Modes of Teaching


Since the onset of COVID-19, educators have been inundated with a variety of terms to describe the various modes of teaching that have occurred in response to the pandemic. Not all of them are new. And although many institutions are now focused on the return to “normal,” for many, these alternatives to in-person learning may be here to stay. Hybrid, hyflex, blended, remote, online, distance, e-learning—what do each of these terms mean, and how do they function in practice? In this blog post, we’ll dive into some definitions and examples as we explore the current teaching landscape. Distinguishing between the terms can get extra tricky because there is overlap. We’ve tried to draw connections between the terms below and in the infographic so that you can see how they are related. 

Before we dig into modes of teaching, we want to define two key terms that emerge across all modes of teaching:

  • Synchronous experiences are those in which people (learners and/or teachers) are in the same “space” at the same time. This could be in the same physical, brick-and-mortar classroom or the same digital space such as a Zoom, Google Meet, or phone call.
  • Asynchronous experiences are those in which learners and/or teachers are not in the same “space” at the same time, such as working in a shared Google Doc at different times, posting to a discussion board, or using email.

Current Teaching Landscape Modes of Teaching 

  • Face-to-face: Face-to-face (F2F) teaching and learning is what most of us consider “traditional” and occurs in brick-and-mortar buildings in which learners and teachers gather in the same physical location to teach and learn. Sometimes this is referred to as “in-person learning.” The MAET Overseas program is an example of a 4-week, face-to-face learning experience.
  • Remote: implies some deviation from face-to-face learning and seeks to replicate the learning that would have happened in a F2F classroom. Remote learning may involve screen-free and/or online activities. It does not require that all students have access to technology or the internet. The learning that happened in Spring 2020—COVID-19 remote learning—personifies emergency remote learning.
  • Distance learning: is a type of remote learning. It relies on a system in which lessons or instruction are broadcasted and learners submit work via mail, drop-off/pick-up, or electronically, without needing to physically attend. Distance learning has happened for decades in analog form—VHS lectures, using the postal service to mail in learners’ work—but has morphed to leverage the internet and digital web-based resources. For example, e-learning and fully online courses are considered distance learning.
  • e-learning: electronic learning seeks to enhance F2F learning with the use of digital technologies. E-learning broadly relies on the affordances of the internet, multimedia opportunities, affordable personal devices, and content management systems (CMSs) or learning management systems (LMSs). E-learning is a bit of a catch-all phrase and is likely to be used differently in different organizations and institutions. The MAET Mini-MOOC on Remote Teaching is an example of an e-learning opportunity for educators to learn about remote teaching. Blended,  hybrid, and fully online learning are types of e-learning.
  • Blended: traditionally, blended learning occurs in a F2F environment. It is, as the name suggests, a cohesive “blend” of online and F2F learning. Online and face-to-face course components and materials are designed to complement each other rather than replace the learning that happens as students engage with each other in the classroom (this is a key difference between blended and hybrid modes). Students are usually free to work through online materials at their own pace. 
  • Flipped: a “flipped” classroom is one in which learners explore the majority of course content at home (reading, listening to lectures, watching lessons, etc.) via text, video, or audio. Then, learners return to a F2F class for discussions, labs, and other more hands-on learning activities to practice and apply the concepts. The name comes from the idea of “flipping” the traditional classroom—learners are doing what might otherwise be considered “homework” in the classroom and attending “lectures”/instruction at home. 
  • Hybrid: is a combination of face-to-face and online (remote) learning and can be done in many ways. In the MAET program, we run a hybrid cohort option that involves 2 weeks of face-to-face learning followed by 4 weeks of online learning. Many schools in “COVID-19 times” have used a hybrid approach in which students engaged in face-to-face learning on some days, and online or remote learning on other days. In a hybrid format, the online experiences replace what might otherwise have been face-to-face learning.
  • HyFlex: this term combines “hybrid” + “flexible.” Students generally have the choice to participate via three modes: F2F, a synchronous video experience (in K-12, this looked like students joining the F2F class via a video conference platform), or asynchronous online. One key element is that HyFlex offers a more flexible participation policy so that learners are able to attend in the mode that best fits their schedule and needs at that time.
  • Fully online: occurs when learners can complete all of their learning experiences (exploring, practicing, assessment) online, through their own devices. The fully online version of our MAET program is an example of this format. In many contexts, fully online may be used interchangeably with virtual, distance, or e-learning.
This graphic summarizes the text in this blog post.