Mixed Mode Instruction

This week, I have been discussing with faculty what teaching might look like in the fall term. So, I put together this white paper of Suggestions for Mixed Modes of Instruction Based on Pedagogy Research. for your review and consideration. [note: this blog is longer than weekly summaries]


There are many ways we can create and offer learning opportunities and in several different types of environments or modes. Numerous teaching modalities have been developed over the years, some include (alphabetically) Blended, Computer-based, Correspondence, Digital, Distance, Distributed, e-Learning, Flipped, Hybrid, Hyflex, m-Learning, MOOC, Mixed-Mode (contemporary), Mixed-Mode (historical), Online, Virtual, Web-based and chances there are many more. In this white paper, I will share operational definitions of major learning modes; ideas for implementing mixed mode instruction; challenges for mixed mode instruction; and corresponding references. Common to all approaches is an effective course design as the foundation for creating engaging learning opportunities for our students, regardless of the modality. I strongly suggest a critical review of the course structure, and recommend a backward design approach. This process includes writing measurable Learning Outcomes (LO); identifying well-aligned Assessment evidence; and offering active learning Experiences based on empirical research. Ideally, this design approach will minimize the pain of potential pivot both in format or academic schedule. The most critical aspect is to ensure that we are offering equitable teaching and learning. That is, whether a student is face-to-face (F2F) or online (a/synchronous), they should be provided the same level of engagement, collaboration, feedback and overall care for their safety, well-being and learning.

In the spring 2020 term, most (if not all) faculty around the world were asked to rapidly migrate their F2F courses into an online format. As we near the end of the term, discussions of how we might interact with students in the fall 2020 term arise. I would like to share a few options which could be considered (some of these ideas are taken from Maloney & Kim, 2020):

  • Fully F2F (business as usual, if all returns to normal).

  • Starts Online and transitions to F2F (if we are delayed due to continued health challenges around the world).

  • Starts F2F and transitions to Online (in case there is a second wave of COVID-19).

  • Fully Online (in case the pandemic persists; or institutions do not have the resources to offer F2F programs which would provide a safe environment for students - or that students perceive the conditions did not meet their criteria for safety).

  • Lab Consideration. As much as possible F2F (e.g., lab courses, studios, discussion sections, etc.), and offer the remainder of the course online.

  • Additional Sections. Hold multiple sections of the same class at the same day/time in smaller numbers in different rooms to maintain social distancing (and/or teach the same class four times in a row to ¼ of the students enrolled).

  • Large Classes. Move all large lecture classes to an online format; hold small enrollment classes F2F with social distancing.

  • Targeted Curriculum. Reduce the number of courses offered to limit on campus density and prioritize support resources (core courses or signature experience courses, delaying low-enrollment courses, prioritizing courses that can be more easily adapted to multiple modalities).

  • Split Curriculum. Courses are designed as either residential or online (if possible, offer two sections of each class)

  • Block Plan. Students take one course at a time during much shorter (3-4 weeks) sessions or blocks, run consecutively for the entire semester providing flexibility.

  • HyFlex (Hybrid Flexible). Most flexible and for many will be the most attractive and the most difficult. Courses are taught both F2F and online by the same instructor at the same time. Students choose. This model tends to privilege synchronous learning, and to do it well often requires real-time in-class help, an intentionally designed classroom and a great deal of patience.

  • Modified Tutorial. Students take a common online lecture session. Faculty meet with small groups of students in tutorials that would allow for social distancing. Unlike the HyFlex model, a modified tutorial model does not require additional in-class support. The disadvantage is that it asks more of a faculty member’s time.

Operational Definitions

  1. Fully Face-to-Face (F2F). All students and the instructor are gathered in the same physical space at the same time and typically focus on several major topics in a set amount of time (often 50 or 75 minutes, three or two times/week).

  2. Flipped (F2F or Online). The instructor creates and provides course material for students to review prior to each class session. Ideally, the students arrive to class with baseline, lower level knowledge ready to apply and analyze with the instructor's facilitation using higher order questions.

  3. Fully Online. In this approach, students and faculty are all working online, which could be synchronous or asynchronous. This approach became reality for many (if not all) universities (and many K-12) during the spring 2020 pandemic. Greene (2020) states that “we need to be clear that we are not redesigning to create online courses” and that “online courses are carefully designed,” and require additional time by faculty who have experience in online pedagogy. If that is true, we should also consider that many F2F courses are offered with limited preparation time and little regard to faculty pedagogical development. Dabbagh, Marra and Howland (2018); and Bower, Kennedy, Dalgarno, Lee and Kenney (2014) describe effective online teaching practices.

  4. Blended/Hybrid. Hofmann and Miner (2008) define these learning environments as “using the best delivery methodologies available for a specific outcome, including online, classroom-based instruction, electronic performance support, paper-based, and formal or informal on-the-job solutions among others.” This mode could offer advantages over fully F2F or fully online courses, including convenience, interaction, flexibility, and similar levels of learning outcomes. Blending traditional and online learning involves significant changes in both course modalities. These changes include 1) changes to the design of the modules; 2) changes to the assessment and measurement of student performance; and 3) the development and use of meaningful e-learning tools (Boyle, 2005). Aligning the teaching method to the learning outcomes is the key to integrating relevant technology.

