Making hybrid learning sustainable

Issue: Volume 101, Number 8

Posted: 30 June 2022
Reference #: 1HAUp0

Successful hybrid learning leverages technologies to provide continuity of quality learning for all students, no matter when, where or how. Te Poutāhū chief advisor Lesley Murrihy explains how the curriculum centre is analysing good practice in action to inform guidance for all schools and kura. 

Ilminster Intermediate School in Gisborne are one the schools sharing their hybrid learning journey with Te Poutāhū.

Ilminster Intermediate School in Gisborne are one the schools sharing their hybrid learning journey with Te Poutāhū.

Hybrid learning has had a bad rap, says Te Poutāhū chief advisor Lesley Murrihy. 

She says that some teachers have assumed that double or even triple planning is required to deliver to students at school or home, online or paper-based.   

Schools have reflected that learning during lockdowns when everyone was home was easier than operating under the Covid Protection Framework, which requires schools to stay open despite positive cases, and students to be able to continue learning no matter where, when and how.

So how does Te Poutāhū define hybrid learning? Lesley explains.

What is hybrid learning?

The term hybrid learning has often been defined as ‘synchronous learning that teaches both in-person and online learners simultaneously’. 

This can involve remote students joining a livestream of the lessons being provided to onsite students. However, considerable international research has shown that teachers have found it very difficult to teach this way with the remote students often feeling marginalised and ignored. That is, if the students are even able to access the livestream or have adequate quiet space in their homes to engage in a virtual classroom.

Hybrid learning has also been defined as an approach in which classes, teams or schools are divided into cohorts with some students learning onsite while other students learn at home and then swapping. 

This is called hybrid (cohort) learning, an approach that has been used around the world as a ‘get back to school’ strategy after long lockdowns. Some schools in New Zealand have used this approach to help them through under the Covid Protection Framework.

Lesley says hybrid learning may take the form of all the above at different times, however hybrid learning is not any one model. 

“In fact, we don’t talk about hybrid learning as a model, because it is not a particular way of ‘doing’ learning, but rather it is an approach that is underpinned by some broad principles, processes and practices that are responsive to each particular context.”

Lesley further explains that schools have talked about having 30 percent of their students away and just when that number was reducing, 30 percent of teachers ended up self-isolating or sick. 

The point of hybrid learning is for schools to be able to respond to such rapidly changing challenges.

According to Te Poutāhū, hybrid learning is ‘an approach that leverages technologies to provide continuity of quality learning for all students, no matter when, where or how they are learning’.

Continuous and responsive

It is continuous and responsive, says Lesley, and includes:

  • The provisioning of quality learning, not just keeping students busy.
  • Supporting continuous learning for all students – whether at home or at school.
  • Leveraging technologies – generally digital technologies, but also includes paper-based technologies if students are unable to engage in online learning.
  • Being responsive to the context of each individual student as well as to the (often changing) context of the school.

There has been a great deal of international research undertaken throughout the pandemic and a consistent finding has been that learning from home approaches have exacerbated inequities for those already underserved in education systems. 

Lesley says that first and foremost, hybrid learning is an approach that supports equity and inclusion, as outlined in ‘Six Principles of Hybrid Learning’ from Te Tāhuhu o te Mātauranga | The Ministry of Education. The principles are efficiency and sustainability, coherence and connectedness, responsiveness, transparency, equity, and inclusion – with continuous, quality learning for every student at the centre.

Lesley says whatever we do, it should be equitable and inclusive, not exacerbate already inequitable outcomes for some groups of students.

“Hybrid learning is complex and challenging, and we are not going to pretend it is easy, but the good news is that some schools are developing hybrid learning as a sustainable practice – one that doesn’t require double and triple planning by teachers – and we can learn from them.”

Gathering stories of good practice

A small team in Te Poutāhū is being supported by a group of tūmuaki/principals to gather stories and develop advice and guidance as part of the Covid response. 

Te Mahau regional offices have also been gathering spotlights on good practice and engaging principals to support their Covid response work. 

Resources are being published on the Ministry’s Learning from Home website as they become available and can be used online or downloaded by schools or teachers to support the development of their hybrid learning approaches. 

As the team continues to analyse these stories and interviews, some actions are emerging as key to sustainable practice. Lesley explains four key actions to Education Gazette  but concedes it is an emerging knowledge area.

Lesley says these approaches are variable in their levels of sustainability and equitable provision. However, they are a start, and they acknowledge that working together is essential to sustainable hybrid learning.

Know your community

At Te Kura Ākonga o Manurewa, principal Irihapeti Matiaha stresses the importance of schools knowing their community and being respectful of whānau.

“I believe that, as a leader, you will know how to approach your community at difficult times such as these if you have a good understanding of the community. I get a lot of information from the Ministry of Education and other people in similar positions to me, and it’s nice to talk to them, but it’s also good to approach the kura community and see what is important to them at such times.”

She adds the importance of communicating with whānau, and collaborating with them instead of telling them what to do. 

“I have always been clear that when we shift to learning from home we will not put out a timetable telling our whānau what they should do in their own homes… it goes against our tiaki, manaaki, aroha, and whakamana values. 

“We need to be mindful of making life as simple and as easy as possible for everyone.”

Red Hill School describes how they addressed equity issues and engaged whānau during a time when learning from home was particularly challenging.

From the outset, they knew that they needed to provide individualised learning materials for all 225 students.

