic.
Statistics students can make use of polling apps on their phones to answer questions in real time and examine the statistical variations of the results. And, for a history course, students can participate in online study groups and edit historical topics through a “wiki”. Each student can add their own research to an online post about a topic, resulting in a collaborative learning process.
In all these modules, the goal is the same — to use technology to enhance understanding of the academic ideas discussed in the classroom or to apply those ideas to solve problems and to offer students more autonomy in how they complete their work.
Hybrid learning models are not only more efficient than traditional classroom environments but also more effective in delivering learning, according to research from Stanford University and the University of Tennessee. Integrating familiar technology into learning means students find the material more interesting.
Students perform better in a hybrid learning environment when compared with online-only or traditional face-to-face instruction, according to a United States department of education study. Student satisfaction is also higher in a hybrid learning module.
Hybrid learning also means instructors can better monitor students’ involvement. It can be difficult to monitor attendance in the classroom accurately but online learning tools keep a record of when and how long a student spends on activities. The data can also be used for analytic purposes to adapt modules based on student feedback and actions.
Perhaps most importantly, hybrid learning gives students more control over their studies. They are able to decide when and how often they interact with online components, giving them more control over determining their marks and instilling a sense of autonomy and responsibility as they pursue their degree. Skills such as time and workload management are instilled through this method, better preparing students for real-world applications.
Much of the technology that students use reflects social and workplace uses. Students thus leave the university ready for the contemporary workplace, which is increasingly dominated by technology.
Over the past 20 years, the University of Pretoria has seen exponential change in the adoption and use of educational technology. Hybrid learning means students are prepared for life beyond campus.
Professor Wendy R Kilfoil is the director for education innovation at the University of Pretoria