HyFlex: A hybrid model providing flexibility for learners
By Lyndsie Thurnau, St. Louis Community College - Forest Park, and JaeHwan Byun, Wichita State University
What is HyFlex?
It is certainly no secret that the COVID-19 global pandemic changed the way courses are designed and delivered. Educators were forced to shift instruction to online formats to maintain for social distancing. It led to newer instructional delivery formats to be investigated and implemented. One such format is called HyFlex (hybrid + flexible). The HyFlex model involves combining in-person and online instruction at the discretion of the student. This learner-centered format provides “students a choice regarding how they will attend a given session, (b) offering equivalent learning activities in all modes, (c) using the same learning objects for all students, (d) ensuring that students are equipped with the technologies and skills to participate in all modes, and (e) employing authentic assessments” (Miller et al., 2021, p. 202).
HyFlex also differs from the instructional format using online technology, which is typically categorized as either synchronous or asynchronous, or hybrid (see Figure 1).
Synchronous online instruction refers to teachers and students being online at the same time and engaging in real-time communication, whereas asynchronous online instruction refers to students logging in to an e-learning environment at different times and engaging with the materials provided by the teacher at their own pace (Agopian, 2022, p. 85).
In other words, synchronous is similar to traditional in-person as there is a scheduled meeting time through an online platform, and the entire course meets together. Asynchronous online instruction is typically organized in modules with set due dates but without a schedule set by the instructor to view the material. Hybrid is a blend of in-person and asynchronous instruction where students meet either online or on-campus at a scheduled time. With hybrid courses, the instructor assigns which lessons are presented virtually and which ones are in person, while HyFlex, the decision depends solely on the discretion of the learner.
Figure 1. HyFlex Model of Instruction (Wilson & Alexander, 2021)
Allows for learning flexibility
In higher education, students need flexibility. The college students of today are different than they once were. According to the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, an estimated 40% of current undergraduate students in American colleges and universities are non-traditional learners (Hittepole, 2015). Nontraditional learners are students 25 years old and older and have different needs than traditional learners, who have historically been catered to. A major problem facing nontraditional learners is that they have other responsibilities such as being a caregiver, parent, or primary income earner for the household. This conflict of roles adds additional stress that may inhibit the ability to fully engage in a traditional class setting. The different ages, responsibilities, and the focus set by colleges and universities on traditional students lead to a feeling of social isolation and a lack of belonging that has been shown to have a significant impact on the student’s success (Hittepole, 2015). A huge barrier faced by nontraditional learners is the lack of academic flexibility. When course schedules collide with the other responsibilities faced by these learners, they are faced with guilt and additional stresses as they are forced to choose. The National Center for Education Statistics (2015) identified that in comparison to traditional learners, nontraditional learners are less likely to complete their degrees within six years. This is where HyFlex can help make a huge difference. When a student is given an option to choose how they attend a course, the stress associated with trying to balance the obligations may be reduced.
HyFlex to the rescue
The flexibility of HyFlex allows freedom to choose how to participate in assigned activities, especially regarding attendance mode. Students with schedule conflicts, travel difficulties, or other legitimate reasons preventing in-class participation are no longer left with no option but to miss those learning opportunities and can have an alternative (Beatty, 2019). Some who would be concerned about this instructional modality might argue about its negative impact on learner outcomes. However, research has not supported this concern. Up to date, research studies have shown no difference in learner outcomes when comparing HyFlex instruction to the hybrid model (Calafiore & Giudici, 2021; Wilson & Alexander, 2021). Though the research on HyFlex and learner outcomes is limited, we know that a “well-developed hybrid learning model delivers better educational outcomes than traditional, face-to-face or exclusively online models” (Bărbuceanu, 2022, p. 243). If designed well, the student-centric flexible hybrid model may also provide better educational outcomes when compared to traditional in-person courses. This modality provides options for required courses to meet student learning desires and students enrolled in a HyFlex course reported higher levels of student satisfaction when surveyed (Malczyk, 2019). Not all students prefer in-person courses or traditional asynchronous, and when courses are only offered in one format or another, students are forced to choose. In one study by Al-Azzam et al. (2020), of the 488 students studied, one-third preferred the virtual learning experience over the on campus experience they had received prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that many learners will have experienced virtual instruction at some capacity, the fears over taking virtual classes may be reduced, and the option to choose may seem more attractive than it previously had. HyFlex is clearly designed with the focus of the student at the forefront, but other stakeholders need to be considered for implementation.