  5. HyFlex. This is a model that gives students and educators more flexibility in how interactions can occur. In this environment, the course structure is designed with both the in-person classroom session along with a fully developed online course. This gives students the choice of how they wish to attend (Educause, 2010). When given time, faculty could redesign their course to create materials that students can access F2F or online.

Mixed Mode (Historical). Prior to the spring 2020, this term typically included a combination of F2F, Online, Blended and/or Hybrid. The goal was for an instructor to align activities with the optimal mode for student success.

Mixed Mode (Contemporary). This learning environment is highly variable and can include students who are physically located F2F and other students in the same course are online, either synchronous or asynchronous. The instructor is typically F2F, although there could be cases where they facilitate from online while a TA facilitates the technology and F2F active learning. The pedagogical challenges are substantial for this mode, especially when we are committed to creating inclusive, accessible, equitable learning opportunities. Research which supports mixed-mode design is found in adult learning theory (andragogy) (Knowles, 1984),

Ideas for Mixed Mode Instruction

  1. Paired Model. Each F2F student is paired with an online student (depending on numbers, the pairing may be one to two, three, etc.). This approach fosters collaboration and community building along with networking skills which are common in the workplace. The role for each F2F student would be to ensure the online student has similar access to the synchronous class materials; and the online student provides additional resources working remotely.

  • Laboratory classes could take a similar approach as the F2F student works physically in the lab, while connecting their online partner. They could consider adding a low cost webcam to enhance the point-of-view (POV) experience for the online student, who could read detailed instructions, solve equations, write field notes, perform web research, document the activity through a screencast, etc.

  1. Contemporary Hyflex Two-Dimension. This approach includes some students attending in F2F, while others are learning online. The instructor would teach from a physical class, while webcasting the instruction. For the F2F students, the faculty might create opportunities for an open class discussion; work in groups; create mind maps or solve problems (at their seats or on the board); offer a student response system (SRS, such as Poll Everywhere, Kahoot, Padlet, Go Formative, etc.). These sessions would be captured on video and made available for anyone to view at any point in the term. To create equitable learning opportunities, the instructor should offer the online students similar activities on the same concepts using interactive e-tools (Discussion Boards, Google Jamboard, online SRS, etc.).

  2. Contemporary Hyflex Three-Dimension. This is the most pedagogically challenging and to be successful would require a substantial course redesign working with educators who have been effective teaching online and F2F previously. This approach would allow the same two choices as the Two-Dimension, along with an additional choice, which is to allow students to engage online either synchronously OR asynchronous. For the third choice, students could access course materials at a different time than the F2F offering. This would allow students living in different time zones to engage in learning at a time that is optimal for them.

  3. Late Semester Start. If the conditions near the campus have not returned to normal by the regular start of term, the institution could postpone the first week or two of class, then resume fully F2F course offerings.

  4. Risky Model. In this model the first several weeks of instruction would be provided online in hopes that all students are able to return to campus, where we would offer F2F instruction for the remainder of the term. This is risky as we have no control on when or if this might occur.

Challenges to Mixed Mode Instruction

Beatty (2019) identified four challenges which include 1) managing a multi-modal learning environment, 2) workload, 3) student-instructor interaction, and 4) assessing learning progression. I will integrate these into a few more below:

  1. Equity, Equity, Equity!

  • Technology access, instructional resources, interaction, assistance from instructor/TA, formative assessments, response time for answering questions, logistics of hearing/seeing material, participation/attendance (if graded, how will this be equal), instructor presence and approach (how will they not forget the students online while attending to F2F students)

  1. Time … this approach will require more of everyone’s time including an increased workload for instructors (before, during and after term) as well as IT, Academic Affairs, Registrar and Facilities.

  • Beatty (2019) reminds us that developing the course plan and materials itself will take longer. Different in a fully online course, the possibility that online students may be treated differently (less interaction, relationship, community, etc.) than F2F students. Planning should explicitly support facilitating an engaging learning community shared by all students regardless of mode.

  • Managing both F2F and online students at the same time - this is a substantial challenge.

  • Maintaining out-of-class interactions with students who expect in-person support and students who require online support likely to require a redistribution of engagement time.

  1. Pedagogy, Teaching Methods, Course Design. Built into this is a very different type of course design, and we should be more intentional about how we create an inclusive, accessible environment for ALL students, ALL (or most) of the time, regardless of mode. This will require a complete course redesign taking into the following considerations (at a minimum):

  • Teaching Methods. How we teach will need substantial redesign as we will need to create opportunities for differentiated instruction based on how students are connecting. Offering active learning in a F2F setting might be transferable to online synchronous students who can connect live through a webcast AND are provided a clear structure on how to interact individually, then share with the group (via Google Doc, Jamboard, or other SRS) or in breakout rooms with others who are online synchronous. Whereas creating similar active learning opportunities for students learning online asynchronous will need another approach that offers similar interaction and connections to the concepts as well as community building with other students online and F2F.

