What is Hybrid Learning?

General Definition

Hybrid courses (also known as blended) replace a portion of traditional face-to-face instruction with web-based online learning (e.g., video lectures, online discussions or activities). There is little consensus on the amount of face-to-face instruction that is replaced by online coursework in hybrid classes and this varies greatly by institution, class, discipline, and learning objectives. The Sloan Consortium (a professional organization dedicated to postsecondary online learning) defines hybrid learning as a course where 30%-70% of the instruction is delivered online.

“Hybrid learning combines the properties and possibilities of both [FTF classrooms and online learning] to go beyond the capabilities of each separately. It recognized the strengths of integrating verbal and text-based communication and creates a unique fusion of synchronous and asynchronous, direct and mediated modes of communication in that the proportion of face-to-face and online learning activities may vary considerably” (Garrison & Vaughn, 2008, pg. 6).

As alluded to in the above quote, perhaps the most important and challenging aspect of designing and teaching hybrid courses is to properly integrate FTF and online activities. Designing an effective hybrid course does not simply entail adding online component to a FTF course and results can be less than ideal if both elements are implemented independent of one another. The rest of this guide provides best-practice instructional design models and specific examples that will help instructors design hybrid courses that integrate FTF and online elements while leveraging the best aspects of both.



  • Alleviates classroom space constraints by replacing in-class contact hours with online activities.
  • Builds capacity and stretch instructional resources.
  • Expands access and options for students.
  • Provides an intermediary step between FTF and fully online courses with regard to instructors’ comfort


  • Leverages the unique pedagogical affordances of both FTF and online settings and technologies.
  • Integrates of out-of-class with in-class activities, which can allow for more effective use of traditional class time and more opportunities for all students to participate (especially those that might not do so in FTF settings).
  • According to a U.S. Department of Education meta-analysis of online learning strategies, hybrid courses produced better outcomes than fully face-to-face courses (ES +0.35, p < .001).


  • Integrating FTF and online learning activities requires a reevaluation of course objectives and pedagogical approaches.

  • Managing both FTF and online environments can be initially difficult. In particular, many instructors find it initially challenging to facilitate online discussions.

  • Many students aren’t prepared to manage the demands of FTF and online activities.

General Models

(adapted from University of Wisonsin Milwaukee and Knewton)

Most Common:

  • FTF Driver: The instructor lectures and facilitates class discussion in the FTF classes and then students complete online assignments based on these classroom activities. Often these online assignments are collaborative in nature and use, for example, asynchronous forums or other online tools to facilitate discussion and interaction.

  • Online Driver: The instructor places lectures online using screencasts or other streaming media for students to review and then students use these materials to engage in FTF activities. Often these FTF activities include group discussions, problem-based learning, and/or other active learning techniques.

  • Lab Rotation: The instructor typically sets a consistent schedule whereby students learn material online via video lectures and/or activities and then come to lab for hands-on learning. Some FTF labs may also be replaced by virtual, online ones.

  • Flex: The first few weeks of the course generally are comprised of FTF preparation followed by an extended period (such as a month or more) of online work with the potential for periodic student check-ins (either online or FTF) as needed.

Criteria for Selecting Courses for Hybrid Redesign

(Adapted from The National Center for Academic Transformation's Replacement Model)

  • Will changes in the course have a high impact on the curriculum?
    • Is the course a large introductory, high enrollment course?
    • Is this course taught regularly?
    • Is there a significant academic problem in this course such as substantial failure rates?
    • Does the course face a serious resource problem such as how to manage increased enrollment demand with no commensurate increase in resources?
  • Are decisions about curriculum in the department, program, or school made collectively–in other words, beyond the individual faculty member level?
  • Are the faculty able and willing to incorporate existing curricular materials in order to focus work on redesign issues rather than materials creation?
  • Do the faculty members have an understanding of and some experience with integrating elements of computer-based instruction into existing courses?
  • Have the course’s expected learning outcomes and a system for measuring their achievement been identified?
  • Do the project participants have the requisite skills to conduct a large-scale project?
  • Do the faculty members involved have an understanding of learning theory?
  • Is the campus committed to a partnership among faculty, IT staff and administrators in both planning and execution of the redesign?
Hybrid Course Design Frameworks

On average, redesigning a course for hybrid delivery requires 150 hours of development time plus additional support from instructional designers. The following evidence-based models are intended to direct this process and provide efficient pathways for designing hybrid courses. The first (Backward Design) is intended to provide a basic course design process, while the next two (TPACK, Communities of Practice, and Media Synchronicity Theory) are frameworks that can help instructors develop ways of thinking in regard to hybrid course design and the last one (Media Synchronicity Theory) provides specific guidance for integrating FTF and online tasks with communication technologies.

