Chapter 5 – Adopting Models that Work
This chapter introduces the most widely used digital learning models used in adult
education—distance education, blended learning, hybrid learning, and the HyFlex
model. While multiple digital learning models are presented, each program provider
should think carefully about which models work best for their unique context. This
chapter also addresses the challenges of implementation, including reporting considerations for federal and state funding.
Digital Learning Models
Distance education is a broad term that encompasses any learning that occurs
away from a physical classroom. This includes courses at satellite campuses,
correspondence courses, and online learning. In turn, online learning includes
asynchronous and synchronous learning experiences that occur online, either in fully
online courses or through other digital learning models such as blended learning.
Blended learning is any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised
brickand-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with
some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace.
The key elements of blended learning include learning experiences that combine
in-person and online spaces, along with an element of learner control. Blended
learning aligns well with the adult learner characteristics of autonomous, self-directed
learning. Blended learning also facilitates competency-based models of learning,
especially when learners control the pace and path of the learning experience.
Blended learning is a powerful way to differentiate and personalize
instruction, as well as to help move away from time-based models of
achievement toward competency-based ones. Blending is a strategy for
helping teachers achieve what they strive to do every day—deeply understand
and enable each student they work with to reach the very highest levels of educational mastery.
Multiple models exist for implementing blended learning in the classroom:
Learners interact with content and online learning activities at home and
participate in teacher-guided practice or project-based
learning in the classroom. A flipped classroom allows educators to focus
on application, extension, and personalized support rather than delivering
lectures. Educators can use existing content (e.g., electronic textbook,
online videos) or create their own content (e.g., interactive presentations, screencasts).
All learners rotate through collaborative activities, online
learning, and teacher-led instruction. Station rotation is a popular blended
learning model for K–12 schools.
Learners rotate through activities like station rotation, but direct
instruction and online learning occur in a dedicated computer lab. This allows
schools to maximize the use of existing resources and support staff.
Learners rotate through stations, but on a personalized
learning plan. The learner has an individualized schedule, created with the
guidance of their instructor or adaptive software. Unlike in a station or lab
rotation model, individual learners do not always participate in all activities.
Instead, learners only complete the learning activities that are most beneficial
to them and their individual learning goals.
Online learning is the foundation of the flex model. Educators provide
instruction and support on a flexible, as-needed basis while individual learners
move through learning activities at their own pace according to their individual
needs. The flex model provides a high degree of learner control and can be
implemented in both physical and virtual classrooms.
Most blended learning models require learners to participate in both in-person and
online modalities. The HyFlex model provides greater learner choice and flexibility
by offering multiple modalities for participation. A HyFlex course includes class
sessions that allow students to choose whether to attend classes face-to-face or
online, synchronously or asynchronously.
The fundamental principles and values underlying the HyFlex model include:
Learners can choose between alternative participation modes
on a regular basis either by schedule or topic.
Activities in all participation modes are equivalent and lead to equivalent outcomes.
Learning materials are shared between participation modes (e.g.,
a handout for in-person class is also provided in a digital format).
Learners possess (or develop) basic digital literacy skills; “equitable access to all participation modes.”
There are several benefits to various stakeholders using the HyFlex model:
increased course access; increased flexibility in participation; more
robust instructional materials; increased opportunities for learning
develop online instructional skills without losing in-person instructional skills;
provide a built-in alternative to classroom instruction; serve more learners with the same resources
increase enrollment; increase individual course offerings;
support innovative instructional approaches.
VOICES FROM THE FIELD
Suzy Kelly | CTE Instructor | Berkeley Adult School
What are some of the challenges and opportunities that you see in different digital learning models?
It was extremely challenging to transition culinary to online, but going forward,
I want to do a hybrid or HyFlex class. With culinary, there are things that I
want them to have hands-on experience with—say, knife skills, or tasting
food, if we’re talking about seasoning. But there’s been so much opportunity
with the online teaching that I really want to blend those. I don’t want to go
away from online, because it’s provided so many opportunities and access
for people. Whether people have children at home, or a disability, or whatever
prevents them from coming in full-time—I don’t want to lose that population.
It makes it more enjoyable for me as a teacher to be able to reach them, and
I feel like I can give them so much more of this class than I ever did before.
Technology, surprisingly, has created more access to learning. Before, it was all
me teaching, and now I’ve been able to go out into the world and use all these
other people, which is really fantastic. They get me, plus more.
Planning and Implementation
Regardless of delivery method, adult education programs need to comply with federal
and state policies. Additionally, program providers need to consider which models
will work within different program areas or specific course levels. Whether offering
blended, hybrid, HyFlex, or online learning models—adult education programs must
first address potential barriers to learner participation and successful implementation.
