Hyflex, Blendflex, Asynchronous, Synchronous: Decoding Modalities (Issue 22)

Dear ADDIE, 

The shift to remote teaching during the ongoing pandemic has prompted faculty to deliver creative online experiences for their students, combining different modes of delivery and using new technology tools. My university needs a way of categorizing these different mode options so that faculty will know the parameters of how to deliver their courses, students can make informed course enrollment decisions, and internal staff can have a common language to support faculty and students’ efforts for success. Could you use your decoder expertise and help us decipher between the different modalities? 


Caesar Cipher 

Dear Caesar Cipher, 

I can understand your confusion. Students need to understand the course modalities for which they are registering so they may plan their semester schedules or determine if the mode meets their learning preferences or specific life circumstances. Faculty need to know the parameters of each modality so they may deliver the course in a method consistent with students’ expectations. Internal higher education staff, who may support teaching or learning activities, need to have a common language so they can make recommendations consistent with the course modality, technology tools, and instructional techniques that best complement learning experiences.  

When many campuses switched to remote learning over late Spring 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many faculty members unfamiliar with the Learning Management System (LMS) utilized video conferencing sessions or video streaming to deliver their lectures. They learned as quickly as possible how to store their instructional content and create assessments on their institution’s LMS. Some faculty couldn’t help but offer the bare necessities for course delivery, and others found creative ways to deliver their courses, i.e., repurposing a clear shower door as a lightboard during video sessions and creating lab kits customized to the course to send to their students. These examples went above and beyond most faculty members’ efforts, as many faculty spent enormous amounts of mental and physical energy during that unprecedented time managing their own lives, like determining how to school and care for their children while they had to work from home. 

"A choose-your-own adventure faculty development program will serve innovative modality-attribute combinations."

As higher education institutions re-opened, administrators introduced HyFlex and BlendFlex modalities as a method for following CDC recommended guidelines and to accommodate stakeholders (parents, students, faculty, local businesses, and others) who have strong needs and preferences for remote or in-person course delivery. In its pure form, HyFlex is conceptualized as a student-directed method because students choose which option suits them best, online or face-to-face instruction. It’s designed to serve on-ground and online students with limited resources, especially relevant for emergency situations, via multi-modal delivery (Beatty, 2019). Essentially a HyFlex approach to learning, BlendFlex affords students the option to seamlessly move between experiences of face-to-face and online synchronous or asynchronous instruction to complete required elements of a course (as described by Carol Lee in Liebermann, 2018). Both modalities imply that there is both an online and face-to-face version of the course designed, developed, and delivered. Empathy is due to faculty, as well as those who guide and support them (project managers, faculty development coordinators and facilitators, instructional technologists, multi-media specialists, and instructional designers), as they attempt to live up to Hyflex and Blendflex ideal standards while also managing extenuating life circumstances during their institution’s campus re-openings.  

For these reasons, describing the different modalities in terms of whether instruction has certain space or time requirements, as well as the degree of flexibility between space or time, makes the most sense. The following chart may clarify modality differences, which was inspired from instructional designer dialogue at the University of Central Florida but does not reflect any official definitions from the University. 

 Required Elements for Students 
Modality Physical classroom Live, Synchronous Sessions Online, Asynchronous Instruction  Video, Asynchronous Instruction 
Blended, Mostly Online  Up to 20% Possibly* More than 50% Possibly* 
Blended, Face-to-Face More than 20% Possibly* Up to 50% Possibly* 
Web-based No Optional Only^ Yes Possibly* 
Face-to-face  More than 50%  Possibly*  Optional Only ^  Optional Only ^  
Video Possibly* Yes- Possibly* Yes- 
HyFlex  Possibly*  Possibly* Possibly* Possibly* 
Extended  Reality Possibly* Possibly* Possibly* Possibly* 
“Possibly” denotes that those components may be required if the synchronous or physical classroom components are scheduled in advance.

^ ”Optional only” denotes that the element can be designed/delivered by faculty but must be offered to students as an optional activity, not as a requirement.

-“Video” denotes that completion of synchronous or asynchronous learning activities are required by viewing recorded video. The required amount of each type of learning activity (synchronous or asynchronous) must be communicated to students prior to enrollment so they may schedule their time appropriately.

