About Hybrid Courses

Hybrid courses (also known as blended courses) replace a portion of traditional face-to-face instruction with web-based online learning (e.g., video lectures, online discussions, or activities). The amount of face-to-face instruction that is replaced by online coursework in hybrid classes varies greatly by institution, class, discipline, and learning objectives. 

“Hybrid learning combines the properties and possibilities of both [face-to-face 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).

Perhaps the most important and challenging aspect of designing and teaching hybrid courses is to properly integrate in-person and online activities. Designing an effective hybrid course does not simply entail adding an online component to a face-to-face course, and results can be less than ideal if both elements are implemented independent of one another. 

Read on to learn more about designing a hybrid course. Click the headings below to expand information about each topic. For additional information or to request a training, contact us at assett@colorado.edu or submit our On-Demand Training Request form.

Models of Hybrid Course Design
  • Face-to-face driver: The instructor lectures and facilitates class discussion in the face-to-face 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 face-to-face activities. Often these face-to-face 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 face-to-face labs may also be replaced by virtual, online ones.

  • Flex: The first few weeks of the course generally are comprised of face-to-face 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 face-to-face) as needed.

Benefits and Challenges

Benefits of hybrid courses


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


  • Leverages the unique pedagogical affordances of both face-to-face 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.
  • 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).

Challenges of hybrid courses

  • Integrating face-to-face and online learning activities requires the instructor to reevaluate course objectives and pedagogical approaches.
  • Managing both in-person and online environments can be initially difficult. In particular, many instructors find it challenging to facilitate online discussions, at first.
  • Many students aren’t prepared to manage the demands of both face-to-face and online activities. This short video highlights a few things students should know before taking a hybrid course.
Considerations for Hybrid Course Design

On average, redesigning a course for hybrid delivery requires 150 hours of development time plus additional support from instructional designers. Given the signficant investment of time and resources required, consider the following questions as you decide which courses are appropriate for hybrid delivery.

  • 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 without additional resources?
  • Are decisions about curriculum made collectively–in other words, are they beyond the individual faculty member's control? If so, which other stakeholders need to be involved in the course design process and how?
  • 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 faculty members involved have an understanding of learning theory?
How Do Interactions Change in a Hybrid Course?

Understanding how to structure interactions -- among students, between students and instructors, and between students and course content -- is perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of designing hybrid courses.

Michael G. Moore has identified three types of interactions in online learning:

Learner-content interaction is simply interaction between the learner and the content or subject of study. It occurs when students obtain information directly from learning materials. This type of interaction is foundational to learning, as Moore argues, because "it is the process of intellectually interacting with content that results in changes in the learner's understanding, the learner's perspective, or the cognitive structures of the learner's mind."

​​Providing course content in multiple formats (such as combining text and visuals) can support diverse learners with different needs, abilities, and learning preferences. Students also benefit from opportunities to consume content in their own way and at their own pace, such as having the ability to pause, rewind, repeat, adjust speeds, or enable captions in videos. 

Learner-instructor interaction occurs when an instructor delivers information, provides feedback, encourages or guides the learner, or communicates with students. In the online elements of hybrid courses, the instructor's role is typically to serve as a facilitator of active learning (a "guide on the side"), rather than to dispense knowledge to a passive audience (i.e., performing the role of "sage on the stage"). 

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 it necessitates a move away from teacher-directed learning. 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, and with whom they will produce the final product. In the same regard, some learning objectives can be created a priori while others can emerge during the course, in dialogue with learners. 

Learner-learner interaction "occurs between one learner and other learners, alone or in group settings, with or without the real-time presence of an instructor," as described by Moore. While those new to hybrid learning may find the prospect daunting, meaningful learner-learner interaction can sometimes be easier to facilitate in online learning environments than in traditional classroom settings. In large lecture halls, students can "hide" from the instructor or they may be unable to hear in-class discussions. In other classroom settings, the pressure to speak extemporaneously in front of peers and faculty may provoke feelings of anxiety and may particularly disadvantage students who use assistive technology, require more processing time, prefer to express themselves in writing, or are learning English as a second (or third!) language.  

Online, interaction among students often takes the form of discussion forums, but could include an array of activities, such as team-based assignments, group quizzes, peer review, collaborative reading and writing, contributing to wikis, or participating in study groups.

As you consider designing a hybrid learning course, consider what kinds of interactions you envision occurring face-to-face, and how might you use the online environment for other interactions. Are there opportunities for you to explore different instructional strategies in the hybrid course than you have in the past? Are there any factors that might limit the feasibility of robust interaction, either face-to-face or online?

How Do I Assess Learning?

Assessments should closely align with the course learning outcomes and provide evidence that students have grasped the big ideas and essential questions of the course. Starting from the 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. 

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

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 face-to-face time with students to quickly gauge their understanding and read non-verbal cues.

Many technologies can be used to efficiently conduct formative assessment online:

Summative Assessment

Summative assessments are generally cumulative objective evaluations (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 include:

Tips for 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 face-to-face settings (Dietz-Uhler & Hurn, 2011). With that said, there are many approaches that can be used to discourage academic dishonesty: 

  • Implement authentic assessments that require students to apply knowledge to novel contexts or to relate learning to their personal experiences.
  • 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 students review and affirm CU’s academic integrity policy before each assessment.
  • Create question pools and randomize items so that each student takes a unique version of the exam.
  • Impose time limits. A multiple choice exam should allow at least 30-60 seconds per question, with more time alloted for lengthy and/or complex questions.
  • Limit the number of attempts allowed.
  • Limit the availability (date/time) of the quiz/exam.
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 face-to-face 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

Because hybrid learning is new to many students, it is important to provide additional information to help them be successful in your course. These statements help clarify how a hybrid course differs from a regular course and explain the additional expectations for students. Copy the text into your syllabus and edit it as needed for your course.