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Hyflex Learning - Is it realistic?

What is hyflex learning?

Because I had never heard the term Hyflex before last week’s class, I thought it would be a good idea to dig more into the idea.

To double check my understanding of the concept before I started writing about it, I turned to good old google and did a quick search. The first definition that came up was from Northern Illinois University, stating:

“Hyflex is a course design model that presents the components of hybrid learning in a flexible course structure that gives students the option of attending sessions in the classroom, participating online or doing both. Students can change their mode of attendance weekly or by topic, according to need or preference.”

My initial response in encountering the term is – I can see while many people would question the doability of such a project, variability on so many levels could be very complex to manage. I also reflected on how hyflex seems so buzzwordish that it is hard to take seriously. It seems likely to be a trendy term that will rise in educator and scholarly consciousness very quickly and then drop even more quickly off a precipitous cliff into oblivion as the next buzzy concepts in edtech arise.

The concept of extreme flexibility in learning environment and tools, seems to me though, to be likely to outlast the term hyflex. As online and technology mediated learning tools and environments become more mainstream, it is becoming less and less likely that many courses of study, at least for adults, will return to fully face to face platforms with no flexibility.

A lot has been written, during Covid times, of the possibility of a seismic shift towards more flexibility in the workplace, with working from home being combined, as needed with more traditional work environments. The expectation for increased flexibility after lockdowns are over will likely extend to other environments in which adults spend much of their time, including learning ones. Why should it be that an adult student needs to miss out on a class when they are somewhat ill, travelling for work, or home with a sick kid? Given our current experiences, that prove that we can easily mitigate such limitations through technology, it may be only the most luddite of instructors who refuse to give students the option of remote access to learning when faced with extenuating circumstances.

After reflecting more on the flexibility inherent in hyflex models, I am also not convinced by the argument that they are too difficult to manage. I certainly do not think they are realistic in all circumstances or for all learners, but I do believe that they can be done. I will outline a few examples of education that I have observed that is either hyflex or close to below to make the point that it is doable.

An Example of Hyflex in Higher Ed

One example of what I judge to be true hyflex learning, comes from a professor that I work with. Pre-pandemic he offered his courses in what was classified by the University as face-to-face traditional instruction. However, he utilized online tools to provide access to all class materials, assignments, and necessary information remotely. He also always ensured that there were flexible formats for student communication (recently Slack) and resource sharing (GSuite). While many students attended class sessions in-person, there was always the option to attend class live over Zoom or view a recording of the course session anytime afterwards online. Students shifted from attending in person to online whenever they liked and did not need to give notice of their participation intentions so could change plans at the last minute if needed. This style was consistently commended by students. In feedback sought by the school students often specifically mentioned this model as the best they had experienced in their university studies and asked that this professor train other instructors in how to offer it.

Could Hyflex Work in K-12?

While I question how realistic it is to use a hyflex model in much of K-12 education, I do believe that it could be a good model for some self-motivated high school students. In the early 2000’s I encountered an example that provides a model of how hyflex could work in highschool. This independent learning program at an Edmonton high school I taught at, was not truly hyflex because it did not integrate technology, however, that could be easily changed. In this case grade 10-12 students studied at their own pace, fairly independently. They attended school, when desired, in a space that was like a large library ringed with small lecture theatres. In the library, specialist teachers in each subject area were stationed at desks. Students often worked together with peers on coursework. When students needed individualized or group instruction they would approach a teacher for tutoring. Each course also required attendance at a limited number of mandatory lectures and / or lab classes which were offered on a regular rotation in the lecture theatres. Students would sign up and attend each synchronous session of a course at a time convenient for them. Once they had completed all the required synchronous sessions, course work, and assessment activities they were granted credit for the course. This model could be very easily modified to provide online tutoring and synchronous labs and lectures as well as in person ones that students could combine as they desire.

Concerns With the Hyflex Model (Other Than Its Name)

To wrap up, however, I would note that there are some challenges and limitations to the idea of maximal flexibility in education. This model can demand increased administrative work, including planning, offering materials in different formats, tracking attendance, scoring and reporting results, etc. It is important that if this becomes an expectation that instructors be properly supported and compensated. The expectation on teachers to continue to do more with less and provide optimal student experience, often at the cost of their own balance and well-being, is prevalent and deleterious. It reflects a capitalistic view of teachers as merely human capital to be utilized to provide optimal training and business opportunities. Given current conceptualizations of higher education (and often other levels of education) as primarily intended to be the most efficient training possible to meet market demands and the way this is sometimes translated into the day to day operation of universities and colleges, it is likely that moves to hyflex models of learning may place additional unsupported burdens on instructors. This can be mitigated by increasing the value placed on learning design and the fostering of healthy, creative, and productive learning environments as well as supporting and resourcing learning design research and services within institutions.

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