A quick description of required elements is warranted. The physical classroom requirement means that students and faculty must attend in-person at a physical space on campus. That may include individuals using robotic proxies; live, synchronous streaming; or video recordings for accessibility reasons or excused absences. Often, synchronous sessions substitute for already scheduled face-to-face modes in which a student is required to be physically present. Live, synchronous sessions require students and faculty to be online at the same time but not in the same location, occurring during a video conferencing session, collaborative environment, or video streaming (if not recorded for later viewing definitive of asynchronous video instruction). Asynchronous instruction does not require faculty nor students to be in the same location, at the same time. Typically, online asynchronous instruction is delivered over a platform, such as an LMS, communication platform, or website.   

The modality is defined by time and space requirements, i.e., when students must be present and where students must be located to receive instruction. The reason for defining course modes is so students and faculty know where to be and when. For this reason, some would argue that Video and Extended Reality (e.g., as the use of augmented reality like Pokemon Go, mixed reality like via Holo Lens, and extended reality that provides simulated experiences) are attributes of instruction that could occur in any modality, when students are face-to-face, or asynchronously or synchronously interacting.  

Attributes offer a common language as well as a set of best practices for faculty and professionals supporting or guiding their efforts to source materials and adapt instruction. Attributes may occur in instances or permeate an entire course. Designers are intimately familiar with these attributes: mastery, experiential, service, gamified, technology enhanced, personalized adaptive, immersive, project based, case based, active, appreciative, inclusive, internationalized, team based, and so on. 

The faculty development implications of having a variety of modalities, as well as attributes, provide a smorgasbord of options from which faculty may pick and choose— a decision made best in congruence with their instructional preferences, their students’ preferences, and their program’s niche. For instance, a group of language arts faculty members are designing a series of courses on an adaptive platform so students may enjoy a personalized learning experience that outshines popular language learning apps. These faculty members need to know the basics of instructional design, teaching online courses, and basics of mastery learning. They, however, need more in-depth procedural knowledge about the adaptive platform and associated teaching methods, inclusive teaching and responsive systems design. As another example, for faculty planning to teach online using the institution’s LMS, all they need to know are the essentials of the platform as well as best practices for designing/teaching online. For the outcome of faculty learning nuanced skills to deliver innovative courses, a one-size-fits-all approach to faculty development is no longer relevant. Creating a faculty development ecosystem that supports a program-approved, choose-your-own-adventure credentialing system will serve an array of innovative modality-attribute combinations.  

Ultimately definitions for instructional modalities, and support provided for each, must align with the designated accrediting bodies as well as the institutions’ vision, mission, infrastructure, and resources. For other ideas of how instructional modalities may be defined, take a look at Azus Pacific University’s Instructional Modalities, and the University of Central Florida’s Course Modalities and Attributes. For pros and cons of synchronous, asynchronous, and combination courses, see Kansas State University’s Keep Teaching Online Modalities. If you’re re-designing your faculty development ecosystem to enable course innovations across modalities and attributes, you may glean some ideas from TOPkit’s Examples of Faculty Development Pathways

What other modalities or attributes have you applied or are exploring at your higher education institution? Please share your thoughts with our TOPkit Community on Discord


Beatty, B. J. (2019). Hybrid-Flexible Course Design (1st ed.).  Ed Tech Books.   https://edtechbooks.org/hyflex 

Lieberman, M. (January, 2018). Introducing a New(-ish) Learning Mode: Blendflex/Hyflex. Inside Higher Ed: https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2018/01/24/blendflex-lets-students-toggle-between-online-or-face-face  

Full Throttled Out: Running on Fumes for Fall Faculty Development Efforts (Issue 20)

Car doing drifting, and doing a burnout.


Ever since the Spring, my colleagues and I have shifted gears to help faculty teach in a virtual or online format while working from home! The global pandemic has popularized virtual/online teaching, consequently, increasing demands for our virtual/online course design, development, and facilitation know-how. We continue to selflessly give knowing that our help facilitates students learning and faculty teaching at a distance to remain free from COVID-19 exposure.

We do, however, realize that there is an extent to our race to nowhere fast. My colleagues and I are suffering from Zoom fatigue, mixed up sleep patterns, and concerns for balancing rapid course development with course quality. On top of work stressors, our family members are either needing extra care, working from home, or completing school from home. They depend on us to meet their needs. We are in full throttle, running on fumes, with no expectation of hitting the brakes any time soon.

Now, as Fall begins, we are running out of energy. Please help us curtail burnout!


Running on Fumes

Dear Running on Fumes,

You are experiencing stress and anxiety in uncertain times. You are on the verge of burnout if not already experiencing it. 

What is burnout and its symptoms? According to the Mayo Clinic (2020), job burnout is marked by physical or emotional exhaustion with a reduced sense of accomplishment and personal identity. Symptoms could include any combination of these work related reactions: cynicism, trouble getting started, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, reduced satisfaction with achievements, feeling disillusioned, or impatience with colleagues, staff, faculty, or students. You may also experience a change in sleeping habits or unexplained physical symptoms. Some may use substances to feel better. 