How it can be achieved
As with any change of instruction, there requires a fair amount of work to develop the curriculum layout. From the technical side, various technologies are needed for the program to be successful. The learners who intend to use remote instructions must have the appropriate tools and reliable high-speed internet to be able to participate. They also need to have the ability or guidance to help determine the best learning path, which may require additional time management skills. Classrooms need to be modified to allow for live streaming of lectures during instruction and recording of the lecture for uploading onto the module within the learning management system. This modification requires technology-equipped classrooms (see Figure 2), changes to the class scheduling system, registration changes, clear communication, and a need to train the faculty who deliver the course content and training for those who help advise and guide students (Beatty, 2019). Faulty need to understand how to design their courses so that it can support the various learning modalities, encourage student participation, and provide an equal educational experience. The faculty must have a technical understanding to address technical difficulties as they arise to prevent distraction from the material. They must also maintain the mandatory records of attendance and participation as well as provide timely feedback regardless of the selected path chosen by the learner.
For those who are interested in learning more about the HyFlex model, there is an online HyFlex Learning Community that provides information about upcoming workshops, current research, or academic resources.
Figure 2. A Stylized HyFlex Classroom (derived from an image in the public domain from Flickr)
Figure 2 shows a classroom of learners collaborating in small pods. There is a present teacher in the physical space. There are also screens that may indicate learners telecommuting into the classroom, for a mixed hybrid and collaborative learning space.
The HyFlex course model has the potential to address the many challenges and barriers facing the learners of today, especially those faced by our non-traditional learners. It manages to provide flexibility for learners in ways that were previously unattainable while still providing the same educational outcomes. The path to incorporate this modality will require a coordinated effort on behalf of the administration and faculty and require effective communication with all stakeholders. As researchers begin to focus on the outcomes and impact of this course delivery method, we will need to be flexible to change various instructional methods to align with the empirical data that may challenge our beliefs.
Agopian, T. (2022). Online Instruction during the Covid-19 pandemic: Creating a 21st century community of learners through social constructivism. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 95(2), 85-89.
Al-Azzam, N., Elsalem, L., & Gombedza, F. (2020). A cross-sectional study to determine factors affecting dental and medical students’ preference for virtual learning during the COVID-19 outbreak. Heliyon, 6(12), e05704-e05704. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2020.e05704
Bărbuceanu, C. D. (2022). HyFlex- rethinking courses in on-line teaching. Revista De Stiinte Politice, (73), 241-247.
Beatty, B. J. (2019). Hybrid-Flexible Course Design (1st ed.). EdTech Books. https://edtechbooks.org/hyflex
Calafiore, P., & Giudici, E. (2021). Hybrid versus HyFlex instruction in an introductory finance course. International Journal of Education Research, 16(1), 40.
Hittepole, C. (2015). Nontraditional students: Supporting changing student populations - NASPA. National Association of Student Personnel. https://naspa.org/images/uploads/main/Hittepole_NASPA_Memo.pdf
Malczyk, B. (2019). Introducing social work to hyflex blended learning: A student-centered approach. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 39(4-5), 414-428. https://doi.org/10.1080/08841233.2019.1652226
Miller, A. N., Sellnow, D. D., & Strawser, M. G. (2021). Pandemic pedagogy challenges and opportunities: Instruction communication in remote, "HyFlex," and "BlendFlex" courses. forum: Pandemic pedagogy and student learning. Communication Education, 70(2), 202. https://doi.org/10.1080/03634523.2020.1857418
National Center for Education Statistics. (2014). Enrollment in postsecondary institutions, fall 2013; financial statistics, fiscal year 2013; graduation rates, selected cohorts, 2013; and employees in postsecondary institutions, fall 2013. Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences.
Tangram Interiors. (2021). Hyflex classrooms: Everything you need to know. Tangram Interiors. Retrieved June 19, 2022, from https://www.tangraminteriors.com/blog/hyflex-classrooms-everything-you-need-to-know
Wilson, T. J., & Alexander, M. (2021). Hyflex course delivery: Addressing the change in course modality brought on by the pandemic. Journal of the International Society for Teacher Education, 25(2). https://doi.org/10.26522/jiste.v25i2.3668
About the Authors
Lyndsie Thurnau, RDH, BSDH, is an instructor of dental hygiene at St. Louis Community College - Forest Park. She began working in dentistry in 2004 and has worked in many facets ranging from office management to the clinical aspects of both assisting and hygiene. Following her passion for education, she entered into dental hygiene education in 2020. She is currently enrolled at Wichita State University in the Master of Education in Learning and Instruction Design with a certification in Online Learning & Educational Technology. Her interests are in patient-centered communication, content delivery, and learner engagement.
Lyndsie Thurnau may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
JaeHwan "Jay" Byun is an associate professor in the Master of Education in Learning and Instructional Design program in the School of Education of the College of Applied Studies at Wichita State University. He has been teaching courses related to instructional design and technology at WSU since 2015. Dr. Byun is interested in research topics including learner engagement, online learning, learning analytics, and digital game-based learning. His career goal is to seek ways to create a learning environment where learners can learn through aesthetic learning experiences which are engaging, infused with meaning, and felt as coherent and complete.
Dr. Byun may be reached at email@example.com.
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