Navigating Hybrid Learning: Insights from the Hyb-IT-up co-design Workshop

On the 8th of March, the Hyb-IT-up Project organized a hybrid workshop to unite students from the partner universities (Finland, Estonia, Germany, the Netherlands, and Portugal) for co-designing activities. Co-design workshop meant to cultivate participants’ hybrid learning competencies and to co-create proposals of the micro-course dedicated to that topic. The main session was held in Saarland University in Germany, and the participants from other countries joined the session via Microsoft Teams. 

We conducted a short interview of the participants to get insight of a hybrid co-design workshop from both online and onsite points of view. The experiences of Rati, Tam, Shravani, Rikka, and John offer rich insights into the dynamics of hybrid learning contexts. Each participant brought their unique perspective formed by their diverse background in education ranging from administrative positions to advanced teaching. 

Now let’s explore the journeys of our participants in more detail!

Photo by Michal Czyz on Unsplash

Rati (online)

Rati’s journey through hybrid learning experiences has had some ups and downs, as she has experienced such a mode of learning and working before the workshop, both in her home country, India and while studying in Finland.

Overall, Rati has mostly taken part in hybrid learning as an onsite participant, rather than online, because she considers it a much more memorable and engaging experience. However, she also acknowledges the value of remote participation, especially for passive activities where interaction is limited. Also, Rati has noted that a hybrid environment gives a lot of flexibility to students when for any reason they can not be on site, which she appreciates a lot.  There are certain downsides of course, but mostly she connects them to technical issues that might happen from time to time.

Participating in a co-design workshop was inspired by the opportunity to get hands-on course designing experience in collaboration with colleagues from different universities. Despite time constraints and technical challenges (she had to switch from her computer for her smartphone to overcome them), she successfully navigated the workshop learning about the visualization tool CoDe Graph. Assigning clear roles, in her opinion, also helped good communication in a collaborative environment and kept up the pace, which she took into her toolbox. Great organization of the processes and access to the tools also made the work smoother. 

However, having participants be prompted to introduce themselves would be more beneficial for the learning process. It could help avoid challenges of building connections during work. This did not create any friction during the process though, everyone actively participated in the process, bringing their own expertise and ideas. Rati felt that she was seen, and her ideas were appreciated.

Even despite the technical limitations and a bit rushed nature of the session, she enjoyed the workshop and found it useful. This experience developed her existing interest in designing her own hybrid learning experiences even more.  

Tam (online)

As an experienced professional from the administrative side of education, Tam has a passion for innovative teaching methods, that is why when she learnt about the workshop, she registered right away. In her portfolio, she demonstrates participation in hybrid learning not only from the student’s perspective, but also as a facilitator and an organizer. During the workshop Tam wanted to explore new approaches that would help her organize hybrid learning experiences in the future.  

Tam recognizes the importance of hybrid learning as it allows a lot of opportunities to all participants and helps not only students, but also educators, who can make the experience more diverse and enriching for the learners. As a student she enjoys flexibility, allowing participants to join if there is no option of joining on site, but admits that participating in hybrid learning is quite challenging. 

One of the challenging aspects in the co-design workshop was a technical one: participants had different types of devices which limited the affordances and features students could use, and thusdisrupted the flow of the co-designing process. The importance of technological preparedness, ensuring that participants had the necessary tools and support to engage effectively was the note she made for herself. 

However, some of the limitations were overcome by mutual assistance of the participants. This support would be even easier to build if there was some introduction or a connection built before starting the co-designing process. 

So, the workshop was valuable for Tam not only because it provided a lot of useful theoretical information and practical sessions, but revealed some challenges that might arise when organizing her own workshop. Careful anticipation of possible issues, having plan B and an active facilitator on site for such cases – that was a valuable insight Tam acquired during the workshop and later shared with us.

Rikka (online)

One participant, Rikka, having over 20 years of experience in education under her belt, shared her insights about her hybrid learning experiences. She is not new to the format as Rikka has taken part in hybrid sessions both as an organizer and as a participant, both in professional and learning settings and circumstances.

Flexibility has been mentioned by the participant as one of the reasons for general liking of the hybrid formats. Students can control pace and involvement, at the same time benefiting from personal interactions (both online and offline) with other students. This setting provides a more sociable environment, than purely online MOOC platforms like Coursera. The participant finds attending classes in person more time-consuming, but admits they are much more engaging and enjoyable due to the social aspect she mentioned before. 

Even though the participant could not join the co-design workshop as an on-site participant, she was motivated by the diversity of backgrounds of other participants which was made possible by the hybrid format of the workshop. She wanted to dive deeper into the instructional design aspect of the workshop, and even though the experience did not expand her knowledge significantly, still provided many valuable observations on how people with various backgrounds approach learning design. 

During the working process, she felt connected to other students participating in the workshop. She felt that she had to contribute a bit more than she planned initially, but it added more productive discussions, which in turn led to a more enriched final product. Intercultural interactions also played their part in it, fostering a dynamic and collaborative environment. The discussions were an exciting exchange of ideas and approaches, and she felt heard and fully involved. 