Whether or not you and your faculty development colleagues are experiencing burnout, you likely have experienced a range of emotions as you addressed faculty development needs during this pandemic. During the onset of the pandemic, many higher education institutions closed campuses and faculty mass transformed their courses into a virtual format. Though those in your profession had the requisite knowledge for the transition, it was a transition nonetheless and likely extra work, especially navigating the changes the pandemic brought to your lifestyles.

Taking care of your body, mental well-being, and spirit or connection to the universe if essential to feel better and optimally perform.

The type of work accomplished by consultants, technical problem solvers, coordinators, and facilitators of faculty development combined with the increased demands has real effects. Those who prepare faculty to teach virtual, online, or hybrid courses engage in emotional labor, regulating their emotions in order to take care of the faculty with whom they are helping, similar to that of healthcare professionals caring for patients.

The task demand for those in our profession during these times required fast-tracking faculty development and speeding up course production while ensuring quality courses. Though, few additional resources were likely allocated towards those efforts, thereby workloads likely increased. You may have been counting on summer for some rest, but work demands were such that you could not use that time to rejuvenate. Nights of late work or anxiety due to the stressors of the transformation may have taken a toll on your circadian rhythms, now your sleep patterns are off. No wonder you are exhausted!

Burnout is a real phenomena in this line of work, because we tend to be passionate about what we do until we do so much that we aren’t sure that we are making a real contribution. Continuing to work while feeling depleted may put your job performance and health at risk.

I, myself, have grappled with managing stressors related to burnout throughout my career in digital learning. I have found that engaging in self-care practices empowered me to sustain my professionalism throughout the years.

Taking care of yourself during these times is paramount. Taking care of your body, mental well-being, and spirit or connection to the universe is essential to not just feeling better but also to optimally performing to help others. According to Huijser, Sim, and Felton (2020), this is a call to action.

I offer this list of tips to prevent burnout.

  • Harness the power of social connection. Surround yourself with nurturing people.  Debrief with a trusted friend. Seek solace from supportive, hard-working colleagues. Stay connected to supervisors who have trust in you. 
  • Work for a progressive unit. If you have a choice, choose to work for an institution that is forward-thinking, has clear strategic goals and priorities, and offers resources to support these.
  • Create autonomy over your activities and schedule. This may mean taking breaks and being okay with work products that are good enough rather than pursuing a nebulous state of perfection. Definitely let go of non-essential tasks. Make some room for engaging activities that are intrinsically motivating for you or professional development opportunities related to your career growth.
  • Enjoy and find satisfaction in your work. Know that you provide a valuable skill set. Make your work your own and enjoy collaborating with supportive colleagues when possible.
  • Take care of your physical self. Exercise, eat right, sleep well, and listen to your body. When it is time to stop and get up from your computer, do so. 
  • Practice self-care. This may mean taking a day off work, conducting daily reflections, connecting with nature, engaging in spiritual practices or meditation, or practicing gratitude. 
  • Seek professional help. Look into your Employee Assistance Program or health insurance plan for a counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist that meets your needs.

 In the words of Parker Palmer (2000), 

Self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.

We owe self care to ourselves, to others, as well as to our profession. 

Though demands of events triggered by the pandemic have placed extraordinary demands on professionals in our field, we are finding ways to take care of ourselves. Many more strategies for self-care and preventing burnout likely exist that particularly address the unique situations of those who prepare faculty to teach online during these unprecedented times.

What strategies have you found effective for taking care of your body, mental well-being, and spirit or connection to the universe? Please share your thoughts with our TOPkit Community on Discord


Palmer, P. J. (2000). Let your life speak: Listening for the voice of vocation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

The Road to Instructional Designer Credibility (Issue 19)

Credibility road sign


I am new to the instructional design profession. I got this job–which I love–because I taught online, used flipped classroom strategies, and redesigned my course several times—not because I have any training or education in this field. I also did not have the support I needed with my first supervisor (who has since left). I’m looking to re-image myself because my faculty see me and automatically think “Oh you just want me to teach online!” OR “You demanded I take a survey. Who are you to tell ME what to do?”

What do you suggest? I really want to help my faculty move toward the 21st Century in higher education.


