In blended and hybrid courses (with the terms used interchangeably in this article), students complete activities both in the classroom and online. Online activities typically prepare, supplement, or assess in-class work. Online activities can also invite engagement and exploration in the open web or within closed digital learning environments such as a learning management system’s forum or discussion board, or collaborating on a Google document. Blended learning creates opportunities for students to engage with content and each other digitally in addition to learning in the face-to-face environment. Designing online activities and experiences that operate in tandem with face-to-face learning promotes exploration of real-world problems (informal and formal). Such “problem-based” learning can develop relevant digital skills that support learners to co-create knowledge.

Digital Activities

As you design learning experiences for a blended course, you have the web as an additional classroom space to support your face-to-face course activities and content sharing. Offering activities online in conjunction with in-class experiences raises students’ digital literacy and addresses multiple learning preferences. Digital activities such as going on a “digital field trip” where students conduct research, engage in a discovery activity or analyze web content can support multiple learning goals. Educators can also design activities that require interaction and engagement online that enhance the community of learning already established in class. Examples include using annotation tools (for example, to annotate websites and online articles, co-editing a Wikipedia page, creating and commenting on public blogs, building an eportfolio, and collaborating on creating a digital document, infographic, website, podcast, or video.

Even though classroom time is available to facilitate discussion and meaning-making, educators can design online forum discussions in small groups to take in-class discussions to a different level or add additional engagement opportunities to the course content. Creating opportunities for digital exploration and engagement can enhance comprehension and increases digital fluency for life-long learning.

Strategic Activity Design

When designing assignments and activities, consider both the in-class learning environment and the online learning environment to create deeper and more diverse learning opportunities. This often opens up a new way of teaching and co-creating communities of learning.

Educators who plan effective in-class activities that run in tandem with activities online will find that students’ motivation and engagement increase. This is also true when digital learning spaces are presented as just as important as the in-classroom space. This is best achieved when the digital space is designed to be connective and collaborative. One such activity to enhance connection and collaboration is dividing students into project groups for discussion and projects. Requiring student-led discussions or annotation activities and designing question prompts that are meaningfully relevant and/or reflective can foster online communities of learning as well. Starting off the term with a personal share or declaration of course goals is a great way to build community and connection early on that can lead to easier interdependence and motivation for collaboration later in the term.

Instructors might use in-person meetings to tackle difficult course concepts, provide lectures, facilitate group/lab work and in-class presentations. Students have access to an accompanying online course shell, 24/7, hosted on the learning management system. The online course shell is used for course content, assignment submissions, videos, readings, participating in discussions, submitting quizzes, exams and accessing the gradebook tool. The logistics of course administration and ease of giving students timely feedback can be a great time saver for faculty. Students prefer the flexibility of reviewing course content anytime, anywhere on their mobile devices and of using the course tools, such as the assignment dropbox, discussion tool and quick access to the library widget.

As you plan activities and weigh which activities to move online and which to implement face to face, consider the following:

  • Identify potential challenging content areas in the course, and consider what new online resources can support students learning complex concepts.
  • Design your assignments first and consider what smaller activities will support their success (scaffolding). Which ones can be done online?
  • Ask if content can be given through a recorded lecture watched before or after class. This can act as a prompt for in-class activities or enhance concepts from class time.
  • Is the labor involved in the online experience appropriate?
  • Is the activity or content clearly outlined and presented? Why are they doing it?
  • Does the activity or content you present match your learning outcomes and is it realistic for your student population to succeed? Consider technical capacities, collaborative skills, and communication styles when designing and planning for alternatives. It’s possible that you may not know your student population well enough to determine success but having an open and adaptive mind will help you navigate these choices and create just-in-time solutions.

The most effective and engaging blended courses create digital learning experiences that enhance course content and provide opportunities for students to create, connect, and collaborate. Success is often achieved when educators make strong connections between learning that occurs in the classroom and learning that occurs online. Educators can place self-paced activities online as preparation for class or design activities for meaning — making and reflection to build a cohesive and well-balanced blended learning environment.