HyFlex: The Future of Work, Therefore the Future of Education
Flexible and remote schedules that afford employees the opportunity to work from home all or part of the week aren’t going anywhere, even as the pandemic ebbs. To create workers who can excel in the workplace of tomorrow, we need to provide students with the information and experiences that equip them to succeed in their careers. But we also need to instill in them the ability to stay engaged, motivated and on-goal despite the structure of their work — in-person, remote, or a hybrid of the two.
As part of the online learning team and now the Director of Online Learning at UA Little Rock, I helped the university respond to the technological challenges of COVID-19. That included the transition to completely online education in early 2020. The obstacles of the past two years have been formidable yet illuminating, even as a university with robust existing online programs. I believe this experience positioned UA Little Rock to better prepare our graduates for the flexibility and work/life compartmentalization that may now be required by their post-pandemic careers. In the process, UA Little Rock has instituted policies and expanded the distance-learning infrastructure, helping make higher education more accessible for all.
Hybrid or fully remote work is increasingly becoming the way huge segments of our economy get the job done. Employees prefer it. In recent polling by Pew Research, 78 & of Americans who work from home most or all of the time say they’d like to continue that arrangement after the pandemic is over. That’s up from 64 & at the height of the pandemic in 2020. Meanwhile, sizable majorities of employees who choose remote work told Pew researchers that finding a better work/life balance for themselves has been easier while working from home than it was when they worked from the office.
Employers are also beginning to see the benefits of increased flexibility on their bottom line. In one study by Global Workplace Analytics, researchers estimated that, thanks to factors like increased productivity and a reduction in turnover, U.S. companies could save an average of $11,000 annually for every employee working from home at least half their hours per week.
It’s up to employers and workplaces to adapt to these changes in a way that best supports business goals, productivity and employee retention. But for institutions of higher learning like UA Little Rock, our job remains the same: To provide students with the highest possible benefit for their future lives and careers in exchange for their attention, talents and time.
One way we are doing that at UA Little Rock is by implementing a hybrid flexible, or “HyFlex,” education model. The HyFlex model has been used on a limited but growing basis at American colleges and universities for at least a decade prior to the pandemic. The idea was pushed to the forefront by necessity as American higher education ground to a halt during the early days of COVID-19.
HyFlex education allows a student to construct a flexible learning path from three distinct methods: Attending a class in person, attending a class online in real time through video conferencing technologies like Zoom, or learning on their own schedule during the semester by accessing online course materials and recorded lectures. Students in most courses are free to do any combination of the three methods that works best for them. The goal of HyFlex education is to provide flexibility and accessibility for all students to meet the same objectives throughout the semester, no matter how they choose to learn.
At UA Little Rock, HyFlex was fully implemented to help keep students safe while preventing COVID-19 from derailing their education, but we’ve been leading in online education for many years. As the pandemic wanes, the streamlined policies and increased access put in place now provide students at UA Little Rock the flexibility to let their education truly fit their lives and schedules. This creates individuals with ownership over their education and a sense of personal responsibility for their own success, which sets them up to be incredible assets to the workforce. We expect more from our students, and in turn, they expect more from themselves.
It’s not about letting students “learn in their pajamas” or avoid a commute. It’s using today’s technology to give students the educational experience that best fits their lives, careers and schedules. Employers can expect more from our graduates, knowing they are talented, well-rounded, and responsible. By embracing this more flexible model, UA Little Rock helps prepare students for careers that might require the added self-determination and time-management skills of a hybrid or fully remote work schedule. At the same time, we can also provide more Arkansans with access to high-quality higher education and life-changing academic degrees from wherever they are, in a way that can meet any schedule.
Currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, Sharonda Lipscomb is the Director of Online Learning at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. In this role, she oversees all aspects of distance learning at UA Little Rock.