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Six principles of hybrid learning

Continuous learning is the focus

The purpose of hybrid learning is to provide continuous quality learning for all ākonga. It is not so much a programme or a “thing” to be done by schools. Rather, it is an approach which is implemented critically as schools seek to consider what continuous quality learning looks like during times of interrupted learning.

Hybrid learning – a principled approach

Not just any hybrid learning programme will do - hybrid learning is a principled approach. Six principles have emerged from the developing knowledge of hybrid learning that have several purposes:

  1. They are the outcomes we would expect to see as a result of hybrid learning and, as such, they tell us what a successful, effective hybrid learning approach looks like.
  2. They are guides or signposts for us to follow as we are developing our hybrid learning approaches.
  3. Most of all, they provide lenses through which we can continually look at our designs for, and implementation of, hybrid learning, to evaluate and reflect on their impact on different groups within our school communities.

These principles should always be top of mind as we think about hybrid learning.

Important note: schools initially jumped into online, distance or hybrid learning very quickly in response to the pandemic, possibly without too much thought for its underpinning principles. This is completely understandable. Time was of the essence, and for many this was all new. However, it has contributed to unequal provision for different student groups or individuals. 

It will be important, when time and space allow, to collect feedback (if you haven’t already) and to use the principles to reflect on your hybrid learning approach, and then to make changes, to support more equitable and inclusive hybrid learning for every student.

Six principles of hybrid learning 

One hexagon in the centre with 'Continuous, quality learning for every student'. And 6 hexagon surrounding it, in clockwise order from top, equity, inclusion, transparency, responsiveness, coherence and connectedness and, efficiency and sustainability

It needs to be noted that though the six principles are discussed separately, they overlap and are inextricably linked together. You cannot talk about equity without talking about inclusion. Equity and inclusion are the two big “outcome” principles and cannot be achieved without transparency, responsiveness, coherence and connectedness. Finally, none of the above will be doable with the limited resources available, if we do not find the ways to do so efficiently and sustainably. Each of these principles is a big idea, so it will only be possible to give a cursory glance to each.

1. Equity

Hybrid learning approaches have the potential to increase equity by helping some students overcome barriers which limit access to education such as geographic location, illness or disability, as well as supporting continuous learning at times of disrupted learning. However, for equity to be the outcome, all students must have equal access to quality learning opportunities, regardless of their circumstances – no matter when, where or how they are learning. In many schools in Aotearoa New Zealand this will require hybrid learning approaches to include both online and paper-based remote learning experiences. The quality of the programme is also central to equity. Whether paper-based or online, the focus needs to be on ensuring a quality learning programme that meets the ongoing needs of students and moves their learning forward. Regardless of modality (the how), students should have access to synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunities to ensure ongoing interactions with their teachers and peers as well as self-directed learning experiences (see link to Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning Guide). For some students this might mean a regular phone call on speaker phone to create an opportunity for discussion. See Red Hill Spotlight and the actions they took to ensure continuous learning for all students. Quality learning takes account of the needs of the whole person including their social and emotional wellbeing.

2. Inclusion

There are three aspects of inclusion in hybrid learning that I wish to draw attention to. The first is a sense of belonging to the learning community. For inclusion, no matter where, when or how a student is learning, they need to feel as though they are part of the learning community. As mentioned above, this will take special planning, particularly for students who do not have access to digital devices, internet, a quiet space at home to learn, time to learn because they are having to support their family by working, etc. There are many circumstances that can contribute to feelings of exclusion. It is important for leaders and teachers to explore ways to include all students in learning activities that are challenging and that take learning deeper – students will know if they are just being given busy work.

However, it is not enough to have equal opportunities to learn, but for inclusion, ākonga need to have the capabilities to access the learning. If not, they will still feel on the outside looking into the learning community. This will require learning to have just the right level of challenge – some challenge but not so much they cannot reach it. This is often known as Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. Check out this video to find out more Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. Students will need to be capable of working in agentic, self-directed ways, particularly for asynchronous learning. If they do not have this capability, teachers will need to scaffold them to be able to access the learning. Some students may need more check-ins than others. Others will just want to get going. Knowing your students, what their next learning steps are and how they learn best, and designing learning to take all that into account, are essential elements of inclusion.
Finally, engagement is central to inclusion. Designing learning experiences that are relevant, engaging, accessible, culturally responsive and that celebrate diverse cultural and other identities will ensure students feel respected and valued and will support their inclusion.

3. Transparency 

Transparency includes learning being visible to students, parents/whānau and kaiako. This is easier when online systems are set up in a school but is a principle that is essential for equity and inclusion, no matter how students are learning. If ākonga and their whānau are to feel included in the learning community then they need to know what is to be learned, what the next learning steps are and how the student can learn it. Making learning visible is empowering for families/whānau who are now able to contribute to the student’s learning journey, and for students who can now increasingly take responsibility for their own learning.

