Hybrid Learning – The Confluence of Physical and Digital Spaces

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What is Hybrid Learning?

Hybrid learning is known by an interchangeable variety of names like blended learning, flipped learning, mixed-mode, hyflex, and flex learning (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008). To make a distinction from other similar variations, educational technology researchers have attempted to define it as a parallel educational model where students attend classes in person while others join virtually (Hodges et al., 2020). While the term “blended learning” refers to the combination of multimodal instructions and learning activities, including onsite and online environments, hybrid learning is a more complex phenomenon (Cohen et al., 2020). Unlike blended learning, hybrid learning attempts to synthesise and create nexus between two unidentical learning spaces. It “embraces the qualities of fusing dimensions and dissolving dichotomies through working with the blurred lines of today’s post-digital world” (Nørgård, 2021, p. 1713). It is a new approach that offers solutions to the challenges of online learning and resolves hindrances to learning which could be distance, timing, and accessibility (Raes et al., 2020). Although hybrid learning has existed for a while, it regained widespread adoption due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its necessitated social distancing measures which forced many education systems to switch to digital spaces (Singh et al., 2021).

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However, there were nuances in its adoption, implementation, and applicability. The issues faced by teachers and students in different educational and classroom contexts created a rethink of the new and future realities (Nørgård, 2021). Scholars have begun to consider different issues educational institutions, teachers, and learners face in actualising effective hybrid teaching and learning. Challenges such as digital literacy, extra workload, funding, and digital equity have been highlighted (Li et al., 2023). Significantly, the pandemic has revealed that hybrid learning is under-researched, and consequently, researchers and professionals have collaborated to investigate these issues and ways toward better educational experiences (Bülow, 2022). Furthermore, new technologies and educational transitions have triggered policy changes like the EU Lifelong Learning Program which incorporates a simultaneous approach to teaching and learning to promote participation rates and impact effective, quality, and authentic learning (EPRS, 2020).

Research on Hybrid Learning

Post-COVID-19 adoption of hybrid learning models is growing and widespread. It has been adopted in many subjects and learning contexts (Setiawan et al., 2022). Raes et al. (2020) conducted a systematic literature review of the papers addressing the hybrid learning concept, suggesting organizational and pedagogical benefits as well as key challenges of the implementation. To overcome the challenges and exploit the strength of this teaching mode, research on hybrid learning strives for developing frameworks and pedagogical strategies that impact course contents and learning settings, for example, how it can increase a sense of belongingness, motivation, and interest, and promote interactions between student-teacher, student-student, and student-faculty (Benito et al., 2021; Gnaur et al., 2020). Studies also focus on how to improve interactions among participants (community scaffolding) and make the spaces authentic through the integration of available and emerging technologies (Maybar, 2023).

However, the area of hybrid learning is just emerging and more empirical studies are needed in different learning scenarios (Raes et al., 2020). Goodyear (2020) mentions that currently, it is challenging to design hybrid learning spaces and it is needed for researchers to investigate how to design effective hybrid learning spaces which will involve pragmatic approaches to resolving complexities in teaching and learning.  Technical challenges of setting up hybrid learning in different educational contexts cannot be ignored when optimising adaptive and personalised learning to suit every learner’s needs – a paradox between benefits (flexibility) and challenges (Kauppi et al., 2020). These stress questions on how to design future hybrid learning spaces that outweigh the challenges.

Future Learning – A New Conception of Place

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Cohen et al (2020) claim that the emergence of hybrid learning reconceptualises “hybrid pedagogy that fundamentally helps in rethinking the conception of place” (p. 1039). They argue that:

“The focus on hybridity highlights the challenges and opportunities which transpire from the blurring of boundaries between contexts of learning, working, playing, and living and the unexpected experiences and hybrids that emerge. Boundaries between online and offline, on-site and off-site, synchronous and asynchronous, formal and informal, vocational and recreational, and more” (p.1039).

Technology has permeated our lives and exposed us to new and future changes in education. It has transformed epistemologies on what schools are for, what should be taught, how learning should be accessed, and when and where it should be accessed. Accordingly, Eyal and Gill (2020) suggest traversing the physical and digital environment through the facilitation of interactions among participants in formal and informal structures of learning by employing social constructivist methods linking pedagogy, technology, and space. Technology has helped us embrace flexibility and reassures hopes in the futures of teachers and learners and most importantly, it has bridged the gap in knowledge sharing (Canals et al., 2018). Notwithstanding the educational context, either formal or informal, hybrid learning has given us “academic freedom” (Canals et al., 2018). Unlike the traditional forms of teaching and learning, it paves the way for “building” and “being” communities of learners working collaboratively toward better possibilities (Nørgård et al., 2019).


The aforementioned studies have highlighted how hybrid learning has transformed teaching and learning and general educational experiences. Although various pedagogical and technological challenges exists in this new teaching mode, we also need to understand that our lives, including working and educational contexts, have been dramatically changed due to the technological advancement and the global pandemic. This new conception of learning format, namely hybrid learning, may become a normal way of accessing education in near future, like our working environment getting more and more hybrid.

In the future, it will evolve with technology and research on pedagogy, andragogy, and heutagogy (Graham, 2013). Hybrid learning will revolutionise teaching and learning by bringing together various experts and stakeholders such as software application developers, learning scientists, analysts, ethicists, teachers, administrators, and learners to enable more immersive and personalised educational opportunities (Dicheva et al., 2015; Gikandi et al., 2011). It may become inevitable for teachers, especially academic educators, to provide their students with hybrid opportunities to respond to the students’ needs – appreciation of the flexibility and adaptation to the future hybrid life.

The writer of this blog: Faith Ilesanmi (Master’s student in the Learning, Education and Technology programme)

The editor of this blog: Azusa Nakata (Project manager and doctoral researcher at the LET Lab)


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