It is important to note that good course design is iterative. As discussed later in this document, it is important to build in constant feedback mechanisms so that each course can be improved during a semester and, to a larger extent, in each subsequent version.

Backward Design

(Wiggins & McTighe, 2005)

In Understanding by Design (book), Wiggins and McTighe present a framework for designing courses based on backward design principles. This process, in essence, helps instructor to develop their desired results and goals first and then design assessments and activities that align with those goals.

  • Outcomes: Identify Desired Results
    • “What should students know, understand, and be able to do? What is worthy of understanding? What enduring understandings are desired?” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005, pg. 17)
    • Big Ideas – Have enduring value beyond the classroom. Are broad and abstract. Point to heart of expert understanding. Helps make learning obvious to the learner helps to prioritize learning by holding together pieces of content and ideas
    • Essential Questions – What questions and areas of inquiry are central to the field of study?
    • Key Knowledge and Skills – What knowledge and skills should student’s master? What content, skills, and principles should students know?
  • Additional Resources:
    • Big Ideas example and worksheet.
  • Assessment: Determine Acceptable Evidence
  • Design: Meaningful Learning Experiences
  • Evaluation: Gathering feedback for continual improvement
    • This step is not included in the original articulation of backward design, but it is included in others (e.g., ADDIE) and is important for iteration and continual improvement of courses.


(Mishra & Koehler, 2006, tpack.org)

TPACK is an evidence-based model that identifies the knowledge instructors need to integrate pedagogy, technology, and technology. Specifically, it give instructors tools to help them think about how to integrate technology and pedagogy.

Additional Resources:

Communities of Practice

(Garrison, Anderson and Archer, 2000)

Communities of Practice is a model that identifies the three forms of presence (social, cognitive, teaching) that are integral to facilitating deep discourse and meaningful learning, especially in hybrid courses.

  • Social Presence – The ability of participants to identify with the community (e.g., course of study), communicate purposefully in a trusting environment, and develop inter-personal relationships by way of projecting their individual personalities.
  • Cognitive Presence – The extent to which learners are able to construct and confirm meaning through sustained reflection and discourse in a critical community of inquiry.
  • Teaching Presence – The design, facilitation and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes.

Additional Resources:

  • Publications on COI

Media Synchronicity Theory (MST)

(Dennis, Fuller, & Valacich, 2008)

Developed out of information systems (IS) research, Media Synchronicity Theory (MST) highlights the importance of matching differential task demands (e.g., a learning activity such as group discussion) with the affordances of communication technologies. Thus, MST adds specificity with regard to designing learning activities in ways that the previous models do not. MST posits that groups perform better when the types of tasks they’re asked to complete are matched with the level of synchronicity (e.g., asynchronous versus synchronous) required by those tasks. MST that tasks can be broken into two different communication processes: conveyance and convergence.

  • Conveyance is the “transmission of a diversity of new information—as much new, relevant information as needed—to enable the receiver to create and revise a mental model of the situation.” (Dennis et al., 2008, pg. 580)
    • For example, reading an article on the carbon cycle and identifying the main tenets of the process (a conveyance task) is likely to match better with asynchronous communication (e.g., asynchronous discussion forum) as students will need time to read and process the materials.
  • Convergence is the “discussion of preprocessed information about each individual’s interpretation of a situation, not the raw information itself.” (Dennis et al., 2008, pg. 580).
    • For example, a group discussion around ways in which the government should respond to global warming (a convergence task) is likely to match better with synchronous communication (e.g., FTF or synchronous online web conferencing) as undoubtedly multiple perspectives will need to be efficiently synthesized and ambiguities addressed.

In practice, many learning activities involve both conveyance and convergence processes. Thus, the first step in using the model to design a hybrid course is to list all tasks in a course and then identify which components of those tasks involve conveyance and convergence, respectively. Then communication technologies can be selected that accurately support the processes involved in each learning task.

How do Interactions Change in a Hybrid Course?

Understanding how to structure interactions (student-student and student-instructor) is perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of designing hybrid courses.

