Hybrid Learning Faces Unthinking Opposition

Meeting the Needs by John Adsit

Back when I administered a full time high school online education program, we of course had to find some way to provide the courses that many people would not ordinarily expect to take online. The most obvious example was physical education. I don’t believe I ever mentioned the fact that we had an online physical education class to anyone without a guffaw in reply, as if that were an obvious example of something impossible to do, a sign of the failure of online education as a viable instructional alternative.

After I outlined the class, though, the response that I almost always received was “Wow! That’s great! Can I take the class?” The hybrid class we created was far superior to any face-to-face physical education class I ever took, and I suspect it was true for the students as well.

Those who laughed at the idea took the vision they had of physical education and could not see how it could be translated into an online setting. How do you throw red balls at the weakest kids in class while sitting at a computer? What they were unable to do was shift their vision to a new approach that taught fitness concepts, generated individual independent fitness programs, and had students periodically monitored by an instructor who measured their progress toward their personal fitness goals.

I believe that the area of greatest expansion for online education in the future will be the hybrid class in which students do their work partly online and partly in the presence of an instructor. The problem with implementing these changes will be the same ones I had with the online physical education class. Unless the people who make the decisions in these matters take the time to find out what is really happening, they will have the same reflex reaction: the classes constitute a major lowering of academic standards.

I see this phenomenon in my hobby, scuba instruction. Decades ago, the norm for new student instruction was to sit in long and numerous academic lectures on the theory of scuba diving, followed by a series of instructional sessions in a pool and 4-5 dives in open water. The first big change was to have students take a book and video home for self-study, followed by classroom activities that reviewed their self-study materials prior to the pool and open water experience.

Today this is still the norm, but several agencies have carefully designed online classes for the academic study portion of the course. Students complete the quizzes and exams online, bringing a printed certification of completion to the instructor when they are done. The instructor briefly reviews key concepts to get a feel for the student’s mastery and then administers another exam in person. Having worked with a number of these students, I have never met one who did not understand the materials, and I have yet to have one of those students miss a single question on the follow-up exam. These students then go through the same pool and open water sessions that have always been done.

So how does the old guard scuba community react to this? If you want to be shocked and awed, go to any of the many scuba discussion boards and do a search for threads on online education. The majority of posters in my experience see it as a terrible lowering of standards that should be banned. Some ignore the fact that students still have to do pool and open water instruction, and no matter how often this is pointed out, they rant about the impossibility of teaching scuba skills online.

Most of them simply cannot admit that the online learning is even a part of the process.  The real old timers will compare the length of time spent with the instructor in the old lecture plus performance classes against the time, in the hybrid approach, spent with the instructor in the pool and open water and say that the vast difference represents a great loss of quality. Even those who compare it with the more modern home study process bemoan the “fact” that students can get certified today in such a short time, and they never include the time it takes to complete the online work. They talk about all the information that students are missing as if the online portion of the class was devoid of any content whatsoever.

I foresee great things for the hybrid approach to learning, but I also foresee the same sort of unthinking opposition that plagues the scuba community. I foresee a day when many courses will have similar setups to what we are seeing now in scuba, with students splitting their time between independent online learning and meetings with their instructors. This can be superior instructionally in many ways, and it can also be a significant cost savings for a school system under financial pressure. The physical capacity of a school can be doubled if students are only physically in class half the time.

For hybrid classes to happen, though, the unthinking reflex response of the public will have to be challenged successfully. This will happen in time because a review of the scuba discussion forums always shows some younger participants who have had a number of successful online experiences and who will pipe in with comments about how well it works for them. In time those views will be in the majority, but to get there, hybrid learning will have to overcome many difficult obstacles.

2 Responses

  1. Great exposition, John.

    What so many people ignore is the fact that physical education does not mean sports. It should be a class in which people learn to use their bodies for physical activity. Sports can be used as a process to teach physical education but are not required.

    As soon as you separate physical education from sports, then new vistas open up. Physical education might include nutrition, stretching, agility training, CV development, strength, coordination, and more. The online aspect can include much of what’s done in lecture mode, only better. It can also help students with tracking progress and goal setting.

    Some institutions have cheapened online learning and polluted the pool for the rest. Rest assured that online learning will lead the way to the future of education, and that education’s future will provide much better learning than the old-fashioned, factory-oriented approach.

  2. John and Harry, your ideas are eye-opening in so many different ways. Imagination and the ability to step outside the box via technology open up a whole new range of possibilities for a course such as PE, which is usually thought of as a F2F activity.

    The key is student-centeredness and, as Harry says, looking beyond traditional team or group activities. An online PE class could individualize in ways that are unimaginable in the traditional F2F setting.

    Each student could develop, with the instructor’s guidance, an IPEP (individual physical education plan). The plan would require a minimum number of hours a week, realistic goals, instructional procedures, formative evaluations, etc.

    For example, a student who’s overweight might decide on an IPEP that’s based on walking. He/she could gradually build from 2 hours a week to 10 hours at the end of the semester. Instructional procedures might include a monthly checkup with a medical professional — at the student’s expense. The student could keep a blog that he shares with his PE classmates, reporting his setbacks and successes, problems and solutions. His peers could pipe in with suggestions, their own experiences, info about additional sources, encouragement, nutrition ideas, great places for walking, etc.

    As part of the IPEP, the student would write two research papers, one in the first half that focuses on studies and programs that are relevant for people in his situation, and another that reports on the successes and failures of his IPEP. He could include multimedia, capturing his performances and progress.

    The student could follow up the nest semester with an IPEP that includes walking and jogging. In fact, the student could develop a multi-year IPEP that takes him all the way to a marathon or triathlon.

    Other students could do the same with IPEPs for dance, martial arts, tennis, organized team sports, cave diving, surfing, canoeing, solo or team sailing, bodybuilding, learning to swim, etc. Freed from the constraints of the traditional F2F class structure, the world becomes the classroom.

    I can imagine students from different parts of the world in the same online PE class. The variety of activities alone would be fascinating for all the students.

    -Jim S

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