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Reimagining learning: how hyflex is shifting the dial on flexibility

04 December, 2022

As institutions look at ways to combine online, synchronous, face-to-face and asynchronous learning, hyflex learning models are emerging as a potential solution.

So, what is hyflex learning models and how do these models work? Are they suitable for every course, program or subject area and how can universities set themselves up for hyflex success?

Here, six of OES’s leading learning designers and digital transformation experts from Australia and the UK explain what hyflex learning is, where they are seeing it work well and how universities can embrace the model to attract, retain and graduate students.

Kylie Doye Vella
Director of Learning Design, OES Australia

“Hyflex is a highly flexible version of the hybrid approach. It gives students ultimate choice, enabling them to learn in a self-paced manner, asynchronously and with face-to-face time if they choose.

The design of hyflex learning considers students at the centre of the design, with the result that students have multiple ways of interacting and accessing learning materials and activities. Busy students or those who are located a distance from the university can choose an online, self-paced mode. Students who find face-to-face learning interactions more rewarding can choose to attend in person, as well as having online resources for support.

Hyflex also caters for students with changing circumstances, enabling them to continue study even if life obstacles arise or their location changes.

Experienced learning designers who are skilled in designing in multiple formats, modes and technologies are essential when building hyflex programs. Skilling academics, tutors and other teaching staff to be proficient in the technologies is absolutely vital, as is enabling students to quickly and easily find what they need for their learning.”

Arlene Stewart
Director, Academic and Operations, OES UK

“The benefits of hyflex learning for students include more flexibility and choice, while for institutions, the model offers the potential for increased student numbers and increased programme offerings.

However, growth in enrolments shouldn’t drive an institution’s approach to hyflex. The model should be informed by sound pedagogical principles and a commitment to building a community of learners.

Universities should also ensure appropriate provision on campus to support hyflex learning, informed by consideration of how students engage online while they are on campus. Current and prospective students will require clear, upfront information about how the hyflex model works.

Learning design across all modalities needs to support interactive and collaborative activities, enabling students to access feedback from the course team and their peers. Universities need to combine advanced digital skills with a commitment to supporting the conversion of tutor-led content into student-centred content.”

Liam Ford
Lead Learning Designer, OES Australia

“Hyflex models vary depending on the course or program, and they do need to be targeted. We’ve been working on an MBA program and an IT course for one of our partners and, although both embrace hyflex, each looks very different. Some courses lend themselves to a hyflex model but we’re not seeing entire institutions universally adopt hyflex just yet.

The thinking and planning that goes into making sure hyflex is fit for purpose is fundamental, as is the technology chosen for delivery. There’s a whole ecosystem that the student needs to negotiate – including the LMS, digital white boards, video conferencing and more – so they will often need some upskilling before they even start to learn.

Demand for hyflex learning isn’t necessarily driven by students. With one of our partners, the course accrediting body essentially required a hyflex model, with a minimum number of face-to-face learning hours per week.

Hyflex recognises that students don’t want to be forced to be at a certain point geographically at a particular time every week. At the same time, there’s also the student support question. Hyflex sets an expectation that if students can learn at any point, then they should be able to access support at any point, too.”

Joe Lynch
Team Lead, Learning Design, OES UK

“Hyflex is quite a new term in the UK. At a strategic level, university leaders recognise that giving online students the opportunity to come on campus may be worth aiming for. The question is how, and in what format? And how can face-to-face and online learning fit together?

Some of the flexibility benefits of hyflex models are clear to learners, but universities are still grappling with the concept and thinking about how they might deliver it. Rigorous upfront planning is critical.

We recently worked with a university partner that, right at the beginning of the program design, identified that they were going to offer a two-week period where students would come on campus. This was part of a new format semester that featured one on-campus unit and one online unit running in parallel. At key points, the units cross over with a shared live online session to present and discuss outcomes.

For a hyflex model like this to succeed, an important consideration is providing enough support and time for academics, who are understandably exhausted post COVID. Using technology effectively to ensure learner engagement is also vital.”

Tegan Hughes
Manager, Learning Design and Production, OES Australia

“In the post-COVID world, we have to accept that our learners will be learning asynchronously and away from us at least part of the time.

The hyflex approach is much more agile and personalised than traditional blended or hybrid models. It’s a term that universities are adopting to try and explain the choice they want to give learners and the choice that they know learners are now expecting, not just in terms of learning content but assessment as well.

Hyflex necessitates a significant amount of upfront preparation work, so that academics have the ability to be highly flexible during the semester. There’s also prep work that needs to be done with students, to explain what the hyflex learning experience is going to be for them and help them make the best choices in the context of increased flexibility.

Some universities are now in the process of training their academic staff in hyflex learning. Universities who are delivering hyflex programs successfully have put a lot of serious thought, time and resources into it.”

Joanna Kane
Academic Lead, Learning Design, OES UK

“Institutions and governing bodies are talking about the hyflex concept, but often using different terminology. A recent JISC report describes ‘digitally enhanced education’ as a ‘chance to organise around students and their learning journeys rather than forcing them to organise around our ancient silos of administration’. ‘Seamless learning’, ‘seamless hybrid learning’ and ‘mixed ed’ are also terms being used to describe choice for students.

One of the challenges of hyflex is what a recent Office for Students report highlights as the ‘attendance paradox’ which is where students say, ‘yes, we want to come on campus, we love coming on campus!’ and then they don’t turn up. This speaks to an ongoing debate about whether on-campus experiences are meeting student needs and how hyflex models can help bridge the gap.

Post COVID, there’s a sense that academics and institutions want to take the time to evaluate their approach to find more flexible models that will, ultimately, improve the experience for both students and teachers.”