Relationship-Driven – Customer-centric Principle Four

4. Relationship-Driven – “With Me, Along the Way: I have an ongoing relationship with the company; there is a clear focus on relationship-building versus transaction-processing, they manage for the long term value in our relationship.”

HyFlex courses implement this principle when the instructor creates opportunities for all students in the course to collaborate and communicate in meaningful ways as they work to achieve learning outcomes. Is this desire/intent any different in a HyFlex course than any other course (fully online or classroom-based)? Of course not. But there is a big difference between having all students online or all students in class each session and having students participating in different modes, sometimes changing modes on a frequent basis. The consistency of interpersonal interactions we are used to when everyone is participating in the same mode is not an experience that all share in a HyFlex course.

Some students participate in the classroom all the time – they have a considerable amount of consistency of interaction, though their fellow “interactors” may not always be the same. In a similar way, students who participate online (either synchronously or asynchronously) all the time also have a considerable amount of consistency of interaction, though their fellow “interactors” may not always be the same either. This can lead to students feeling disconnected from their peers, from the instructor, and from the class/program/institution.

We know that feelings of disconnection (weak feelings of connection) are a contributing factor to low student persistence in online learning; students who do not feel well-connected drop out of classes and programs/institutions. So in a HyFlex class, the instructor should develop ways to encourage connection among students, between students and instructor, and between the students and the larger program/institution.

Since there are typically some students participating in each mode, re-using material generated by students in one mode with students in the other mode(s) is one effective way to increase connection. Recording class sessions, requiring in-class students to generate forum posts (even in class) for online students to interact with later, and developing a class culture that values and supports peer review of coursework among students in all participation modes all help. Encouraging and supporting student participation “churn” (flexing their participation choice options) may also lead to more connections among all students.

Opening all online forums for participation by all students without regard to their participation choice and providing daily forum digests sent to all students is another effective way to facilitate connection. Some in-class students who may not be required to participate in the topical forum discussion (typically required of online students) may be attracted into the discussion as they see forum posts happening throughout the week (and sent to them by the LMS in a daily digest).

Bottom line – just as establishing a relationship with a customer is important to keep that customer with a company, establishing and maintaining interpersonal connections among students and instructors as they work together to achieve learning outcomes is important to the success of any course – including a HyFlex course. HyFlex instructors should develop specific strategies to connect students who may be participating in varied modes, separated by time, place, and even activity. The challenge may be difficult, but it is not impossible.

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