The COVID-19 pandemic has upended a lot of the things we once took for granted. In many parts of the world, and especially throughout most of the United States, September is synonymous with students starting or heading back to school. This year, however, that annual ritual has been called into question once again. The alarming spread of the Delta variant is creating unease among teachers, administrators and parents who worry that a full-scale return to in-person learning could prove risky, which is prompting them to advocate for hybrid learning models yet again.
So before we begin sharpening pencils and filling backpacks, it might be helpful to look at the current state of hybrid and distance learning. Although the only certainty is uncertainty at this point, some stats and insights might offer a good indication of what the future holds.
Well before the pandemic, education and technology experts were already eyeing the benefits of hybrid or, as it’s also known, blended learning. A 2013 study by the Center for Digital Education found that 85% of K–12 educators saw a blended model as a way to offer more personalized learning. Technological advances since then have helped maintain this positive view—provided that educators and students have access to the right tools.
In the spring of 2020, the World Economic Forum determined that 1.2 billion children were out of the classroom and e-learning was correspondingly seeing rapid adoption. Based on information from Statistia, at least one-quarter of K-12 schools had implemented some form of hybrid learning during the last pandemic surge in the late autumn and winter of 2020–21.
According to an article in Education Week, twice as many K-12 teachers are currently planning a shift to hybrid learning. The recent survey of 1,242 educators (148 district leaders, 88 principals and 1,006 teachers) conducted by the EdWeek Research Center found that the twofold increase—from 10 to 20%—took place within the span of just one month, likely a result of concerns over the Delta variant.
An earlier article in Education Week highlights the very different benefits and challenges that schools have encountered upon implementing hybrid learning models during the pandemic. In Wall Township, NJ, for instance, the fleet of Chromebooks has revealed some of their technological limitations, particularly with Windows-based instructional software. “We had to pivot and start acquiring more PCs,” said the district’s director of curriculum and instruction. The district was also hit with a cyberattack that disrupted distance learning.
Whatever precautions they’re taking, academic institutions and school districts need to be ready to pivot quickly. Whereas some parents, teachers and policymakers are very uneasy about in-person schooling as the Delta variant surges, others are calling for a relaxation of public health precautions like masks and social distancing. That means schools could be in for a “choppy year” of sudden temporary shutdowns, says the LA Times, which means accommodating a mix of remote and hybrid models.
Higher education is seeing much of the same ambivalence and tension. Inside Higher Ed reports that the results of a Strada study indicate that 35% of respondents feel that online education offers the best value for money (compared to 32% for hybrid and 33% for in-person), and one in ten were planning to enroll in an online course. At the same time, they also were skeptical of the effectiveness of distance learning. As a result, hybrid models that combine the strengths of both could prove more popular in the near and long term.
That hunch is further borne out by another Strada survey on disrupted learning during the pandemic. Among the survey respondents who canceled or changed their higher-education plans, 1 in 4 said it was because they couldn’t or didn’t want to attend in-person instruction. That reluctance could be attributed to schedule conflicts, fears of contagion or tuition costs. Fully remote or hybrid learning could therefore prove an attractive option for those who’ve seen their studies derailed by COVID-19.
However, barriers to distance learning remain across the educational spectrum. One study by the Collaboration for Effective Educator Development, Accountability and Reform (CEEDAR) Center and the National Center for Systemic Improvement (NCSI) identified six key barriers and 22 high-leverage practices, or HLPs, to overcome them. Several of these HLPs have to do with increasing the accessibility of technology.
Effective hybrid learning rests on flexibility and accessibility
The takeaway from these snapshots is that the success of a hybrid educational model hinges on the technology that supports it.
As the Delta and future COVID-19 variants leave question marks hanging over the return to traditional instruction, schools will need to be able to shift smoothly from in-person to distance learning for the sake of safety as well as the quality of instruction. That means having technology in place that enables a flexible and secure learning environment for the broadest range of students.
As the Delta variant surges, Cameyo’s virtual app delivery platform is enabling students to continue learning from anywhere, on any device. Over 50 school districts have already chosen Cameyo as a lynchpin in their hybrid learning strategy, not least because its platform-agnostic solution helps bridge the digital divide. As long as a student has a device with an HTML5 browser, they can access all of the apps – native Windows, internal, and SaaS – easily and securely with Cameyo. That means school IT departments can serve tablets, Chromebooks and even older PCs, but without the security concerns that many virtual solutions bring.
And at a time when uncertainty is the watchword, we’re doing what we can to eliminate it. Our free trial of Cameyo allows schools and districts of any size to download and install our solution to see if it’s right for them. It’s as easy to try out as it is to fully deploy, which is why you can be up and running with your first published app in a matter of minutes
We can also walk you and your team through the details of our virtual app delivery platform personally. Simply schedule a demo and we’ll coordinate a session right away. Together, we can mitigate the concerns and the logistical hurdles of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure equitable, effective and secure hybrid learning for every student.