Addressing Challenges to Implementation
Potential challenges to successful digital learning experiences for adult learners include:[144,145,146,147,148]
Access (devices, hardware, software) and connectivity (high-speed internet
access)—addressed in chapter 2
Insufficient digital literacy skills, or a lack of experience using digital tools for
learning—addressed in chapter 2
Competing demands for attention and time—adult learners navigate multiple
roles and responsibilities, and adult education programs need to accommodate
competing learner demands through learner choice, flexible programming,
and support services
Inadequate communication with educators (e.g., ambiguous instructions,
inadequate feedback, insufficient advising and support services)—see chapter 3 for
more information on how to prepare educators for digital learning
Potential challenges to successful digital learning experiences for educators:[149,150,151,152,153]
A lack of effective and meaningful professional development, including basic
digital literacy skills and technology integration—see chapter 3 for more
information on how to prepare educators for digital learning
Insufficient time for curriculum design, instruction in multiple modalities,
communicating with learners, providing learner feedback, technical support, and more
To adequately address the numerous challenges for learners and educators,
programs must be deliberate and thoughtful in all aspects and steps of the planning
and implementation process.[154,155,156] A strong infrastructure that includes appropriate levels of
funding, professional development, technical support, time, and
learner support addresses many of the challenges and concerns. A collaborative
approach to curriculum development and implementation can help to integrate
a broad range of perspectives. Finally, any new program will take time to fully
implement, so programs need to both address short-term challenges while also
establishing a long-term vision for sustainable program maintenance and growth.
Interoperability is the controlled, seamless, and secure exchange of data across
applications. The goal of interoperability is to help learners focus on the learning
experience and meeting goals and objectives, rather than spending time on digital
literacy, navigation, and technical support issues.
Some questions to consider related to interoperability include:
When using multiple tools, will they “speak” to each other? For example, if
learners have a Google or Microsoft account, can they use that account to log
in to a chosen digital curriculum or LMS?
Will learners need digital support to use each tool?
How can we remain mindful of learners’ digital identities when using multiple
accounts (e.g., Canvas, Padlet)?
With most funding for adult education programs coming from federal and state levels,
accountability is an important consideration not only for adult education program
providers but for individual educators within each program. Everyone is responsible
for demonstrating program effectiveness through mandated reporting requirements.
In the state of California, program providers must provide annual reports on data
integrity; payment point summaries; fiscal reports; professional development,
technology and distance learning plans; and assessment plans.
NRS uses specific definitions related to distance education programs:
A formal learning experience where educators and learners are separated by geography,
time, or both for most of the learning experience
Learners with at least 12 contact hours with an adult education program provider
Proxy contact hours:
Accrue after the initial 12 contact hours. For distance
education, proxy contact hours mainly come from the following methods:
Clock time model:
: Hours are based on learner participation data within online learning tools
(e.g., how long a learner is logged in and active on a specific platform)
Teacher verification model:
Educators determine hours based on learner participation in activities or learner completion of an assignment
Learner mastery model:
A fixed number of hours is awarded based on earning a minimum score on a formal assessment
NRS requires adult education courses to align with NRS definitions. However, within
online learning environments, determining participation is more complex than a simple
recording of “seat time.” In addition to the three models listed above, data collection
for contact hours might come from attendance logs in synchronous sessions, digital
assignments, discussion board participation, and even tool-specific participation
Program providers need to establish clear guidelines for determining proxy contact
hours and recording learner participation. It is important for educators to design
effective learning activities but meeting federal and state requirements also needs to
be a consideration, as those requirements drive funding. While bureaucratic demands
can force content use and limit innovation, a benefit of alignment is an increased
clarity for learners in the course selection and scheduling processes.
Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Requirements
In addition to NRS requirements, the
Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act
requires states to align workforce education programs with performance
goals focused on accountability, transparency, and improved workforce development.
Under WIOA, programs evaluate effectiveness using the measurable
skill gains indicator. For adult education programs, participants can demonstrate
measurable skill gains by completing an educational level through pre- and posttesting,
credit completion, or entering a postsecondary education program; or by
earning a secondary school diploma. Program providers can administer pre- and
post-testing in person at a proctored and secured program site or through virtual
proctoring. Virtual proctoring requires use of NRS-approved tests and includes
procedures for administration such as learner identification, technology requirements,
test security, and training proctors.
States use WIOA in making funding decisions for adult education programs, including
funds for digital learning programming, professional development, and technical
support. WIOA lists three considerations related to digital learning. Program providers must demonstrate:
effective use of technology to increase high-quality learning and improved learning outcomes;
digital learning activities are delivered by high-quality, well-trained administrators, counselors,
and educators who have access to high-quality professional development opportunities; and
use of a high-quality information management system.