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The difference between blended, online and hybrid education

Last updated on 30 August 2022
Blended, online and hybrid education - what's the difference? Many conversations between policymakers, programme directors, teachers and students end up in confusion when these educational concepts are mentioned, because not everyone has the same idea of what they mean.

In this didactic tip, we'll clarify what we at VU Amsterdam understand by blended learning, online learning, and hybrid teaching to avoid miscommunication. This will allow you to focus on what really matters: good education for our students.

1 Blended learning

A design method with a balanced alternation of contact time and assignments

Blended learning (sometimes called blended education or blended teaching) is a design principle to design the best possible education for your students using today's technical possibilities. You use a mix of physical and digital learning activities to achieve the learning objectives. What that mix looks like differs per subject: one instructor uses a lot of contact time on location, another prefers online options. The VU Amsterdam educational vision in this regard is that all subjects will make use of active blended learning.

In blended learning, as a teacher, you explicitly make room in your curriculum for a mix of study assignments and contact time, via online and offline activities. For example, via the Flipped Classroom concept. Study assignments are, for example, preparation assignments processing assignments, homework or group work.  Activities during contact time are for example an online quiz, a group assignment or collaborating on a document. Blended learning is, in fact, more a design principle than a technical implementation of an educational form. Read more about active blended learning in VU practice on this page.

Tip: are you asked to design blended learning? Then remember that this is not the same as online learning and hybrid teaching. Read more about what we mean by this below. 

2 Online learning

A catch-all term

Online learning means all online elements within education. Teaching and learning online can be done in many ways. In general, it means that students study using the computer, the internet and tools such as Canvas, Zoom or Microsoft Teams. For example, they study books or articles online, watch videos or knowledge clips, do online exercises or collaborate on documents online. The online resources can be used both during contact time (such as during class or a work group), for self-study and (collaborative) assignments outside of class. 

Education at VU Amsterdam during the corona pandemic was in fact entirely distance education, but was often referred to as online education. A bit confusing, really. Also because existing online education before the pandemic that was followed entirely remotely, were generally courses such as from the Open University, or Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) or Small Private Online Course (SPOC) as available on Coursera, EdEx or FutureLearn.

Tip: is someone asking you to teach online? Always ask what they mean exactly. For example, they might mean hybrid teaching. Read more about hybrid teaching below. 

3 Hybrid teaching

Simultaneous teaching in the lecture hall and at home

We speak of hybrid teaching if a teacher teaches in a lecture hall or classroom to a group of students who are physically present in the classroom at the same time as a group that participates online via, for example, Zoom or Microsoft Teams. It would be better to call hybrid teaching multilocation teaching.

A special form of hybrid teaching is education in which both the teacher and the students are at home. But this form of teaching is often referred to as online education, whereas it is precisely the use of the catch-all term online education that is confusing. The same applies if the term distance education is used. 

Tip: do you provide hybrid teaching? Then please do not call it online learning because then the confusion sets in!

Important note: the vice-deans of the VU faculties have formulated shortly before the summer holiday of 2022 the strong advice to not record lectures without any thought. This advice also implies to be very restrained in offering hybrid teaching and fully online education. Student well-being and study succes require active physical engagement on campus. See this message for students and this message for lecturers.