  • Assessment. This will be (and has been seen with recent research) as a major challenge to align outcomes and methods with authentic assessment, measurement and evaluation. Assessment in an online mode is one approach, however, if there are students studying in three different modes, attention to consistent, reliable, valid measurement instruments will need extra attention, most likely assistance from an instructional specialist.

  • Learning Outcomes. Keeping these similar to the ones approved by curriculum committees many be a challenge.

  1. Student Informed Choice. Some students may be unable to select (or may have no choice due to location, family, cost, etc.) the most effective alternate form of instruction (i.e., students who believe they can learn online, asynchronous, although have low ability to self-regulate their learning). How can we support and inform students (perhaps offering diagnostics on how to learn, self-regulated learning, self-efficacy, technology skills, etc.) as well as advising on study skills, time management, etc.?

  2. Identifying Student Selection. How do we decide which students (and Instructors) are able to select and/or engage with which mode? If this is open, there may be significant challenges with scheduling; if closed, how do we make the decision for allocating students into each mode, plus what happens if students are not able to function in that mode?

Note: Instructional Technology is intentionally NOT included as a major challenge as we have seen over the past term that appropriate INSTRUCTIONAL technology has not been a major problem (perhaps access, bandwidth, costs, staff, policies, politics, etc. but not the meaningful integration of technology to facilitate learning - most faculty have identified appropriate low-level technology that works for them and their students).


To prepare for the possibility of teaching in a mixed-mode setting, we should seriously consider redesigning our courses. The first step to redesigning is to focus on the results i.e., what do we want our students to be able to know and do (learning outcomes) afterwards. Essential questions for this step involve identifying key ideas that suggest meaningful inquiry; enduring insights, driving questions are arguable, are at the heart of concepts, recur and raise more questions. As a helpful guide, we may wish to use Bloom’s taxonomy as a foundational model for creating and scaffolding inquiry (Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, Evaluation). For the second redesign step, we should plan and align the type of evidence that we will gather to measure student success (assessment). These should be grounded in authentic applications; transparent to the student; valid and reliable; equitable regardless of mode; aligned with outcomes; complex tasks indicative of competency; show meaning and apply to novel situations; and perhaps integrate an analytical rubric for more subjective assessments. For the third step, we should create and offer active learning experiences, which are inclusive and accessible; student-centered; and allow students to use their prior knowledge to create conceptual connections for long term application.

Recommendations for mixed mode teaching from a grant-funded interdisciplinary faculty team (TPHE, 2020) suggest to focus on student learning by letting go of the traditional “policing” syllabus; normal order contact hours; everyone having to do the same thing at the same time; assignments that invite cheating; and instructors “covering” the content (perhaps students can “uncover/discover”). The authors suggest embracing care for students as whole people; fostering community and connections that facilitate learning; collaborating with students on their learning; responding with flexibility; de-emphasize grading and emphasizing interaction, feedback and learning.


Beatty, B. J. (2019). Teaching a Hybrid-Flexible Course: The Faculty Experience in HyFlex. In B. J. Beatty, Hybrid-Flexible Course Design: Implementing student-directed hybrid classes. EdTech Books. Retrieved from https://edtechbooks.org/hyflex/teaching_hyflex

Bower, M., Kennedy, G. E., Dalgarno, B., Lee, M. J. W., and Kenney, J. (2014). Blended synchronous learning: A handbook for educators. Retrieved from http://blendsync.org/handbook/Conrad, D. & Openo, J. (2018). Assessment Strategies for Online Learning: Engagement and Authenticity. Edmonton, AB: Athabasca University Press.

Boyle, T. (2005). A dynamic, systematic method for developing blended learning. Education, Communication & Information, 5(3), 221-232.

Dabbagh N., Marra, N., & Howland, J.L. (2018). Meaningful Online Learning: Integrating Strategies, Activities, and Learning Technologies for Effective Designs. London: Routledge.

Educause (2010). The seven things you should know about the hyflex course model. Educause. Retrieved from https://library.educause.edu/-/media/files/library/2010/11/eli7066-pdf.pdf

Greene, J. (2020). Keep calm and keep teaching. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/03/17/shifting-unexpectedly-remote-instruction-requires-many-human-solutions-tech.

Hofmann, J., & Miner, N. (2008). Real blended learning stands up. T+D, 62(9), 28-31.

Knowles, M. (1984). The adult learner: A neglected species. Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing.

Maloney, E. & Kim, J. (2020). 15 Fall scenarios. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://insidehighered.com/digital-learning/blogs/learning-innovation/15-fall-scenarios

TPHE (2020). The elephant in the Zoom room. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://insidehighered.com/advice/2020/05/06/pandemic-brings-home-need-focus-humane-and-meaningful-student-learning-experiences

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