Hybrid – Defining in the context of SP@M.

I refer to the SPaM framework as being in support of the development of Hybrid Education/Learning and one of the queries I get is why use the term hybrid over blended, what’s the difference?

In the context of SPaM I will attempt to set out why I have chosen to use the term hybrid over and above any other term, but in all honesty no matter the terminology, SPaM is still useful as reference point for fully on campus / blended / hybrid / fully online course development as fundamentally it is about consciously thinking about and making decisions around each of the framework domains.

(Oh and as side note I have also heard people question why I use “in-person” in reference to just on campus teaching because after all isn’t online synchronous also in-person? Well the main reason is because that is what the dictionary definition is, so I hope we can agree on that one at least!



(of an activity or event) taking place with people physically present together in the same place, not on the internet or by phone or video link

So with that out of the way, let’s down to the slightly more complex discussion about defining “hybrid”. What I’d like to do is start with why I’m not using the term blended. Part of the reason for this is because we just haven’t really ever managed to get to an agreed definition of what we mean by that either (and I suspect the same will be the case for hybrid), but I do think Sue Beckingham’s work (as seen in the modality section) is really helping in clarifying those differences in opinion on terminology and at least get to a consensus even if some won’t always agree.

modes of learning in higher education presented in six boxes one for each mode. in-person / hybrid / distance / blended / self-directed
Modes of Learning – (Sue Beckingham, 2021)

As you will see from that model Beckingham has provided a definition for both blended and hybrid, both of which am pretty comfortable with, but not everyone will be. The basic premise is that ‘blended’ is a mode that is predicated around an on campus setting, using digital tools and and platforms to support that experience, whereas ‘hybrid’ is where students have aspects of their learning taking place on campus and online.

Now on the surface of it some may think that that sounds pretty much the same, but the key difference for me is that in hybrid education the curriculum is specifically designed for each mode, that means decisions about the pedagogy (including assessment design, learning activities, feedback methods etc are all specific to the mode (this is exactly what SPaM encourages).

Also personally when I think of blended I visualise lots of ingredients in a food processor being whizzed round together – and I wanted something that sounded more structured.

The best analogy I have relates to a hybrid vehicle. A hybrid vehicle has both a combustion engine and electric motors. For some journeys the combustion engine is the most suitable, usually for travelling long distance or at high speed for long periods. For other journeys the electric motor will be most effective, usually those shorter runs, in urban areas and where maximum efficiency can be gained. There is also an intrinsic link between the combustion engine and the electric motor, with the former charging the batteries for the other and conversely the electric engine providing extra horse power for when the combustion engine needs it. Ultimately what we have here is a system designed for maximum flexibility, combining the benefits of both.

So, if we apply that same concept of ‘hybrid’ to education, what we should be doing is thinking about the student learning journey and designing the curriculum using different modes for different elements of that learning journey, making decisions about which mode is best for which elements of learning. At a programme level it may be that certain modules are best for certain modes, or within a module certain topics/activities are best for a certain mode. These are not decisions for me, but for those charged with the design of the programme/module, using SPaM as a point of reference for these discussions and decisions.

So, that’s the rationale for why I am using the term ‘hybrid’ – not everyone will agree with it, but firstly it is based on established use of the term, albeit outside of the education sector which in my opinion makes it less likely to be misunderstood and secondly this definition has gained traction (in the UK at least) over the past few years as we rethink our approaches to learning and teaching in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

I have no doubt that the term ‘hybrid’ will continue to be debated for many years, as we have seen with the definition of blended learning and this is to be expected as both technology, pedagogy and the scholarship of learning and teaching evolve.

All we can do is seek to clarify these terms in the context of our own work so that those who engage with this framework and it’s use understand the framing of the terminology around which it was developed. So, whether you agree with this definition or not (and I’m happy to debate it), at least you have a better sense of what it means in the context of the SPaM framework and why I am using it.

What’s in a name? Maybe you need MaPS?

A couple of people have commented that the acronym ‘SPaM’ may not go down well in some circles. However, the structure of the acronym is purposeful and as such I am intending to keep it in this format.

Whilst the three domains should be considered equally the reality is that nearly all of the course design or curriculum development activities I have been involved with, either as a course director or as an educational developer, have almost always started with a discussion about “what” is going to be in the course, i.e. the “subject knowledge”.

That’s not to say that “content is king” – subject knowledge is more than just content, but it is very often the starting point for the curriculum design process and strongly informs learning outcomes and structure of programmes. For this reason ‘S’ for Subject is the first letter in the acronym.

Additionally both Subject & Pedagogy are already established elements of the TPACK framework (although ‘subject’ is referred to as Content Knowledge) so it makes sense to have these as the first two letters whilst the domain which I have added into the framework is Modality (hence having ‘M’ at the end of the acronym).

However, I wouldn’t want an acronym to stand in the way of a useful framework being used and so on the rare occasion where someone may object to SPaM then please feel free to use the alternative – MaPS.

We have lift off…………………..

Over the past few days/weeks I’ve been consolidating my thinking on a framework for Hybrid Education. You may be asking why we need a framework, after all stuff still happens with or without the framework.

Since 2014 I have been making use of the TPACK framework as part of my research into academic staff experiences of digital skills development. If you have read the Introduction section of this site you will have already noted that TPACK is the basis for the SPaM framework also.

During this research a number of benefits arose from having a framework to support the digital skills development of academic staff and these same benefits apply to this framework in a similar context. Those benefits include:

  • A single reference point for joining up discussions and sharing experiences across (and beyond) and organisation.
  • Identification of the key domains necessary for any successful hybrid/blended programme.
  • Recognition of the way in which these domains influence and are affected by each other.
  • A framework through which to guide curriculum design in the context of blended courses.
  • A framework through which to identify and plan staff development needs in relation to academic development.
  • To be adapted for both staff and student facing needs so as to connect students with the curriculum design process and make it more visible to them.
  • To support course/programme approval and re-approval activity by having three core areas for discussion.
  • A framework that encourages collaboration and holistic development by identifying what different experts bring to the curriculum design table.
  • Supporting a high quality student experience by ensuring that the key considerations of their learning experience are identified.
  • A framework which helps to connect the “what” (subject materials) with the “why” (pedagogy and modality). The “how” sits somewhere amongst all three domains and is heavily influenced by the “what”.

The list is not exhaustive and is drawn from interview data of participants with regards to their experience of TPACK. Additionally one of the key messages from this data is that the simplicity of the framework is it’s strength and as such SPaM does not seek to extend the TPACK framework beyond it’s original three core domains, but seeks to adapt it in such a way as to make it more suitable for use in a world of hybrid education.

Please do take a look at the framework introduction to start with and feel free to get in touch with any further suggestions or considerations via the contact form.