Why are we talking about hyflex course design?

As part of The University of East London’s development week, we were asked to provide some training on Hyflex course design. This text and video formed part of that training.

Many of the core aspects of Hyflex methods are just the logical outcome of theoretical shifts in thinking about education, combined with changes in technology, society and student profiles.

Here are three things that have contributed to making this a relevant discussion:

1: Constructivist underpinnings

The Hyflex vision of giving students maximum flexibility and variation in modes of delivery assumes the importance of placing student experience at the centre of the learning process. That process, the assumption is, should be directed by the student’s needs, access and availability. This reflects a shift of focus away from the instructor, and towards the student as the centre of the learning process – and such a shift is a core feature of constructivist ideas about education that have underpinned many dominant ideas about learning design in recent years.

If you want to know more about this, it is something we explore in our short course on Inquiry-based learning.

For now though, it is enough to say the assumptions of student-directedness that underpin Hyflex models are consistent with direction education has been following for many years.

2: Changes in students and technologies

Over the years there has been a symbiotic relationship between the ways in which students have changed, and learning technologies have changed. New technologies have fundamentally changed the ways in which we access and use information – and those technologies have changed the students we teach.

The advent of a world where you can share information over the internet, has come hand-in-hand with the advent of students who use the internet.

The advent of a world where it is possible to Google things, has come hand-in-hand with the advent of students who Google things.

In many ways the distinction we make between ‘online’ students and traditional classroom students is a moot one.

They are all online.

Educational technologies have, for a long time, attempted to bridge the gap between the online world and the classroom – most notably with Learning Management Systems like Moodle, Canvas, Blackboard and so on: An online environment that, to a large extent replicates or mirrors traditional classroom practices (‘you can now do your classroom discussion online with a forum’!).

But while educational technologies have been ploughing this field for many years, more recently educational practices have started to look more closely at how learning design can similarly start to bridge that gap.

Beatty refers to work by:

  • Sands (2002)
  • Orey (2002)
  • Martyn (2003)
  • Rasmussen (2003)
  • Bonk and Graham (2006)
  • Power (2008)

All looking to develop teaching methodologies that “serve fully online students without abandoning our current classroom students”.

Some have called this ‘Mode Neutral’ (Smith, Reed, and Jones, 2008). Some have called it Multi-Access Learning (Irvine, 2009).

All of them may perhaps more simply be categorised as forms of ‘Blended Learning’ – an approach to learning in which traditional classroom practices are ‘blended’ with online learning. And if you haven’t heard of blended learning – then firstly, where have you been? And secondly – why not have a look at our lovely online course on blended learning?

3: Covid

Covid has become the convenient new excuse for any new social phenomenon that we haven’t quite got our heads around yet.

In many ways, Covid is the new postmodernism.

When in the past we might have safely blamed inexplicable youth culture on postmodernism, secure in the knowledge that nobody could ever prove us wrong – we can now blame any chaos in the world on Covid with equal complacency.

Over the last year, it is as though someone has set a figurative bomb under our understanding of online learning.

And it’s all the fault of Covid. Obviously.

Both students and teachers have been locked in their homes, given and internet connection, and told to simply get on with things. And faced with this new reality, a new set of questions have emerged about the very nature of learning design.

Online learning, people have realised, is simply not the same as classroom learning. What works for one, won’t necessarily work for the other.

Lockdown learning has called time on narrow views of ‘Blended Learning’ as simply repeating classroom activities online – or visa versa.

Teaching online requires its own design. Its own methodology. And if we want classroom teaching and online teaching to work together effectively – then it may well require a radical re-thinking of the teaching values that shape our organisations from the top to the bottom.

Hyflex may not be the answer to the kinds of questions all educational institutions are facing in a post-covid world – but it is a part of that same debate, and brings with it some highly useful evidence that can help us as we grapple with those questions.

So these are just so me of the reasons why Hyflex is something we are talking about now.


This article has been based on Brian Beatty’s book:

Leave a Reply