Design for Remote, Optimize for Hybrid

This post is part of a series of articles, blog posts, and short briefs produced by EXPLO Elevate focused on supporting schools’ virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

by Sudipti Kumar | Director of Research
with Dave Hamilton | Director of Programs

In our Agile Course Design (ACD) workshop, we tell participants to start planning their learning experiences by “designing for remote learners” and then making adjustments to that plan if the learning turns out to be face-to-face or hybrid.

The reason is because most things that work well for remote students can also be a good practice in any other environment as well. Take for example, the idea of micro-check ins, a strategy where teachers set up multiple chances for students to turn in or share smaller parts of a larger task rather than a fully completed assignment in one go. In an online space, this helps students to chunk out their work, particularly when they are alone and may not have the luxury of calling on a teacher to ask a question. Micro-check ins hold value in the online learning context, but they are rooted in the face-to-face environment. Teachers are always quickly scanning a room, working with a student individually when they see a puzzled face, and differentiating assignments across varied learner needs. It is also critical to think about micro check-ins as part of a longer-term gradual release model.

Over time, students who are provided with the right set of tools from their teacher and school, won’t need as many intermittent check-ins – building their independence to do the work themselves. Check-ins can move from ensuring students are doing the work to talking about the work and providing extensions.

We are aware, acutely, that there is a dizzying array of scenarios schools are considering as they plan for reopening. We also are realizing that even in-person learning will feel at least a little remote if desks are six feet apart and facing forward instead of in collaborative groups. This chart below, provides a summary of four ways and spaces students may experience schooling next year. In it, we use the term Hy-Flex to describe a specific form of Hybrid learning where a class of students are simultaneously learning at home and in-person.

There are other options that are not shown in the four models above of course. For example, some schools may be recording lessons for remote students rather than trying the Hy-Flex model. Regardless, there will likely be some portion of students who are fully remote across most schools in the fall.

In the below tables, we take some common challenges in online learning, share a potential strategy to address it in the remote space and then provide some “optimized strategies” for Hy-Flex. Many of these challenges and solutions are pulled from what schools have shared over the past few months, but are also based on learnings from the remote workplace. The synergies between remote work and remote school are strong; while students are not employees, their need for supervision, community and clear information is not very different from the needs of an employee for a large corporation.

We break our lists down into three categories: the social/emotional, curricular/academic, and overall systems/structures. This list is clearly not exhaustive, but represents a schema to think about a challenge, how teachers have already been addressing that challenge remotely, and how to build on that for the hybrid space. We also know that some of these ideas may not feel feasible or perhaps even impractical – we present them to show the possibilities that are available for schools and teachers. Perhaps plucking a few from this list can help round out the hybrid learning experience for students in the fall.

Social Emotional


Organizational Systems/Structures:


Download a PDF of the above tables: Elevate Hi-Flex Tables.


In our work, we seek answers and best practices from any available source. Businesses are also facing the challenge building remote teams and working in hybrid environments. Many of the ideas we have shared as challenges and solutions are based on the following lists.