Visible learning and transparency are also essential for teachers. Firstly, in a time of disrupted learning, it is essential for teacher planning, student data and information to be available to all leaders and teachers and available for anywhere, anytime access - teachers might end up teaching from home or other teachers might end up teaching their classes. Secondly, teachers need to have easy access to knowledge of where their students are at in their learning so that they can provide hybrid programmes of learning that meet their students’ needs. Learning progressions and student learning profiles are essential to support this and having a clear, shared (transparent) understanding of what causes learning is essential. 

Finally, for the purposes of this short description, hybrid learning is new to most people, which means that communication with students, teachers and whānau must be clear and transparent to alleviate the fear of the new, and to support the anxiety that will be experienced at such times. Being as transparent as possible will engender trust which in turn will support positive learning experiences and outcomes.

4. Responsiveness

At times of uncertainly, and when embarking into new territory, there is only way thing to do – get started using the best of what you know at the time, continually gather data and feedback and adjust what you are doing in response. This needs to happen in relation to individual students, at a class level and at a school level. It needs to happen for students, whānau and kaiako in relation to learning programmes and administrative processes, procedures and systems. Communication is an important administrative process to gather feedback about.

Continuous feedback loops are a central aspect of a responsive approach. They provide ākonga and whānau the opportunity to let the teacher know whether the learning is at the right level for the student. Or whether they are feeling a sense of belonging and inclusion and what more support they might need or what they no longer need. This supports programmes of learning to be responsive to the needs and circumstances of learners, with sufficient flexibility in the design to be able to adapt to meet changes in circumstances or need. Responsiveness also supports efficiency. The more the provision meets needs, the less waste there will be in the system.

5. Coherence and connectedness

The point of hybrid learning is for students to remain connected to their learning and to each other no matter where, when or how they are learning. This will require teachers and leaders to develop a connected learning ecosystem in which students remain connected to their learning and to their peers. Students learning remotely should not receive work that is different from their onsite peers, although they may access it in different ways. They should not work in isolation but should be provided with opportunities to connect socially and interactively. It needs to be noted that achieving this may be a journey.

Coherence is essential to effectiveness and sustainability. Hybrid learning should reflect the vision, values and principles of the school and hybrid learning should be bound (woven) into the structures, processes, systems and practices of the school learning programme. Every principle of hybrid learning should be seen in every aspect of hybrid learning programmes and they should be bound together (like the strands of a rope) rather than remaining as separate strands. As the saying goes, “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken”. A six-strand cord is even stronger!

6. Efficiency and sustainability

This learning pedagogy is a blended learning approach, with online learning becoming the backbone of the learning programme whether students are onsite or learning remotely. Though moving to enriched virtual learning may seem to be a small change (that is, it may seem to be a subtle difference), it actually makes a world of difference to hybrid learning because shifting to online learning as the backbone of the programme makes it a very small step to include remote learners. In this approach, the same teacher generally serves as both the online and face-to-face teacher.


The metaphor of fractals is helpful – it doesn’t matter where you slice them, the same pattern will be seen repeating itself on ever-decreasing scales. In hybrid learning, the goal needs to be for every principle, value and the vision of continuous, quality learning to be seen in every part of the learning, down to the smallest component. In every part of a hybrid learning approach, you will see equity, inclusion, connectedness and coherence, responsiveness, and transparency in an efficient learning ecosystem.

Where might you start?

» Use the questions bekow to consider how well the hybrid learning principles are reflected in your hybrid learning programme.
» From your answers to the questions, write down what actions you might take to ensure hybrid learning at your place is equitable and inclusive.

This might begin with seeking feedback from your community.

How well are hybrid learning principles reflected in your hybrid learning programme?

Principles Reflective questions
  • Are all students receiving quality and engaging learning experiences no matter where, what and how they are learning?
  • Which groups of students are disengaged from learning? Why? What do we know about these students? 
  • Who is disadvantaged by our hybrid learning programmes? Who benefits?
  • Do all students, teachers and parents/whānau feel that they are truly included, valued and respected? Do we even know?
  • Who feels excluded? Why and what can we do about it?
  • Is learning visible to teachers, students and parents/whānau? 
  • Are students encouraged to make decisions about their learning on the basis of what they know?
  • Do whānau/parents, students and teachers feel they are in the know?
  • Is our programme responsive to our specific school context? 
  • Is it responsive to changing circumstances and are we inviting frequent feedback and being quick to respond to it?
  • Do we invite and value feedback from all community members? Do we make it as easy as possible for all community members to contribute feedback?
Coherence and connectedness
  • Have we developed a connected learning ecosystem? 
  • Are all students, teachers and whānau/parents connected into the learning ecosystem? Who isn’t?
  • Are all parts of the learning ecosystem designed to ensure continuous quality learning for all students? Which parts might we need to pay attention to?
  • Are our resources (including human resources) being utilized in the best possible way to ensure continuous quality learning for students while also supporting reasonable workloads for teachers?
  • How might collaboration support this?