The power of hybrid

I bought a new car this week.  After a lot of research and some personal analysis, my wife and I decided to purchase a hybrid vehicle.  As I’ve been driving around in the car, I’ve been thinking about the motivation behind companies designing hybrid vehicles and consumers buying them.  Initially, my thoughts went to the financial aspects.  Hybrid vehicles are a way for companies to increase their car sales by offering consumers a way to save money.  I commute about 35 miles to work each day.  In my new hybrid, I averaged about 50 miles per gallon on my trip today, which is double the fuel efficiency of my old car.  Over the course of a year of commuting, I’m going to save a lot of money.

To be honest, however, that’s not the only reason I purchased the car.  I wanted to drive something more ecologically friendly and the economic benefits are a bonus.  I think car companies recognize this motivation from consumers.  The car is designed to give feedback to drivers to help them drive in a more environmentally friendly manner.  The car assesses how I brake, how I cruise and how I stop to help me drive more efficiently.  The feedback is instantaneous.  There’s a nifty gauge next to the speedometer that rates my driving and gives me a score.  From this data, I have started to tweak how I accelerate from stops and how I brake so I can improve my “performance.”

As often is the case with my brain, I have been drawing parallels between the innovations in car design and the innovations in teaching and learning.  Much like the car industry, the last decade has been a very innovative time in education.  Amongst the many innovations, we’ve seen the emergence of MOOCs, online classes, and a variety of “hybrid” classroom models.  Instead of utilizing gas and electric engines, however, the educational hybrid utilizes online and face-to-face modes of delivery and interaction. But what are the motivations for exploring hybrid models?  I’d like to say that the motivations are solely based on educational improvements but economics and convenience are strong driving forces here.  Students (and instructors) like the flexibility and convenience of hybrid and online classes and the market is demanding more of them.  But there are educational implications to moving to hybrid modes of instruction.  Research is starting to emerge to show that there are real educational benefits to utilizing hybrid models like blended learning and flipped classrooms.

In addition to the growing research base, I wish there was some method of providing instantaneous feedback like my hybrid vehicle offers.  It would be great to see a gauge showing the effectiveness instantaneously of a given method so I could respond appropriately.  Then again, maybe something like this is on the horizon.   In the July/August 2015 issue of EDUCAUSE review, Malcolm Brown writes about the Six Trajectories for Digital Technology in Higher Education.  Amongst the innovations Brown sees on the horizon is the increased used of “learning analytics” to drive instruction.  While I doubt we’ll see a nifty gauge in the corner of our classrooms that shows in real time how our instructional choices are benefiting students, I see an increase in data-driven decision making in the near future.  With the increased use of learning management systems and adaptive learning technologies, instructors will have loads of data on student performance.  Only time will tell whether these improvements will help to sell the educational hybrid.


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