Reformation in Progress

Dear Reformation,

Thanks for your question! First of all, I hope you are keeping yourself safe. Even in the best of times, the scenario you present is challenging – yet quite commonly encountered. During the additional challenges posed by the COVID-19 situation, it can be even more difficult to engage faculty in quality online instruction. If ever there was a time to consider yourself as a central figure in your institution, it is now. Instructional designers have been called upon to assist and play a vital role in supporting faculty in teaching remotely. There are a few strategies that can be used to navigate various organizational cultures.

More than ever, instructional designers are central figures for institutional teaching and learning goals.

#1 Ensure that you locate a faculty member who is an advocate for online teaching and learning. Once you do so, make every effort to build a healthy relationship. This will create a way for you to provide needed instructional guidance. Once you find this online champion, you will have access to others who may be interested. Remember, any cultural shift will take time.

#2 I would also recommend that you use the online Faculty Development Decision Guide (FDDG) to assess your organizational needs. Doing so will also provide you with a pathway for developing initiatives for supporting faculty.

#3 Since you have also taught online and have developed various courses, it will be necessary to model/show faculty members the endless possibilities of online teaching and learning. The most significant way to show your skills will be to demonstrate them in practice.

#4 Finally, I would also recommend that you start a series of communication with your faculty members. Your conversation could focus on current practices and research in online teaching and learning, tools, and technologies used in online learning and teaching, and your research. Importantly, I recommend that you consider hosting some informal sessions. These sessions could take the form of one-to-one meetings or group meetings. Your ultimate aim is to build rapport with faculty. Doing so will require time, understanding, support, engagement, and effective communication.

I’m sure there are many more tips that others in the community have found useful. What strategies do you use for effectively engaging faculty in the online course design process – especially during such challenging times as we are currently facing? Please share your thoughts with our TOPkit Community Discord!

Mergers & Acquisitions: Models of Curriculum Design Review (Issue 18)


I’m an Instructional Designer at a R1 university where our teaching and learning center has recently merged with our Academic Technologies team. As part of this process, I’ve been asked to lead a curriculum review of all the workshops, institutes, and training we offer to our teaching community (this includes faculty, graduate students and post-docs). This is a large task that involves reflecting on what competencies we want them to have, and where there is  overlap or gaps in our offerings. One of the attributes we want to assess is modality and where it might make sense to increase our offerings either fully online or blended. My questions are:

  • What suggestions or recommendations do you have for designing online faculty development courses? Are there specific examples where a self-paced, fully online facilitated or blended might be the best choice?
  • What approaches have others taken to broadly reviewing all their offerings and going through the process of curriculum mapping?


Lost in Translation

Dear Lost in Translation,

Merging your teaching and learning center with your academic technologies team sounds like an exciting but daunting process. I hope the consolidation of the teams improves the progress toward your common goals as the teams learn to communicate in each other’s design language. As you mentioned, this is a critical time to review your faculty development offerings to ensure your curriculum design develops the intended learning outcomes free of gaps and superfluous overlaps, and aligns across all offerings.

As you review the gaps in your curriculum and select the modalities in which to design and deliver new offerings, consider utilizing a faculty development framework. A recent TOPkit Digest described three top faculty development models for planning new or revamping faculty development programs.

Whichever framework you use to redesign your faculty development program, Curriculum design review assesses learning outcomes, closes gaps, and aligns training with other programs.consider incorporating these three components in your project to strengthen your effectiveness:

  • Survey your stakeholders as early in the redesign process as possible, including your unit personnel, institutional faculty, and even stakeholders external to your institution. This survey will help garner valuable feedback and preferences regarding faculty development in general, your past offerings specifically, and future faculty development offerings. The results of your survey can inform your decisions about modalities, pacing, gaps, etc.
  • Continually align the learning objectives, content, activities, and assessments throughout your redesign. This can help you close gaps and reduce needless overlaps in your offerings and outcomes.
  • Include a timeline in your project planning. This is important for keeping everyone involved in sync and to ensure the redesign actually gets completed. The timeline should include:
    • Tasks to be completed
    • The expected duration of each task
    • The date on which each task needs to be complete
    • Dependencies between tasks

Another resource you may find useful is the Faculty Development Decision Guide (FDDG), an interactive tool designed to allow institutions to evaluate their online faculty development needs, create a plan of action for their own online faculty development program, and have access to resources that will support faculty development. This tool is based on the Quality Transformation Model for Faculty Development (QTMFD).

Whatever the outcome, I hope your unit will share lessons learned and recommendations when your process is complete and your newly formed unit is in operation and progressing toward its objectives.

I’m sure there are many more tips that others in the community have found useful. What strategies do you use for effectively engaging faculty in the online course design process? Please share your thoughts with our TOPkit Community Discord!