The participant expressed interest and willingness to participate in hybrid learning sessions in the future. She plans to organize hybrid learning sessions with attention to careful preparation of such experiences, driven by her interest in developing learning materials and her PhD work dedicated to this area. 

John (onsite)

As an onsite participant, John’s experience revealed a lot of valuable insights on navigating the complexities of combining online and onsite elements of hybrid learning experiences. He is an experienced participant of hybrid activities both at work and university. As many other interviewees, he enjoys flexibility that hybrid environment offers, allowing students not to skip classes when they are not feeling well, but still being able to contribute, or study while traveling. For John, the preference for the online or onsite environments depends on the circumstances, but ideally he would like to be present on site. 

During the workshop he was one of the onsite participants, driven by his interest in co-design rather than the topic of the hybrid learning itself. While the workshop itself provided valuable theoretical information about hybrid learning and insights about co-designing processes, some technical issues during the working session hampered the workflow of the on-site participants. 

Issues with sound sometimes made it difficult to focus on work, making participants leave the space to hear other participants better, or adapt on the spot, turning their mics off not to create echo in the break rooms for the group work. This all highlighted areas for improvements in organizing and managing hybrid setups.

Despite all the challenges and necessity to be creative, the participant focused on the content of the engaging group discussion, contributing valuable suggestions, appreciated by colleagues. Group dynamics were very positive, though affected by technical issues. He noted that his on-site position limited his involvement to some extent, compared to online colleagues, who seemingly had a much smoother experience. 

The workshop format was well-structured and logical, and the participant expressed his interest in participating in hybrid learning experiences in the future, potentially considering organizing them. He also suggested some solutions to technical sound issues like separating on-site participants to different spaces to reduce audio interference and having mixed teams work with designated laptops to streamline smoother interactions.

Shravani (onsite)

Shravani, a master’s student in Educational Technology at Saarland University, came to the workshop as an experienced hybrid learner and facilitator, who appreciates the adaptable nature of hybrid learning experiences. 

However, she finds organizing hybrid learning a bit more challenging compared to strictly online or onsite formats, as it requires much more detailed preparation and certain competencies that were also discussed during the workshop. To avoid concerns about managing potential technological challenges, she prefers on-site participation, when it is a viable option, as it helps her concentrate on the content more. During the workshop Shravani was one of the on-site participants. 

The COVID-19 pandemic raised the demand for quality hybrid learning, making the hybrid learning competencies necessary for both educators and students. A goal to improve designing hybrid learning experiences brought Shravani to the co-design workshop. She intended to explore new approaches to enhance hybrid learning experiences through newly gained skills.

She managed to achieve her goal, gaining a deeper understanding of the various types of competencies required for an effective hybrid learning experience, and plans to use this skill set in the future design and practices. 

Still, there were also some technological issues that made the learning process more challenging. Occasionally, the on-site environment became quite chaotic during the co-design session, because of the echoes from multiple devices used. Shravani and her on-site colleague from the same group used two laptops but only one microphone, which worked as a temporary solution, but most likely would not work in the long run. 

Despite the issues, and maybe, a little bit because of them, the connection with colleagues was productive and strong. Finding solutions together not only for a co-design task, but also for practical challenges brought the on-site participants together. The dynamic with online participants required more effort, as it was difficult sometimes to catch online participants’ reactions and emotional responses as their cameras were off. Nevertheless everybody participated equally and Shravani felt involved during the learning process. 

Shravani enjoyed the workshop format and expressed interest in participating in full-day sessions. The topic was intriguing, and the collaborative brainstorming process was very beneficial for her instructional designer career. She aims to incorporate hybrid learning considerations into her work to enhance the overall learning experience.

All participants seemed to appreciate the flexibility that is made possible by hybrid learning, allowing students and educators to participate in a productive learning process despite their location and personal circumstances. However, technical challenges connected to hybrid learning became a recurring theme in their experiences and required participants to improvise solutions on the spot, trying not to miss anything in the learning process. This helps us, both as educators and learners, pay extra attention to anticipating those issues during the preparation process to ensure smooth flow of hybrid sessions or at least always have a plan B if things go wrong. 

The collaborative nature of the workshop was another point mentioned by participants: even though there were some minor challenges, the diverse backgrounds of all the participants enriched co-design session discussions and results, creating a productive and dynamic learning environment, and allowing people to be heard and valued. The hands-on focus of the co-design session, providing applicable experience with tools like CoDe Graph, was invaluable for their professional development. 

Ultimately, these experiences point out the potential of a hybrid learning environment to create an inclusive, engaging, and enriching educational environment that provides valuable and applicable skills and perspectives. Collaboration and engaging people with various backgrounds, skills, and opinions can be fostered by affordances provided by the hybrid learning environments and we should use that to the full extent. Technical and logistical challenges might sometimes come in the way of it, but we can see this information as a guide for the preparation of our future hybrid endeavors, developing our problem-solving abilities. 

Each participant left the workshop with a deeper understanding of hybrid learning, intending to integrate these insights into their future work. You can also follow the work of the Hyb-IT-up project, join the workshops, participate in our research, and gain those useful insights too!

Interviewer and author: Anna Luzai, (Learning, Education and Technology Master’s degree programme)