What Value do Students find in a HyFlex Course when Almost Everyone is Online?

co-written (assisted by) ChatGPT (4)

During and after the COVID-19 pandemic (2020-2022), many HyFlex instructors found students moving completely or mostly online. Notably, not all HyFlex classes shifted largely online. In many classes, there are compelling reasons for students to attend in person – access to equipment (rather than simulations), proximity to living spaces, convenience for attending other classes face to face, the desire for social interaction, etc.

However, in my graduate seminar classes, about 2/3 of the classes have all students choosing one of two online participation modes (synchronous or asynchronous) which is a big change from pre-pandemic classes where about 1/2 the students typically participated in the classroom each week. In the other 1/3 of my post-pandemic classes, a small number of students (typically 2-4) participate in the classroom each week, about 2/3 of the class or more participate synchronously online, and the rest (1/4-1/3 of the class) participate asynchronously. Between the online modes, I still see about 10% of the students changing participation paths from week to week based on their specific situations and preferences.

A fundamental question for faculty (and designers) is, “Is traditional HyFlex still worth offering, or is an “online HyFlex” course all we need?”

If we were to offer only “Online HyFlex” classes (see Cathy Littlefield’s post about “Bimodal HyFlex”, another term used for what I call “Online HyFlex” https://www.hyflexlearning.org/2023/04/13/bimodal-high-touch/), we would not need to schedule anything in the classroom, saving campus space, or commute to campus for class sessions, saving time and expense for the faculty and face-to-face students. In some situations, these two reasons may be very compelling in deciding whether or not to continue traditional HyFlex (classroom and online options with full student flexibility to choose).

But beyond the external practical factors of saving space and time (and commute $), I think we should also consider the student experience. To do so we need to hear from students directly about their reasons for their participation choices and their perceptions about what the flexibility and multiple options provide to support their learning. It may be that flexibility between synchronous and asynchronous options is all the choice they need. It may also be that the classroom option for some is a very strong support for their learning, and to remove that experience could hinder their learning or – even worse – cause them to reconsider their enrollment.

I asked students in three graduate seminar courses (N=36) to tell me about their learning experience in their class every week through a non-interactive online reflective “journal” using a discussion forum open to the whole class. Several times during the term, I asked them to comment on their choice of learning mode and whether or not that was impacting their learning. I decided to review their posts and look for comments regarding their class participation, especially about their choice of mode and their perceptions of value this choice provided (or perhaps limited). I also decided to use Chat GPT4 as a research assistant to help me create an initial analysis of the discussion comments.

Here’s what we found. (I’ve revised the direct output in many places, so this is truly a co-constructed summary.)

Prompt: Review the attached file for comments about participating in class. Note comments referring to HyFlex, flexibility, student choice, synchronous learning, asynchronous learning, classroom learning. Summarize ten main themes in the document. For each theme, provide three to five comments from the document that provide support for the theme. Include a 50-75 word summary of each theme before sharing the specific comments in each theme. Provide a 75-100 word concluding paragraph expressing the value and challenge of HyFlex learning being expressed by these students.


Here are the ten main themes related to HyFlex, flexibility, synchronous and asynchronous learning, and student choice, along with comments from the document “Student Reflections Spring 2024” that support each theme:

1. Appreciation for HyFlex Flexibility

Summary: Students appreciate the HyFlex model for its adaptability, allowing them to manage their learning around personal and professional commitments. The value of flexibility is often experienced as students working asynchronously when they are not able to participate in a synchronous mode.

Student Comments:

  • “HyFlex is not the default at universities but it should be; it offers the widest opportunities to the largest number of students.”
  • “Being able to participate asynchronously while visiting family in China was invaluable.”
  • “Even though we were async, I think sitting down during the scheduled time anyways to make my posts was helpful to me.”
  • “The HyFlex model gives me the freedom to choose how I want to participate each week depending on my schedule and learning preferences.”
  • “The flexibility to engage asynchronously has allowed me to balance school with my work responsibilities better.”