Questions to Consider About Hybrid Interactions

(adapted from UCF’s BlendKit Reader)

  • Is there value in student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction in all courses regardless of discipline?
  • What role does interaction play in courses in which the emphasis is on declarative knowledge (e.g., introductory “survey” courses at the lower-division undergraduate level) or, similarly, in courses that cultivate procedural knowledge (e.g., technical courses requiring the working of problem sets)?
  • As you consider designing a hybrid learning course, what kinds of interactions can you envision occurring face-to-face, and how might you use the online environment for interactions? What opportunities are there for you to explore different instructional strategies in the hybrid course than you have in the past?
  • What factors might limit the feasibility of robust interaction face-to-face or online?

Instructivism vs. Constructivism

There is a traditional tension in education between teacher- and student-directed learning. This issue has taken center stage in hybrid instruction as many feel that a move to hybrid instruction naturally necessitates a move away from teaching-directed learning. This is not necessarily the case and, in fact, there is a somewhat false dichotomy between instructivism (i.e., teacher-centered approaches) and constructivism (i.e., learner-centered approaches). In reality, there is a much more nuanced continuum between these two approaches and the best courses generally combine elements of both. For example, an instructor can provide a clear scaffold and expectations for a class project while also allowing students choice with regard to when, how, with whom they will produce the final product. In the same regard, some learning objective can be created a priori while others can emerge during the course. In sum, structure and self-organization need not be mutually exclusive approaches to hybrid course design. 

Types of Interactions and Technologies

Designing Hybrid Content and Activities

Once learning outcomes have been developed and assessments written, the next challenge is to design learning activities that integrate both FTF and online interactions. There are many approaches to structuring content and activities in learning modules, but this guide from the University of Waterloo provides one of the better templates for doing so. Another approach is to design activities based on instructional challenges.

Instructor and Course Introduction

As mentioned in an earlier section on Communities of Practice, establishing teacher presence is an important aspect of blended course design. This is especially important if the first interactions in the course are online. Developing brief welcome videos can be one effective way to begin to develop teacher presence in a course.

Sample hybrid syllabi:

  • English Composition
  • Algebra

Content Delivery

As mentioned many times in this document, integrating FTF and online activities is challenging. What’s more, matching activities with the correct mode of delivery adds another step in the process. This is where the principles of Media Synchronicity Theory can be very useful. As mentioned in that section, the first step is to list all learning activities and determining the communication processes (and associated technologies) that best support those activities. This will first help to determine which activities should be done FTF and online, respectively. It will also provide guidance on how to integrate these FTF and online components and the most appropriate technologies to use in each activity.

Facilitating Online Discussions

It can be challenging to facilitate productive asynchronous online discussions. Thus, it is important to follow a consistent structure and make clear expectations with regard to netiquette (general guidelines for proper online communication) and the quality of student posts. See the following examples  for more information.

How do I Assess Learning?

Assessment is an enormous topic and it’s beyond the scope of this document to address all nuances therein. As noted in the section on backward design, assessments should closely align with and provide evidence that students have grasped the big ideas, essential questions, and learning outcomes developed for the course. Starting from big ideas and essential questions allows instructors to construct assessments that go beyond the simple regurgitation of facts and address higher order thinking skills (e.g., critical thinking) and more authentic learning outcomes. As detailed below, assessment can be broken down into two forms: formative and summative.

Questions to Consider About Hybrid Assessment

(adapted from UCF’s BlendKit Reader)

  • How much of the final course grade do you typically allot to testing? How many tests/exams do you usually require? How can you avoid creating a “high stakes” environment that may inadvertently set students up for failure/cheating?
  • What expectations do you have for online assessments? How do these expectations compare to those you have for face-to-face assessments? Are you harboring any biases?
  • What trade-offs do you see between the affordances of auto-scored online quizzes and project-based assessments? How will you strike the right balance in your hybrid learning course?
  • How will you implement formative and summative assessments of learning into your hybrid learning course? Will these all take place face-to-face, online, or in a combination?


Formative assessment techniques are used to gather feedback from students during the learning process so that continual improvement can be made to a course. Many techniques are designed to get at students’ thinking (e.g., perceptions of what’s working and what’s not, misconceptions about key content) so that mid-course corrections can be made. These approaches are even more important for hybrid courses as instructors don’t have as much FTF time with students to quickly gauge students understanding and read non-verbal cues. Formative assessment has traditionally taken the form of Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs, see this site for many examples). Thankfully there are many online technologies (see below) that can be used to efficiently conduct CATs online.

Online Technologies for Formative Feedback


Summative assessments are generally cumulative objective (e.g., quizzes, examinations) or subjective evaluations (e.g., essays, projects) used to measure students’ achievement at a particular point in time (although authentic assessments and mastery learning approaches can involve iterative assessments).

