How are “online,” “hybrid” and “blended” courses distinguished?

At UC Davis, we think about learning environments on a continuum from fully face-to-face to fully online, with blended and hybrid learning environments somewhere in the middle. In a fully face-to-face course, all instruction and activities occur in a traditional classroom setting. In a fully online class, all instruction and activities happen using online web tools.course model graphic 2016

Blended courses, sometimes called “web-enhanced courses,” integrate technology to deliver content or promote student interaction outside of class, but students still meet in class for the same amount of time as a face-to-face class. Many courses at UC Davis can be considered blended courses because they use a course management system or other online tools to facilitate activities, assess students, or deliver content. In hybrid courses, a larger portion of instruction and activities (typically 25-75%) are moved online and the amount of time spent meeting face-to-face is reduced. For example, students might come to class for two hours per week instead of four – the other two hours are “made up” with online activities.

The terms “blended” and “hybrid” are often used synonymously in education literature, with both referring to incorporating a variety of online activities in addition to face-to-face activities and no requirement for reduction in seat time. Many institutions use one term or the other, or distinguish them as being slightly different things, as we do at UC Davis.

At UC Davis, we believe that by breaking down “blended” and “hybrid” to describe slightly different course formats, we can better distinguish the diversity of technology-enhanced learning experiences that exist at UC Davis and better communicate about different course models. UC Davis has also invested specifically in “hybrid” courses (where there is reduced “seat time”) so while this is an important distinction to make on our campus, it may not be elsewhere.

In hybrid, blended and online courses, online learning activities can either be synchronous or asynchronous, and many courses incorporate both types of activities. Synchronous online activities are when the students and instructor are all engaging with each other and the content at the same time, and include things like webinars and online chat rooms. Asynchronous online activities are when the students and instructor are engaging with each other at different times, typically over a longer period. Online discussion forums are a good example of an asynchronous online activity. You’ll see both synchronous and asynchronous activities featured in the Teaching articles on this site.

What’s so great about hybrid courses is that the material is there for you to see multiple times. It allows the student to review that material on their own time and at their own pace as many times as they want.Carolyn Thomas, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education

How are these different from “flipped” courses?

In a flipped course, the majority of the instructional content is delivered outside of class, typically through online activities such as watching videos (mini-lectures), completing interactive modules, or reading articles or books. Class time is spent with students engaged in activities, solving problems, discussing, or working on projects in order to apply and extend what was learned outside of class. A flipped approach can be effectively used in a hybrid or blended course; whether a course is considered “flipped” depends on how the instructional course content is primarily delivered and what the students do while in a classroom setting, not the amount of time students are physically in a classroom.

What is the difference between integrating technology and using technology?

It is important to think about how we are integrating technology in our courses, rather than simply using technology. This chart summarizes the differences and what instructors can aim towards for technology integration.

Using Technology Integrating Technology
Technology usage is random, arbitrary, and often an afterthought Technology usage is planned and purposeful
Technology is used purely for the sake of using technology Technology is used to support curricular goals and learning objectives
Technology is peripheral to the learning activity Technology is essential to the learning activity
Technology is used to facilitate activities that are feasible or easier without technology Technology is used to facilitate activities that would be otherwise difficult or impossible
More instructional time is spent learning how to use the technology More instructional time is spent using the technology to learn
Technology is used to instruct students on content Technology is used to engage students with content
Technology is used solely by individuals working alone Technology is used to facilitate collaboration in and out of the classroom
Focus on simply using technologies Focus on using technologies to create and develop new thinking processes

Adapted from, and used with permission of Aditi Rao, “TeachBytes.”

References & Resources

Berrett, D. (2012). How ‘flipping’ the classroom can improve the traditional lecture. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 12, 1-14.

Educause. (2012). 7 Things You Should Know About Flipped Classrooms. Retrieved from

Hrastinski, S. (2008). Asynchronous and synchronous e-learning. Educause Quarterly, 31(4), 51-55.

Osguthorpe, R. T., & Graham, C. R. (2003). Blended Learning Environments: Definitions and Directions. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 4(3), 227-33.

Sener, John. (2015). Updated E-Learning Definitions. Retrieved from

TeachThoughtStaff. The Definition of Blended Learning. Retrieved from