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Problems of Practice

Simultaneous Learning: How can I effectively work with in-person and remote students at the same time?

Key Takeaways

In order to implement simultaneous learning effectively, it is important to focus on how you can bridge the gap between remote and in-person learning by designing:

  • Consistent structures, routines, and access to virtual materials and content
  • Opportunities for students to connect with all peers, despite their location, in meaningful and collaborative ways
  • Dynamic daily agendas that engage students using a variety of modalities, groupings, and activities
  • Self-directed and personalized learning experiences that enable student agency, choice, and leverage all that asynchronous learning has to offer
Overhead view of person reading from notebook, writing on notepad, while on video call on laptop

What is the problem?

Schools across the country seeking to limit class sizes and accommodate learning from home during COVID-19 are implementing a new type of hybrid approach: bringing together students in school with those working remotely. While this approach does allow a single teacher to work with all students within a given class at the same time, simultaneous learning (also referred to as “Zoom-and-room”, “concurrent learning,” or a “hyflex approach”) poses significant challenges to educators who need to engage, monitor, and provide support to students working in different spaces and contexts. Teachers must implement structures and strategies to effectively bridge context divides and ensure equitable learning for all.

Why is it important?

Core to understanding simultaneous approaches is identifying the unique needs of remote learners as they engage with a classroom from a distance; failure to address this can result in gaps in achievement and engagement between in-person and remote participants. The Learning Accelerator has published a review and synthesis of the academic literature about learning in online and distance environments. Key takeaways include:

  • Simply replicating offline approaches and materials for remote learners tends to result in poorer performance, particularly if only some students are learning online.

  • Students’ participation, motivation, and engagement may differ based on a number of factors, including culture, gender, and age; teachers should explicitly state and model expectations, as well as offer multiple, culturally relevant means of engagement.

  • Online learning environments often require significantly more self-direction on the part of the learner; lesson designers and facilitators must ensure all content and engagement features are consistently organized, equitably accessible, and clearly understood.

  • Engagement in remote and online learning, much like in-person learning, is supported by relationships, a sense of social presence amongst the teacher and class, and meaningful personalization to support perceptions of relevance and agency.

How: Solution

Teachers can improve simultaneous learning by building their awareness of its potential pitfalls and then designing structures and adopting strategies that proactively address potential challenges students – especially those working remotely – may experience. To do this, it is vital to specifically focus on components that ensure your simultaneous learning environment and experiences are accessible and consistent to all learners in an equitable manner. When thinking about where to start, focus on four key areas and ask yourself:

  • Routines and space: Where and how are you posting key information (e.g. agendas, assignments, content, expectations)? How are you preparing for students moving from remote to in-person settings (and back again) due to quarantines or other restrictions?

  • Culture and community: How are in-person and remote learners working together? How have you fostered a classroom culture that spans the environmental divide?

  • Dynamic use of time: How do you currently break up a full day of instruction, or even an hour-long lesson? Are students able to engage in multiple ways with a variety of access points despite their physical location?

  • Opportunities for self-direction and personalization: How are students able to drive their own learning across multiple environments? How have you leveraged asynchronous time (within a synchronous lesson) to enable choice and agency and allow students to go deeper in any environment?

Students are likely moving from in-person to remote settings – and then back again – daily, weekly, and monthly because of quarantines, school closures, changes in schedules, and other factors. It is important that their learning is consistent, accessible, and nimble as they work across environments. While simultaneous learning is not an ideal approach, it can be made more effective if educators plan for bridging any divides and ensure all students have the ability to access content, engage, seek help, and collaborate. As you review these four areas, continue to spiral back to the questions above so that you can reflect on where you are currently while also exploring ideas and strategies from educators implementing in other areas of the country.


Routines and Space

As students continue to engage in hybrid learning, no matter the approach, it is vital that their classroom, whether virtual or in-person, is a place of safety and consistency. It can feel easier to focus on organization and management of the physical classroom, but this can fail to address the specific needs of remote learners, or it may force teachers to develop two different classroom systems. Many districts have learned the painful lesson that you need to plan for virtual learning first because of movement of students as well as the challenge of effectively engaging remote learners. By housing all of your agendas, objectives, assignments, and other materials in digital formats, routines can stay nimble and consistent regardless of learning context.

Strategies to Explore

Explore the strategies below around specific routines that build a consistent remote space for students despite their physical location.


    Culture and Community

    Culture is even more important – and difficult – to build in a simultaneous learning environment. To engage all students, you must create a culture that spans remote and in-person learning environments in ways that enable students to build relationships with each other despite their physical location. Focus on creating one class, connected virtually through strategic grouping, partnering, and collaboration.