Resources for Creating and Grading Summative Assessments

Tips for Conducting Discouraging Dishonesty in Online Assessments

Many argue that online assessments provide students with more options to be academically dishonest (Watson & Sottile, 2010) although there is evidence to suggest that the frequency of dishonesty is no higher in online versus FTF settings (Dietz-Uhler & Hurn, 2011). With that said, there are many approaches that can be used to discourage academic dishonesty: 

  • Rewrite questions to increase difficulty or complexity (e.g., focus on application and higher-level thinking) such that the use of outside resources is permissible.
  • Only use quizzes for low-stakes assessment.
  • Have student review and affirm CU’s academic integrity policy before each assessment.
  • Create question pools and randomize items.
  • Consider only displaying one question at a time and disabling the ability to go back and review previous answers.
  • Impose time limits. Most multiple choice questions can be given 30-60 seconds per question depending on length.
  • Limit the number of attempts allowed.
  • Limit the availability (date/time) of the quiz/exam.
  • Disable printing, right click, and paging access.
  • Use AdobeConnect to confirm students’ identities as part of the exam.
  • Additional outside solutions for prevention of dishonesty
Quality Assurance

There are many models for assessing quality in blended courses with no one definitive approach. There is often a large gap between bare minimum requirements and those courses that truly maximize the the best aspects of FTF and online interactions. Regardless of the criteria used, the best designed courses have evaluative components that inform iterative and continual improvement.

Questions to Consider about Quality Assurance

(adapted from UCF’s BlendKit Reader)

  • How will you know whether your blended learning course is sound prior to teaching it? How will you know whether your teaching of the course was effective once it has concluded?
  • With which of your trusted colleagues might you discuss effective teaching of blended learning courses? Is there someone you might ask to review your course materials prior to teaching your blended course? How will you make it easy for this colleague to provide helpful feedback?
  • How are “quality” and “success” in blended learning operationally defined by those whose opinions matter to you? Has your institution adopted standards to guide formal/informal evaluation?
  • Which articulations of quality from existing course standards and course review forms might prove helpful to you and your colleagues as you prepare to teach blended learning courses?

Quality Assurance Templates

Recommended Guidelines for your Hybrid Course Syllabus

Students at CU now have the option to enroll in hybrid instances of regular courses. This document provides recommended statements, guidelines, and questions useful when creating the syllabus in a hybrid course. Because hybrid learning is new to many students, it is important to provide additional information to help them be successful in your course. These statement help clarify how a hybrid course differs from a regular course and explain the additional course expectations.

Copy the text below into your Syllabus. Change the text as needed for your course

Definition of a hybrid course

[Name of your course] is a hybrid course. A hybrid course replaces some in-class time with out-of-class, online learning activities. In-class meetings are used for collaboration and discussion.

Reduction of F2F class time

For this course, [x many] classroom sessions are being replaced with these online activities:
[list your activities here]

Expectation for out of class work

Although we will meet less frequently than a regular course, this course requires the SAME amount of work. Taking a hybrid course demands a lot of discipline, self-direction, and time management skills. You may be expected to do more work outside of class that may otherwise have been previously been conducted in class.

Technology expectations

You will need regular access to a computer with reliable Internet access to complete assignments and tasks. If you have your own computer or are considering purchasing hardware, please refer to OIT’s recommended software and hardware list.

There are a number of OIT computer labs or SCARPIES (Stationary Computing Apple Resource for Personal Internet and Email) available for your use.

Where students can find help

  • For help with all OIT (Office of Information Technology) Services, call the IT Service Center at (303)735-4357 or 5-HELP from a campus phone.
  • For assistance with OIT Desktop Support, visit the first floor of the Technology Learning Center.
  • For assistance with Software Application, visit the Student Training on Application Technology (STAT) Center in Norlin Commons.

Questions to Consider

As you are designing your course, consider providing answers to the following questions on your syllabus:

  1. Preparing for in-class Activities
    • What kinds of activities will students have to complete in order to be prepared for the in-class discussion?
  2. Participation
    • How are students expected to participate online? (Ex: How many posts are required, how often must students post, are students required to respond to others or facilitate discussions, etc.?)
  3. Work load
    • How many hours should students be expected to engage in work outside of the course?
  4. Absences
    • What constitutes absences and how will you handle “absences” for the online days? How will this impact a student’s participation points or final grade for your class? (Ex: if a student does not complete out-of-class assignments, does this constitute an ‘absence’?
  5. Additional information
    • Where can students find additional information about assignments, activities, quizzes, and schedule? (Ex: syllabus, D2L, other site?)