The transition by K-12 schools to hybrid learning environments for engaging students has helped them continue their missions of providing quality education to students, despite the challenges of distance, unexpected sickness or limited resources. But once the pandemic wanes, will teaching and learning “return to normal” and look like it did before the pandemic? With an unprecedented opportunity to reimagine what education can and should look like, now is the time to discuss that question on a deeper level.

Accelerated experimentation in Education

The pandemic forced schools to experiment with different learning models. As many schools begin moving back to the classroom, they’ll have a unique opportunity to incorporate these new models into a new normal—one that empowers personalization in a way that allows students a choice in how they learn. Most importantly, a choice that can help them find the best fit for their learning styles and help increase their learning success.

The acceleration of new and innovative approaches to teaching due to the pandemic is providing some very unique opportunities for teachers as well. While everyone talks about hybrid learning, everyone also has a different definition of it. So it is important to focus on the student and teacher experience so there is little to no difference in engagement between someone who is on a computer and someone who is in the classroom.

Adapting methods for engaging students

Even before the pandemic, the future of education was increasingly being driven by collaboration. That’s even truer today. That’s why Cisco is focused on providing solutions and services that help school districts create a hybrid learning environment that is both flexible and secure, so that students, teachers, and staff can teach, learn, and collaborate together—no matter where they are.

It’s important that K-12 schools begin helping teachers learn how to engage students successfully in a hybrid environment. This could include how to create a lesson plan for a mixed classroom (half on-site, half online). Schools must better understand how to engage students in this new environment and think differently about how quality instruction and learning time is structured. This may include helping students better manage the time they spend studying independently, including maximizing online resources better.

Putting analytics and data to work for learning

One of the key benefits of utilizing a hybrid learning environment is the availability of analytics and large pool of data from various sources. We can use the data to understand what students are learning, what they have achieved and how they are engaged. This allows our teachers and administrators to take a step back and think about what they should be doing for the future.

These capabilities can also empower teachers to be more creative and inventive with the use of augmented reality applications, like mixed reality simulations for a chemistry lab or a biology lesson through a simulation. These are some of the experiences we may not have jumped to as quickly before the pandemic, but we have realized they are truly beneficial when building content and curriculum for online use.

Engaging students 24/7

Schools will also need to rethink their technology infrastructures to address these shifts. For a lot of districts, it is a matter of looking at where they are in their network refresh cycle. Beyond that, they should look at how they can possibly extend networks to students’ homes. For many students and the communities they live in, internet access is limited or nonexistent. This means schools must step up to fill the gap and find creative ways to extend connectivity beyond the classroom. This can include mobile WiFi pods, conversion of neighborhood retail or warehouse spaces into learning hubs, and even development of community-wide permanent LTE networks.

Learning has now broken free of an 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. framework. It’s now an anytime, anywhere experience requiring expanded 24/7 connectivity for flexible learning that enables students to do all the things the new learning models allow. Now is the time for K-12 school districts to step back and look at their overall IT strategies and reimagine education for the next normal.

Take a deeper dive on engaging students

GovTech Virtual Q&A: K-12 Districts and the ‘Next Normal’ for Teaching and Learning

Learn more about building hybrid learning environments

eBook: Empowering small school districts for hybrid learning


Mary Schlegelmilch

Business Development Manager