    When thinking about ways to connect your in-person and remote learners, remember that connections should go beyond formal learning experiences, and may cover ice-breakers, short check-ins, games, or other avenues of communication. (Remember, when you were all in person, students had ample opportunities to connect in small and large ways, so the key is trying to build these opportunities, or “hallway moments”, into daily instruction!) This can include small-group breakouts to allow students to delve deeper into content (but remember to set up expectations to ensure these groups are effective and meaningful), collaborative projects with students both in person and remote, and even virtual class lunches with games to spur discussion – and even perhaps some friendly competition.

    Strategies to Explore

    Explore the strategies below around specific ways to build culture and community within a simultaneous learning environment through formal and informal collaboration. Most of these strategies focus on virtual resources, allowing for student engagement no matter what environment they may be learning from.


      Dynamic Use of Time and Modalities

      With a focus on in-classroom learning, it might feel tempting to fall back into planning purely for more traditional in-person approaches. Don’t forget about the other modalities you have at your fingertips such as asynchronous, synchronous, analog, and digital approaches.

      Leveraging all of these modalities, using time creatively and dynamically, and designing instruction that can span virtual and in-person contexts can enable students to move through a variety of learning experiences without even moving from their seat. This can include whole-group learning, small-group time (via breakout groups with in-person and remote students), one-on-one check-ins with individual students, and “asynchronous” or independent learning time within synchronous learning, where students work on their own projects and readings, or even take a break if needed.

      Integrating perspectives from neuroscience, learning is more effective when it occurs in short blocks of time interspersed between other blocks over an extended period – referred to in the article as “blocking and interleaving.” By building multiple shorter learning experiences within a larger block, students are able to engage in a variety of ways, maintaining their attention while also ensuring they are able and willing to engage. Think about how long your prior activities were when everyone was in person! Thirty minutes could feel like a lifetime for you and your students alike, which meant the time period was likely broken up into smaller blocks for younger students and longer blocks for high school learners working on more complex tasks or content.

      By reinventing what simultaneous learning can look like, you provide students with an experience that oscillates between the four modalities (asynchronous, synchronous, virtual, and analog) and also creates opportunities for personalization.

      Strategies to Explore

      Explore the strategies below around specific ways to leverage time within a simultaneous learning environment to better engage and support all learners in a variety of activities.


      Opportunities for Self-Direction

      Simultaneous learning doesn’t have to always be purely synchronous and teacher-directed. Consider how you can integrate asynchronous and synchronous opportunities for all students to drive their own learning, extend their learning experience, and go deeper through projects, playlists, or other activities that go beyond the confines of the school day. Although designing and implementing learning experiences for students that span virtual and in-person is a challenge, it also offers students the ability to take ownership in new ways. By giving students choice around what they work on, when they work on it, and with whom they work, students can develop ownership over their learning in a time when they may feel as though they have no “power” or ability to drive their everyday lives.

      Strategies to Explore

      Explore the strategies below around specific ways to build in opportunities for self-direction and ownership within a simultaneous learning environment.

      NOTE: Learning how to do simultaneous instruction well is new for most of us! It is important that we lean on and learn from each other to gain support, insight, and inspiration! If you or a colleague has any ideas to share around the four areas presented above, reach out to juliana@learningaccelerator.org.

      Take it further

      To learn more about effective remote and/or hybrid learning implementation, explore the additional resources below:

      • Problems of Practice: Implementing Quality Remote Learning: This educator-facing series focuses on how practitioners can design and implement effective remote teaching and learning. These three guides offer concrete steps for teachers, and leaders can use these resources to better align their own school’s vision and support others in building their understanding of remote instruction.

      • Problems of Practice: Strategies for Remote and Hybrid Learning Contexts: Teachers consistently report that actively and continually engaging students during remote and hybrid learning is a key challenge. Students may struggle to be physically and mentally present for a multitude of reasons, so how can educators support students to better engage and help ensure school – whether virtual or in-person – is a place of rigorous learning, personal safety, and social community once again? This educator-focused series shares practical insights and strategies to help meet these goals.

      • Concurrent Classroom Model Toolkit: This resource bank, designed by the Mendon-Upton Regional School District, contains key terms, concrete classroom strategies, as well as helpful resources to support effective implementation of hybrid and/or simultaneous learning. This document is being constantly updated with additional resources, strategies, and insight based on their experiences with hybrid learning in their own district.

      • Driving Quality in Remote Learning: A framework for research-informed remote experiences for K-12 leaders: This tool outlines key research findings about remote learning, addressing the existing evidence base for efficacy and offering a framework for understanding the key components that help improve the quality of learning.