University of South Florida


How do students really feel about synchronous, hybrid learning? Two COPH professors find out

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, hybrid learning has become a mainstay on many college campuses throughout the country. In many cases, faculty teach classes synchronously to students in person and to those tuning in remotely. 

But how do students feel about this new normal? Do they think this learning modality is negatively or positively impacting their education? 

USF College of Public Health faculty members Dr. Alison Oberne and Laura Rusnak decided to find out. They presented their findings, "Describing a changing landscape: Student perspectives on hybrid learning,” at the EDUCAUSE annual conference in October. EDUCAUSE is a nonprofit that advances the use of technology in higher education.

African-American woman looking at computer

                                                                                             Photo source: Canva

“Faculty realized that flexibility would be required as students came back into the classroom post COVID,” Rusnak, an instructor III who specializes in career readiness, said. “As a result, Dr. Oberne and I were some of the faculty who allowed students to tune into courses through Microsoft Teams if they were unable to come to class. We're lucky to have technology enabled classrooms here at the college. After giving students this option, we wanted to get their perspective on how it impacted their learning throughout the semester.”

Overall, Rusnak said, students responded positively to the use of hybrid learning throughout the semester. 

When asked if this option negatively impacted their learning, 87% of students disagreed. Similarly, 79% of students reported that hybrid learning did not reduce the quality of the classroom environment.  

Despite their positive feelings about remote learning, students still preferred attending class in person when they were able to use that option, Rusnak said. 

“While convenience was cited as a reason for attending class online, many students avoided attending class virtually because they preferred an in-person educational environment,” she explained. “They really valued the overall learning experience that it provides. Indeed, students described how attending class in person, with no technology challenges, represented a more convenient option with the opportunity to really engage and focus on their learning.”

One surprise finding, Rusnak said, was what students cited as their main reason for attending a remote versus in-person class. 

“Although experiencing a health issue was the most common reason [students would tune in remotely], it was general illness, rather than COVID, that was most likely to impede students’ ability to attend class in person,” she noted. 

Rusnak said it’s important for academics to study and understand barriers to education and learn what teaching styles/environments students prefer.

“It allows higher education professionals to anticipate the needs of students and facilitate engaging academic environments across a variety of learning modalities,” she said.

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