Understanding the Four Types of Education Modalities: On-Campus, Online, Hybrid and HyFlex


In the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic or any possible future disruption, universities must deliberate how to present their academic programs to students. The objective should be to provide the most educationally sound offerings possible with minimal safety risks.

Failure to consider the needs of all parties — including politicians who want their state institutions open (or to remain closed), parents and students who want the on-campus experience, and faculty and community members who have safety concerns — could cause lasting repercussions to institutions.

Here, we discuss the range of modalities that institutions might consider in any operating environment:

  1. On-campus
  2. HyFlex
  3. Hybrid
  4. Online

What Are the Four Course Delivery Models?

On one end of the spectrum there are 100% in-person, on-campus classes and on the other, 100% online classes. The middle is where many institutions are likely to land for the 2020-2021 academic year.  

  1. Fully On-Campus Courses

In-person course formats offer the intimacy and familiarity of face-to-face learning and allow interaction among all those present. In terms of organization, there are the traditional considerations, including the following:

  • Size: Large lecture halls, smaller class sizes, labs, or a blend
  • Faculty: Professors, instructors, or teaching assistants
  • Activity: Seminar, individual work, lecture, etc.
  • Pace: Often geared toward teaching to the established baseline to ensure that, at minimum, all students obtain the foundational knowledge before moving on to advanced topics or levels.

During a pandemic, on-campus faculty must consider how to address mask and social distancing mandates. In-person learning is typically enhanced by social interaction, which must be limited. Universities may struggle with how to reduce class sizes without hiring new faculty, or they may not have available classrooms to satisfy public health mandates.

  1. HyFlex Courses

The HyFlex (hybrid flexible) course format is designed to accommodate individual students’ preferences for in-person or online learning, and to approximate the in-person experience for those who chose the online option. Instructors must build a course that originates in the classroom and is broadcast for online learners, with open expectations as to how students will attend. Each class is held on campus but is also recorded for synchronous (live) and asynchronous (available when student is ready) delivery online. Essentially, the intent of HyFlex is to offer an equivalent experience regardless of selected modality of participation.

During a pandemic, this modality offers students in areas of high viral spread with the ability to stay home and continue the same course online. They can move back and forth, choosing to attend a live session one day or watch a recorded virtual session the next. The flexibility of this model enables institutions to remain fully open on campus for their faculty and researchers and virtually for faculty and students who choose to stay at home.

Because the course originates on campus, the limitations of in-person courses are also imposed on HyFlex courses. Though the number of in-person attendees may vary, the physical classroom has to accommodate 100% of students, given that many students will choose to come in for tests. In addition, because the course originates on campus, the online option may not be optimized as a virtual experience, but an approximation of the in-person experience. As such, it cannot fully utilize all of the possibilities afforded in a fully virtual environment, resulting in a frustrating experience for learners. Hybrid courses, by contrast, enable professors to determine which elements are best delivered in person and which are best delivered online.

  1. Hybrid Courses

Hybrid formats split time between on-campus and virtual environments. The hybrid format is not the same as the HyFlex format. Students attend on-campus classes at designated times and engage in virtual learning activities, which may be synchronous or asynchronous, at others. In this modality, coursework is intentionally designed to be delivered virtually for specific activities and in-person for others. For example, lectures are delivered via Zoom or other videoconferencing tools while learning activities, such as a labs/active learning projects, are delivered in-person.

The primary advantage hybrid courses offer over HyFlex and on-campus courses is that the constraints of the physical setting are removed. During the remote days or virtual activities, professors are able to fully utilize the advantages of online learning, integrating multimedia presentations, Q&A forums, and collaborative work tools. On-campus instructors can continue their familiar classroom models, while tapping their online colleagues for their years of experience in designing online courses.

As a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the disadvantage with the hybrid model is that it does not allow for safe distancing without reducing the faculty-to-student ratio, thereby making it more expensive to implement. 

  1. Fully Online Classes

In many ways, this course format is the most flexible and easiest to implement, with one exception: training on-campus professors to make the shift to fully online classes. Because this has been done since the advent of online classes from campus-based institutions, many faculty have experience with doing this efficiently.

Online classes offer all of the advantages of virtual education, including the ability to learn anytime, anywhere, and on any device. Self-paced study as well as the integration of virtual tools and online resources are just a few of the advantages. However, active learning with hands-on experiences are typically more difficult online, especially for students who learn best by doing.

The factors to consider with switching on-campus students to a fully online program during a disruption are primarily economic. Will they balk at on-campus tuition for an online experience? Will students attend classes from on-campus residences? Financially, will the institution be able to survive an exodus of students, and could this affect other campus programs and research projects that are funded by student tuition?

Testing with Each Modality

The ExamSoft testing platform works for faculty and students, regardless of the modality. On-campus students can take tests in classrooms, and students in the other models can take tests from anywhere. Whether on campus, online, or in a hybrid or HyFlex modality, instructors can use ExamSoft to collect and organize assessment data, analyze exam results, generate student learning reports, and provide students with detailed, constructive feedback.

Challenges have always been the impetus for innovation in education, and today’s crisis is no exception. At ExamSoft, we are here to support educators with the tools and information they need to succeed in any environment.


Inside Higher Ed: The HyFlex Option for Instruction If Campuses Open This Fall

Inside Higher Ed: Not Your Mother’s Online Class

Educause: 7 Things You Should Know About the HyFlex Course Model

Standford – Teaching Commons: Blended, Hybrid, and Online Instruction Models: Definitions and Resources

Jenae Cohn: Hybrid, HyFlex, Online, and Everything in Between: Course Models at a Glance

The Chronicle of Higher Education: Teaching: How to Engage Students in a Hybrid Classroom

Published: September 8, 2020

Updated: July 17, 2023

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