They also talk about how everything was communicated to whānau by Facebook, Seesaw, email, text and/or phone call – or door-knocking in the event of no response. 

The school explains that whānau knew if they didn’t respond, they would be knocking on their doors to check in as part of their ‘daily exercise’ around the community. 

In following this approach, the school became recognised as an essential service within their community and whānau were able to communicate their needs.

When it came time for school to reopen, most whānau felt confident in the school’s ability to keep children safe which meant that tamariki were soon back on site.   

If you have good practice to share, Education Gazette  would love to hear from you. Email 

Hybrid learning resources

All of these resources, spotlights and more, are available at link)

Hybrid Learning Guides(external link)

Hybrid Learning Spotlights(external link)

Downloadable, printable and editable Learning from Home packs(external link) to support online and paper-based learning

Seven Actions Necessary for Getting Stared with Hybrid Learning(external link)

Importance of Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning(external link)


Four keys to a sustainable approach to hybrid learning

Dr Lesley Murrihy explains four key actions/considerations for schools to develop a sustainable approach to hybrid learning, based on the examples of successful practice shared by principals and the regional education offices of Te Mahau.  

A central, schoolwide online platform as the backbone

It’s important to choose a schoolwide online platform and use it as the ‘backbone’ of both onsite and remote learning programmes. This will ensure everyone (teachers, ākonga, whānau) are familiar with the online platform, and at times when remote learning is required, everyone will find it easy to navigate and transition online.

Put all learning tasks and resources onto this platform so that all students can access them. The purpose is for all students to receive the same learning opportunities and activities whether they are learning from home or at school. Schools already using a central platform as part of their normal programme were able to transition more easily into hybrid learning.

Key considerations:

  • The platform should be the same throughout the school so that whānau with several children only need to learn how to get around one online platform rather than several. Even better, use the same platform throughout a cluster of schools or a kāhui ako. 
  • This central online platform does not need to be a full learning management system (LMS) but could be as simple as a Google Site which is freely available as part of the Google for Education suite of products. 
  • Be consistent in how tasks and resources are put on the platform and keep it as simple as possible to support accessibility and familiarity.
  • Put resources on this platform in ways that are easily downloadable and printable for students who require paper-based versions – always keep in mind learners who need paper-based programmes.

Balancing expectations and requirements with autonomy 

Schoolwide expectations and requirements are necessary because they reduce teachers’ cognitive load at a time when they are already hugely stretched. It means that teachers won’t have to work everything out. However, the balance will need to be fluid. 

As teachers become more familiar with new ways of working, they might want more autonomy to make their own decisions, in knowing their students best. While keeping this need in mind, leaders need to be mindful of the needs of whānau as well as ākonga and teachers.

Key considerations:

  • Provide clear guidance and expectations for teachers for online learning. 
  • Although the main goal of a central platform is to ensure familiarity no matter where students are in the school, allow some flexibility for teachers and ākonga to add unique markers or decorations to their sites to assist a sense of belonging.

Build in continuous feedback loops and be responsive

Feedback loops that include whānau, ākonga and teachers will be essential to continually getting the balance right. 

Leaders and teachers can’t know what they don’t know. When embarking on a new approach, it is important to continually gather feedback about how actions are impacting on whānau, ākonga and kaiako – particularly around equity and inclusion.

The situation of many whānau will be continually changing so feedback will help teachers and schools make informed decisions, and allow schools to adapt continually. 

Key considerations: 

  • Being open to continual feedback is not always easy, so it’s important to embed continuous feedback loops into structures and systems. 
  • Honour feedback by responding to it.
  • Key questions to ask could be: “Is our hybrid learning approach responsive to changing circumstances and are we inviting frequent feedback and being quickly responsive to it? Are we listening to parents/whānau, ākonga and teachers and taking account of their changing experiences and circumstances?”

Collaboration is more than a ‘nice to have’

Many schools have discovered that working together is the key to sustainable hybrid learning. 

Cross-curricular approaches can break down the reliance on a specific teacher working with a particular class.

At a simple level this may involve alignment of planning across just a couple of curriculum areas – for example, an art teacher working with an English teacher. At a more sophisticated level, cross-curricular collaboration is implicit in projects, inquiries, or thematic approaches where the investigation of a topic and design of a solution involves drawing from different learning areas. 

Collaboration can also involve schools or teams sharing strengths, capabilities and resources or sharing experiences and collaboratively inquiring together to learn how to improve implementation. 

Some examples of collaboration include:

  • Teachers who are self-isolating working from home and focused on supporting remote learners, leaving onsite teachers to focus on onsite learners.
  • Teachers team-teaching onsite, with teacher/s supporting the asynchronous learning activities of onsite learners with the other teacher/s working synchronously with groups of onsite and remote learners. 
  • Choosing a digitally capable teacher at each hub/team or year level to run a programme for remote learners using the same planning and learning programmes as the onsite learners to ensure the learning is continuous for all.
  • Schools in a kāhui ako working together to provide online learning for all their remote learners.
  • Planning together to enable teachers to move flexibly across groups of students as the need arises and ensure learning programmes continue seamlessly for all students.

These are just four keys that will open the doors to sustainable hybrid learning. However, there are others that are equally important, such as distributed leadership and power-sharing, learner agency and self-directedness, design, strategic decision-making and a future focus. 

Keep an eye on link) for more resources on hybrid learning, and more examples of good practice. 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:55 am, 30 June 2022

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