2. Challenges with Asynchronous Learning

Summary: Students find asynchronous learning challenging due to feelings of isolation and disconnection from the class community. While the flexibility to engage asynchronously is valued, some students noted challenges such as feeling disconnected from the class community and struggling with self-motivation without the regular structure of synchronous sessions.

Student Comments:

  • “Asynchronous work tends to leave me feeling like I am falling behind and I get so much more out of our readings and class discussions when I participate synchronously.”
  • “I feel disconnected and miss the spontaneous interactions of live classes.”
  • “I’ve been down for the count after getting pretty sick this week, leading me to participate asynchronously, a mode of participation that isn’t my favorite.”
  • “To be honest, this week’s asynchronous format has been a little tough… the asynchronous format felt a bit disconnected for me.”
  • “I find asynchronous learning less engaging and struggle with motivation.”

3. Benefits of Synchronous Interaction

Summary: Many students express a strong preference for synchronous learning, highlighting the benefits of real-time interaction for engagement and understanding. Despite the benefits of flexibility to also use an asynchronous learning path, live synchronous interactions are highly valued for enhancing engagement and facilitating deeper learning connections.

Student Comments:

  • “I am trying to be synchronous each week via Zoom; I really enjoyed the breakout room discussion.”
  • “It was wonderful to return to the live synchronous class format last night and reconnect with familiar faces while also meeting new folks and gaining new perspectives.”
  • “I really enjoyed this week’s readings and discussions about ethics, privacy, and security issues. It was great to join the live class session and engage in substantive peer-to-peer discourse.”
  • “Synchronous sessions help me feel more connected and engaged.”
  • “Mentimeter – It was my first time using this kind of real-time response tool and I found it engaging to see other students’ responses in real time.”
  • “I think I’m more motivated and energized to learn when I’m with others, rather than reading content on my own for hours.”
  • “The live discussions enhance my understanding and help me feel part of the class.”
  • “I enjoyed the breakout room discussion, it was like speed dating because I know there is a time limit and sometimes I find it difficult to actively listen when I’m also thinking about what I want to share.”

4. Importance of Classroom Learning

Summary: Despite the flexibility of online options, some students value traditional classroom settings for their structured learning environment and direct interaction. Some report a strong desire to participate in the classroom but that their situation does not allow for that.

Student Comments:

  • “I appreciate being able to attend some classes in person, especially when my schedule allows.”
  • “Classroom learning provides a routine that helps me stay on top of my studies.”
  • “The face-to-face interaction in a classroom setting is irreplaceable for me.”
  • “… circumstances made it difficult to attend in-person classes on campus. However, with a more settled routine, I hope to make the most of the opportunity to attend some classes in person this semester”.

5. Empowerment Through Student Choice

Summary: Offering students the choice of how to engage with their education empowers them and can enhance their academic experience. The ability to choose how to engage with the course material allows students to tailor their learning experience to their needs. This choice empowers students but also requires them to be more proactive and self-directed in their learning journey.

Student Comments:

  • “Choosing how to engage each week empowers me to tailor my education to my needs.”
  • “Flexibility in learning modalities allows me to manage my education more effectively.”
  • “The HyFlex model gives me the freedom to choose how I want to participate each week depending on my schedule and learning preferences.”
  • “I appreciate being able to decide whether to attend live or catch up asynchronously depending on how my week is shaping up.”
  • “The ability to choose between synchronous and asynchronous sessions is crucial for balancing my education with other responsibilities.”

6. Need for Effective Time Management

Summary: Effective time management emerges as a critical skill for students navigating the flexibility of HyFlex learning environments.

Student Comments:

  • “I need to manage my time more effectively to cope with the flexibility offered by HyFlex.”
  • “Balancing asynchronous tasks with live sessions requires careful planning and discipline.”
  • “Given the demands of my work and social schedule this week and weekend, I am making a conscious effort to complete my reflections and discussions soon after class whenever possible.”
  • “I struggle with procrastination, making time management a key challenge in asynchronous settings.”
  • “I think I paced the homework out well this week – I got all the reading done with time to spare, and I participated in the discussion forum several times throughout the week, which allowed for more interactivity with others.”
  • “I’m still getting a sense for how to structure my weeks and workload, but beginning to establish some approaches to time management, like chunking my days according to different tasks.”

7. Technology Integration

Summary: The integration of technology is essential for managing HyFlex courses, aiding in learning but sometimes posing technical challenges. The use of various digital tools and platforms (like Mentimeter and breakout rooms) was highlighted as enhancing student engagement and participation. These tools help in creating a more interactive and inclusive learning environment.

Student Comments:

  • “Using educational technology helps me stay organized and engaged.”
  • “Technical issues can sometimes disrupt my learning experience.”
  • “Technology tools are crucial for accessing course materials and participating in discussions.”
  • “I tried something new where I converted the PDF reading to text and have my phone read the text to me. It’s still a work in progress, but I definitely can stay with the material a lot longer than trying to read the entire text.”

8. Impact on Learning Outcomes

Summary: The HyFlex model’s impact on learning outcomes varies, with some students thriving under flexible conditions and others struggling without structured guidance.

Student Comments:

  • “Flexibility helps me achieve better outcomes by allowing me to learn at my own pace.”
  • “I sometimes feel I learn less effectively when I choose asynchronous options.”
  • “The lack of structure in HyFlex can lead to inconsistent learning outcomes for some students.”

9. Community and Interaction

Summary: Building a sense of community and fostering interaction are crucial for a positive educational experience, particularly in HyFlex settings. Students frequently mentioned the importance of feeling connected to their peers and instructors. Live sessions are particularly cherished for fostering a sense of community and enabling real-time interaction, which many find crucial for deeper learning and satisfaction.

Student Comments:

  • “Community interaction in synchronous sessions greatly enhances my learning experience.”
  • “It was also nice [in the synchronous session] to put faces to the names of people who posted this past week in the Discussions :-)”
  • “Feeling part of a community helps mitigate the challenges of remote learning.”
  • “Interacting with peers and instructors is vital for my academic success and personal growth.”
  • “I love the social aspect of learning and really miss this when we have asynchronous sessions.”

10. Reflection and Self-Assessment

Summary: Reflective practices and self-assessment are integral to understanding and improving one’s learning strategies, especially in flexible learning environments.

Student Comments:

  • “Reflecting on my learning each week helps me understand what works best for me.”
  • “Regular self-assessment allows me to adjust my study habits to improve my learning outcomes.”
  • “Keeping a learning journal helps me track my progress and identify areas for improvement.”


The HyFlex model offers significant advantages in terms of flexibility and student autonomy, which are highly valued by students as they balance educational pursuits with personal and professional commitments. However, this flexibility also brings challenges, notably in terms of the need for self-discipline, effective time management, and maintaining engagement without the regular structure of traditional classroom settings. While students appreciate the empowerment that comes from being able to choose their mode of engagement, they also highlight the importance of community and interaction in enhancing their learning experience. The mixed reflections indicate that while HyFlex is a powerful model for accommodating diverse student needs, it also requires students to develop robust self-regulatory and time management skills to fully benefit from its potential. And of course, effective course design to support active and engaged learning is extremely important.

Blog post written with the support of:

OpenAI. (2024). ChatGPT (4) [Large language model]. https://chat.openai.com


  1. Glori Hinck

    This is a great example of using generative AI Brian! One of the biggest challenges with HyFlex teaching and learning is faculty workload. I’m excited to explore how AI can perhaps help offset some of this workload.

    1. Brian Beatty

      Thanks Glori, this is a big issue for us in academia in any role. Where do we find the time to do the work we want to do and know how to do, but we just don’t have enough hours in the day or week to get to? If we can use AI tools to help us be more productive in support of our professional work, we win. And those we serve win. In our next webinar in May 2024 we’ll be talking about this as a community! Watch the HLC site (this site) for information about registering for this webinar soon.

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