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Designing Learning for a Hybrid Approach

Lessons from COVID-19 and the lockdowns and the changes in learning delivery that have been occurring give us cause to rethink the way we design and deliver learning. 

“...a bright light has been shone on the sophisticated work that teachers do. Just as we nurture our students’ problem-solving skills to prepare them to be innovators in a complex world, let’s nurture design thinking by our teachers so that their design practices can reshape education for whatever the future brings.” 

(Bennett, Lockyer and Agostinho,2020)

Dealing with complex combinations

Curriculum adaptation and innovations require the complex combinations of multiple inputs such as curriculum progressions, wellbeing indicators and the development of competencies and capacities. As well as weaving in other relevant information about students such as their strengths, interests and learning preferences. This complexity is exacerbated when hybrid learning is required. As a result, you may have to introduce new technologies and work around differing levels of access by students. Understanding every student’s unique home context becomes more important than ever.

Designing new or different learning programmes for hybrid learning takes both time and skill, and the complex combinations require complex thinking. Pulling together multiple different threads into a beautifully patterned whole doesn’t just happen. It requires a vision of what you want you want to achieve and design which involves making deliberate decisions.

Deliberate choices

When designing hybrid learning it is important to keep in mind that though the context is continually changing, the outcomes we are seeking remain the same. We should be designing the learning to meet the same outcome despite the various ways that learning will be delivered, whether face-to-face, remote or blended. The design should create multiple pathways for accessing the learning, but they should all end up at the same destination.

In times of ‘crisis’ when people are having to plan and organise in different ways there can be a temptation to take the easy option of using ready made resources. However, all resources need to be audited, not just for their suitability for the needs of the class and the individuals within it, but for how they weave the curriculum – both spoken and unspoken – together.

Schools that have successfully developed hybrid learning programmes often speak about being very deliberate in their choice of both learning materials and the ways these are delivered to achieve the purpose for the learning.

The advantages of learning design teams

A solution being employed by some schools to support teachers as they contend with this high level of complexity is to create learning design teams. This might be where a specialist team are given responsibility for designing the learning at a high level and weaving together curriculum requirements, dispositional thinking, wellbeing aspects, school specific learning, local curriculum as well as all the additional complexity inherent in hybrid learning, into a cohesive design that teachers can then utilise to design and adapt for their students at a classroom level.

A design of learning team can bring together all the components of a school’s strategies and plans for the different aspects of learning and compile this into a cohesive macro design. This will enable teachers to concentrate at the next level of designing on a week-to-week and day-to-day basis. This will bring an assurance that all students are being guided towards the strategic goals of NZC and the specific school requirements without all teachers having to contend with complex work that they may not have a natural aptitude for, let alone enjoy.

Having a specialist learning designer or team designing at this higher level, frees up the cognitive capacity of teachers to focus on the design for their students at a weekly and daily level.

Ideally a learning design team would include both big picture and detail thinkers able to anchor the design between the big scaffolds that exist in every school (such as the vision for learning) and the more minute detail that will allow teachers to design and deliver the learning in ways that make the big picture a reality.

Importance of a range of voices

Many schools that are successful with effective design of learning speak of continually gathering different voices – from students, from whānau, from those delivering the learning – and of the need to continually incorporate those voices back into the ongoing design process.

One team of designers in a school talked at length about seeing the development and design of curriculum as a partnership not a solution. One person designing a programme that others implemented without reference to context or voice would not be useful.

Where might you start? 

Re-visit how learning is designed within your school.

Questions to ask:

  • What are all the components we need to thread together into a cohesive design?
  • How can we transfer that into our hybrid learning packages?
  • How can we re-organise our time in order to free people up to do this important and complex design work?

Avoid wholesale adoption of resources designed by others without thinking through whether they meet your students’ learning needs and will lead to the outcomes you are aiming for.

Questions to ask:

  • Do we have a way to assess commercial packages and other pre planned learning to ensure it aligns with our pedagogical practices and local curriculum content?
  • Does it fit with our other learning design packages?
  • Are we consciously selecting materials and resources that enhance our school vision for learning?

Further Information

Bennett. S et al 2-16: Investigating University educators Design Thinking and the Implications for Design Support Tools. Journal of Interactive Media in Education 2016 (1): 9, pp 1=10, DOI: