A hybrid course is much more than just an online course with a face-to-face class session thrown in for good measure. It involves asking, “What is the best way for students to interact with course content, construct knowledge, engage in critical thinking and problem solving?” Purposeful decisions are made by the instructor as to what activities are best included in face-to-face class sessions, and which activities would work well in a virtual environment. The term hybrid, or blended course, signifies a new way of thinking about how to harness the power of technology to promote learning and identify the best strategies to help students master important course concepts. However, it is about more than just teaching an existing course in a new format.

Blended [hybrid] learning inherently is about rethinking and redesigning the teaching and learning relationship. To paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, it is not enough to deliver old content in a new medium“. 1

Blended or hybrid learning capitalizes on an important paradigm shift in instructional pedagogy. The traditional role of instructor who was considered the “sage on the stage” has shifted towards one in which the instructor assumes the role of “guide on the side, sharing his/her subject matter expertise with students.” This represents a significant shift from what Barr and Tagg refer to as an Instruction Paradigm to a Learning Paradigm.

Instruction Paradigm Learning Paradigm
Improve the quality of instruction Improve the quality of learning
Transfer knowledge from faculty to students Elicit students’ discovery and construction of knowledge
Covering the material Specified learning results
Faculty are primarily lecturers Elicit students’ discovery and construction of knowledge
Any expert can teach Empowering learning is challenging and complex
Achieve access for diverse students Achieve success for diverse students
“Live” teacher, “live” students required “Active” learner required, but not “live” teacher

Source: Barr & Tagg, From Teaching to Learning: A New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education, Change, November/December 1995, pp. 13-25.

Hybrid or blended learning promotes active learning and increased student engagement. Classroom lectures, readings, and even demonstrations which would traditionally fill classroom time can now be delivered in the online environment. Instructional time is used for students to collaborate on course projects and participate in authentic learning activities. Class time is also devoted to in-depth discussions of important course concepts, allowing the instructor to clarify misunderstandings, and provide assistance to students who are struggling. Blended learning allows the instructor, or subject matter expert, to select the best environment for each learning activity while also affording the opportunity to also address multiple learning styles 2.

In hybrid courses, “the mixture of online and face-to-face activities has no predefined format. The instructor decides which activities will take place online and which will take place face-to-face.”3 Regardless of the format, hybrid courses have several defining characteristics:

  • an emphasis on active learning and problem solving
  • student ownership of own learning
  • student centered
  • a focus on inquiry and dialogue
  • support from technology but not driven by it

You may be considering transitioning your traditional lecture-based course to a hybrid course. Or, you may be interested in developing an entirely new course using the hybrid, or blended model. No matter what the original intent, there are several important considerations to address before course development begins. As a start, consider reviewing the online resource, Ten Questions to consider when redesigning a course for hybrid teaching and learning from theUniversity of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

As with developing any course, regardless of format, the first and most important question to address is: what do you want your students to know (and be able to do) at the end of the course? If you can answer that essential question, you are well on your way to creating your first hybrid course!

Additional Resources


1 Garrison, D. Randy, and Heather Kanuka. “Blended learning: Uncovering its transformative potential in higher education.” The internet and higher education 7.2 (2004): 95-105.

2, 3 Ionas, Ioan, Matthew Easter, William Miller, and Gayla Neumeyer. “Using Open-Source Tools to Design and Develop the Online Component of a Blended-Learning, Instructor-led Course,.” International Journal of Designs for Learning 3.1 (2012): 12-26. http://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/ijdl/index. Web. 14 Nov. 2012.