The Case for Hybrid Learning in Africa 
In a previous post, we explored the current state of the education system in Africa as well as arguments for and against the two methods of learning (traditional learning and online learning). Now, we’ll have a look at hybrid learning which is a blend of the two methods, and how it can be adapted within the African context, if at all.
Hybrid Learning: A match made in heaven?
Simply put, hybrid or (sometimes interchangeably called) blended learning is an approach that involves the right combination of face-to-face/traditional instruction with online delivery of learning content. It allows for the physical presence of teachers and students in a brick and mortar setting, but also utilizing technology as a mediation tool to deliver instruction outside of the traditional classroom structure. Blended Learning as it is fondly called has taken many shapes and forms but at the core, it involves the use of online and offline means to achieve learning goals.
As discussed earlier, the issues facing the educational system in Africa are numerous and obvious. For most schools in the African continent, transitioning to online learning is not that simple, given the distinct challenges facing each region from infrastructure deficit to insecurity. It is often assumed that simply providing free internet connection and low-cost internet-enabled devices to students is the panacea. However, self-guided online learning is not as effective as it appears. Research carried out at the University of South Africa showed that self-guided learning was ineffective due to learner demotivation. As most students have not been exposed to learning outside the classroom, expecting them to harness online self-learning may do little good.
Hence, Hybrid/Blended learning offers a sustainable way to transform learning in Africa at this stage while factoring in these challenges. It also acts as a subtle form of transition to a fully digital way of learning thereby equipping these students with the digital skills they need to compete globally.
There is really no need to let go of traditional learning entirely as the physical element remains an integral part for many students. Being able to interact with teachers and fellow students in a classroom setting has a significant impact on students’ understanding and willingness to learn. According to the Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning, learners’ interaction makes them reason more effectively, organize their thoughts and reflect on their understanding. Also, the importance of the human element cannot be eliminated. Therefore, factors such as automated online grading need to be accompanied by an actual teacher’s grading.
On the other hand, online learning allows for a more personalized and flexible system of learning, as students can move at their own pace, follow their own path and go over whatever they don’t understand numerous times.
Joining these two methods of learning in holy matrimony has the potential to increase the success rate of students as they leverage both in-person collaboration and feedback, while supplementing with vast online materials and learning tools. A typical example is the Rotation model of Blended learning that requires students to stream videos online as part of their curriculum and attend in-person classes one or three times a week. Another common example would be a “blend” of online research and information disseminated in the classroom for course assessments and exams. This way, students can enjoy the best of both worlds.
Can hybrid learning become the new norm?
Online learning sounds all good and nice, but independently, it really isn’t. There is a need to ensure students’ learning is supplemented with some guidance. For more challenging courses like Maths, Accounting and Science, it is almost educational suicide to leave students to depend on online learning alone. The value addition with hybrid learning is that teachers direct the path that students follow by implementing curriculum-based online learning. Hence, students don’t get lost in the pool of information available online.
In order for hybrid learning to be a go-to solution in Africa, there is a lot of work to be done. To put things in perspective, teachers within the continent are largely untrained to carry out digital education. They are not equipped with the right skills and resources to use digital technology to impact students. Furthermore, there is a need for teachers to be conditioned to shift from outdated curriculum to more modern curriculum that will prepare the next genius medical doctors, music legends, art prodigies, and science gurus for the new world of work. Teachers in Africa also need to be prepared to teach on important issues such as financial literacy and emotional intelligence or recommend online materials on these topics that students can learn from. Afterall, a well rounded individual leads to a well rounded society and nation at large.
Hybrid learning customized for the African educational system
The following are two main hybrid ways of learning that can effectively be adopted by schools in Africa:
Offline mobile apps and tools
The issue of internet connectivity is by far the most common problem facing students. A great way to tackle this is through educational mobile apps that can be used offline, stored with relevant interactive resources, videos, games etc that are aligned with the school curriculum. This can be used as an after-school support or serve to enable students take turns to attend physical classes, reducing the crowd in classrooms everyday.
Rotating offline and online
This method is already being implemented in some tertiary institutions but should penetrate further to secondary and primary levels. With this method, students still attend classes with teachers like they normally do but certain time is allocated during school hours to using online tools. During this time they can put to practice whatever they have learnt in the classroom. For this to work, the school will need to have the necessary resources such as PCs/tablets, and internet connection for students to use during these hours.
Hybrid learning comes with various benefits for the educational system, and yes, the cost factor cannot be ignored. There is still a great need for funding to provide students and teachers with the digital resources they need to implement hybrid learning. However, focus should also be placed on revising curriculums (upwards, of course), preparing teachers and students, and implementing blended learning in ways that are suitable for the African education system as it stands. We need to go beyond thinking that what we need is just internet connectivity and low-cost laptops, as the main issue is not just about reaching global standards but setting standards that work for the African reality.