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Is Hybrid Learning the Best Option for a Return to School This Year?

Covid-19 The teacher marks empty places in the classroom

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Key Takeaways

  • Some schools will offer kids a hybrid model of learning this fall.
  • Under this model, kids will attend school a few days each week, or will alternate weeks in and out of school.
  • Hybrid offers kids the benefits of an in-school experience while still allowing for social distancing.
  • In the event of an outbreak or another nationwide shutdown, schools will likely revert to a 100% distance learning situation.

Are you wondering exactly what back to school will look like for your kids this fall? As a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, most schools across the country seem to be looking at another year of distance learning, while a few intrepid school systems have declared their students will return to in-person school.

Still others are working hard to offer students a mix of the two by creating a hybrid learning model. That’s an arrangement where students attend school a few days each week and engage in distance learning on the other days.

While the hybrid model seems like a best-of-both-worlds approach, it’s not without risk. Here, we’ll examine this unique approach to learning, and let you know what you can expect if your child’s school district opts for a hybrid learning model for the 2020-21 school year.

Here’s What Hybrid Learning Might Look Like 

The most common hybrid scenario, says Aki Murata, author of Reopening Better Schools: Unexpected Ways COVID-19 Can Improve Education, “will see students attending class in person two days each week and engaging in distance learning on the other three days.” This allows schools to more closely follow social distancing guidelines by essentially splitting their student body in half, and having kids alternate which days they attend school in person.

Another possible schedule on the hybrid model is having half the students attend school every day in the morning, then having the other half attend in the afternoon with an hour in between groups for extensive cleaning. Still other schools have considered having students alternate weeks, doing in-person learning one week and distance the next.

No matter what hybrid model your school district comes up with, it’s bound to be a bit more confusing and hectic than years past. And there's no doubt your kids will return to a school environment that's nearly unrecognizable from what they're used to.

But, these are not normal times. Far from it. Schools will face major challenges in welcoming students back to school amid rising COVID cases in most states. Social distancing will be a requirement, which means desks will be spaced far apart, kids may stay in one classroom all day, even for lunch, PE and even recess, and masks will be required for students of all ages.

But regardless, “the hybrid model is the best offer to get back to school in the middle of uncharted waters,” says long-time teacher Anne Armstrong. She explains, “Kids need school. Teachers need kids. But sadly, the pandemic is not over. Because of that, the hybrid model is the only way to return to school at this point.”

Let’s examine some of the main pros and cons to think about if you’re considering signing your kids up for the hybrid learning model (assuming you have a choice).

Pros of a Hybrid Learning Model

If done properly, a hybrid learning scenario can be beneficial for everyone involved. The AAP recently stressed the importance of in-person learning for kids, citing reasons like social and emotional skills, physical exercise, access to mental health support, regular meals, internet access and counseling. A hybrid model allows for those things, even if only for a few days each week.

Another plus about the hybrid model is the socialization kids will get. “Kids have been in the house without much socialization for many months now,” says Lindsey Wander, founder and CEO of WorldWise Tutoring, LLC. “Many are desperately looking forward to going back to school, and the hybrid model allows for at least a little of that experience they’re craving.”

What’s more, there’s a host of known benefits to in-person learning for kids who struggle with ADHD or other learning disabilities.

Anne Armstrong

Kids with special needs often utilize equipment, games, tools, and other items that simply can’t be purchased at home or transported from schools to every student who needs it. People with years of training can’t possibly be duplicated for every special needs student who needs it. These are the challenges that this pandemic creates.

— Anne Armstrong

Cons of a Hybrid Learning Model

Opponents of the hybrid model tend to focus on the shortcomings it creates for working parents who rely on all-day school to alleviate the burdensome cost of daycare. With kids in school only two or three days each week, what are working parents to do?

Those who can afford it will likely turn to quality daycares or in-home settings that will hopefully be able to assist kids with schoolwork on their distance learning days. Others may opt for pricey camps or groups of friends (a new term that’s popped up during the pandemic called “learning pods”) to fill the days while they work.

But low-income families are likely to struggle the most with this inconsistent schedule, and may be forced to leave children largely to their own devices if both parents have to work outside the home.

Lindsey Walder, CEO, WorldWise Tutoring

I think a big issue in terms of socioeconomic inequality is the availability of an adult at home to assist with e-learning. Many parents in low-income neighborhoods are unable to work from home or may have lost their jobs and cannot afford to hire a tutor to help students on days when learning is asynchronous.

— Lindsey Walder, CEO, WorldWise Tutoring

Another unintended consequence of a hybrid schedule is the potential for more community spread, rather than less. Instead of kids being exposed to the same small group of peers like they would if they attended school five days each week (assuming practices like distancing and mask wearing were employed), the hybrid model will likely expose each child to several different groups of people each week.

Consider a child who goes to daycare on each of their “off” days. Not only are they exposed to every child in the school class, but they're also exposed to every child in their daycare room, who each in turn are exposed to their own school classes. And in most larger towns and cities, there likely wouldn’t be much overlap between the kids in class and the kids in daycare. Similarly, when kids attend camps or CASA-like settings in large groups on their off days, it sets up the scene for greater exposure to the virus.

Finally, it’s important to note that if your kids start the school year in a hybrid learning model, there’s a good chance that they could be switched to distance learning if there’s a COVID outbreak in their school or even in their larger community. “Schools with hybrid learning in place may have to shut their doors again in a few weeks due to spikes or outbreaks in COVID. I suggest that all parents prepare for the very real possibility of Plan B, which is fully remote e-learning," says Wander.

What This Means For You

The hybrid learning model has many pros and cons to consider as summer draws to a close. While kids will benefit from in-person learning, school won't look the same as it has in the past. What's more, changes in the number of COVID cases may cause disruptions in learning and lead to a return to 100% remote instruction.

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  1. AAP. Return to school during COVID 19. Updated July 14, 2020.