Building Engagement with Distance Learning

DL #27: Planning Hybrid (Online and In-person) Lessons for Inclusive Classrooms

When districts and schools across the country opened last fall teachers experienced many learning options, including some that had an online component. Now we are seeing that classes are moving back and forth between fully online, hybrid, and in-person. This pattern of moving between instructional models may persist as COVID rates vary locally. To learn more about considerations for planning for fully online learning see the Distance Learning Series post: Online Inclusive Education: Guidelines and Considerations for Planning Virtual Lesson. Although it can seem stressful for teachers to think of how to plan teaching and learning delivered through online learning, there are many benefits to hybrid learning. Hybrid learning models are used widely across the nation right now. When planned carefully with specific ideas for face-to-face learning times, hybrid learning models can be effective for students. 

Teachers must ask themselves two questions when designing inclusive hybrid learning:

  1. Given my online delivery format (synchronous vs. asynchronous), what activities related to the content can be effectively delivered that students can learn online (i.e., high opportunities to respond in an online format, easily accessible, etc.)?
  2. What activities related to the content should be reserved for in-person class sessions where students have opportunities for authentic application of skills with in-person teacher support?

Planning for Hybrid Learning

Creating hybrid learning lessons is not as simple as just dividing a unit into face-to-face and online sections. Historically, most research on hybrid delivery models comes from higher education.  Given our current situations, the use of and adaptations to relevant principles are necessary when applied to the instruction of school-aged children. The following are some design and delivery principles adapted from course development in higher education from the University of Central Florida to guide the development of hybrid learning (see reference at the end of this TIPS in the resources). Although these are written in the context of higher education, we can apply these principles across grade levels and students, including having a focus on supporting students with significant cognitive disabilities in inclusive environments.

  • Focus on outcomes
    • Use a backwards design for planning instruction by thinking carefully about what you want students to be able to do or show by the end of a unit. For students with significant cognitive disabilities, it is important to focus on the most essential content of the lesson and ensure activities and assessments clearly align with this content. TIES Center has created the  5-15-45 tool to show effective ways to plan whether you have 5, 15, or 45 minutes.
    • Plan purposeful interactions (student to teacher; student to peers)
      • Plan ahead how students will interact with you as a teacher and how they will interact with peers. For students with significant cognitive disabilities adaptations to materials or response modes may need to be made. Consider how interactions may need to be facilitated and if additional peer or adult support is needed to support the interactions. Adult assistance can be faded as the student gains skills with these routines. To learn more about how to utilize paraprofessional support review DL #23: Pivoting Between Paraprofessional Support In Inclusive Schools and Distance Learning.
  • Redesign lesson plan structure
    • Teachers can plan different parts of a lesson to occur over in-person and online class time. What is the purpose of the online work? Is it to reinforce what was already taught? Or to extend into new areas? Is it to provide opportunities for peer interactions? For example, have students watch a prerecorded, teacher-led instructional video (asynchronous) on fractions prior to attending class (in-person) where the teacher leads small groups with guided practice showing different fractions with manipulatives.
  • Keep It Simple when Starting (KISS)
    • Teachers should begin with technology tools they feel most comfortable with and add in active-learning strategies as they go. At first, teachers may feel like “talking heads” when presenting teacher-directed instruction online, but over time they will learn the technology platform chosen by their district to better incorporate student response and participation. For students with significant cognitive disabilities, teachers can communicate with parents and students to explain they will add on new features and other applications if needed, as the learning management system is tested and they learn what works or does not work. Keep in mind that families and students themselves may need coaching or instruction as to how to use technology in various ways.
  • Allocate sufficient time to plan  and collaborate with colleagues to share resources
    • As with all learning, teachers must carve out time in their work-day schedule to plan hybrid learning lessons. For inclusive educators (general and special education teachers) with students with significant cognitive disabilities in their classrooms, they will want to also work as a team to plan for adaptations and modifications to lessons that work for individual students. Look at the 5-15-45 distance learning post highlighting how the TIES Center and CAST came together to apply Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to remove deep-rooted barriers to special and general education collaboration with the aim of making inclusive education a reality for all. 
  • Organize online material in a logical way
    • As teachers publish learning sets for families to follow, make sure to label and organize materials in an easily accessible format. Directions for all online assignments should be clearly explained in student-level terms or using a read-aloud button for students with significant disabilities or other learners that would benefit from this technology. Other accessibility features could be built in to read folder titles to any student.
  • Set student expectations
    • Clearly post student expectations for each session whether it be online or in-person. Using a “learning guide” can help students clearly understand what must be done before class, what will occur during class, and what they will need to do after class. For students with significant cognitive disabilities, a simplified checklist with student expectations for each class session can be helpful for students to follow along and check off as they go.  Rubrics for assignments are also helpful for students to see how they earn points towards a total grade for online assignments. For more information about grading, see  DL #22: Grading Considerations for Inclusive Classrooms in an Online Environment.

Here is a handbook on how to design a hybrid course PDF . This resource was designed for creating hybrid course delivery in a higher education teaching environment but has implications for inclusive elementary settings. As you read it, remember that it may be important to make adaptations given the age and characteristics of your population.


Regardless of the requirements of each district, teachers in hybrid learning situations should focus their efforts to make sure online learning is accessible and engaging for all learners, while simultaneously assuring in-person instruction focuses on peer interaction and active learning opportunities. 


  • University of Central Florida and American Association of State Colleges and Universities. (2011). Blended learning toolkit: Design and delivery principles. Retrieved from

Distance Learning Series: DL #27, December 2020

All rights reserved. Any or all portions of this document may be reproduced without prior permission, provided the source is cited as:

  • Reyes, E., & Wakeman, S. (2020). Planning Hybrid (Online and In-person) Lessons for Inclusive Classrooms (DL #27). TIES Center.

TIES Center is supported through a cooperative agreement between the University of Minnesota and the Research to Practice Division, Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education (# H326Y170004). The Center is affiliated with the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) which is affiliated with the Institute on Community Integration (ICI) at the College of Education and Human Development, University of Minnesota. The contents of this report were developed under the Cooperative Agreement from the U.S. Department of Education, but do not necessarily represent the policy or opinions of the U.S. Department of Education or Offices within it. Readers should not assume endorsement by the federal government. Project Officer: Susan Weigert

The National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) leads the TIES Center partnership. Collaborating partners are the Arizona Department of Education, CAST, University of Cincinnati, University of Kentucky, University of North-Carolina–Charlotte, and the University of North Carolina–Greensboro.

TIES Center

University of Minnesota

Institute on Community Integration

2025 East River Parkway

Minneapolis, MN 55414

Phone: 612-626-1530

This document is available in alternate formats upon request.

The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity employer and educator.