Teaching Commons > Teaching Guides > Course Design > Course Modalities

Course Modalities

Course modality refers to how a course is offered by the instructor. For many years there was only one option available: On-campus instruction. As the field and practice of distance education and online learning has matured, the number of course modalities has increased as well.

DePaul has been offering training programs on developing quality online learning for over a decade. Until recently, the vast majority of online classes have been asynchronous; that is, all course content is housed in D2L, and any live video meetings or other “real-time” interactions have been an enhancement to the course experience but not a requirement for students to attend. As technology tools for remote synchronous meetings have improved and gained widespread use, instructors and students now have more options for how they connect.

Below, you’ll find an overview of different course modalities and key considerations for each. These modalities are described so that you will be better equipped to design the best possible learning experience for your students. In addition, students will be able to register for courses with a clearer understanding of two key factors:

  • whether or not a course will require them to be physically present on campus at specific times
  • whether or not a course will require them to attend online meetings at specific times

Discuss Options with Your Unit/Department

Your academic unit may have specific modalities that are preferred, discouraged, or limited. Be sure to discuss your preferred course format(s) with your department chair or program administrator before investing time in a redesign of your course materials and teaching plans.

Comparison of Modalities

As you review the different modalities available, you may find it helpful to view the matrix at the end of this section. It provides an at-a-glance view of key features and requirements for each modality.

On-Campus Modalities in Traditional Classrooms

The following modalities all require students to come to an on-campus traditional classroom that does not include technology for videoconferencing or recording of class meetings.

On-Campus

This is the mode of instruction that you’re likely most familiar with. These class sessions meet in person on the specified day(s) and times, throughout the term.

  • Pros: It’s familiar, requires minimal mastery of new technology, and allows you considerable flexibility inside the classroom.
  • Cons: It is inflexible in that it requires you and all of your students to meet in a classroom at the same time.

On-Campus Hybrid

These class sessions blend in-person sessions on the specified day(s) and times with online asynchronous learning opportunities (e.g., video-lectures, online activities, discussions). For example, instead of teaching a traditional, on-campus course that meets T-TH 9:30 - 11:00, all of your students would only come to campus on Tuesdays, from 9:30 - 11:00. All other learning activities would be moved to an asynchronous online format.

  • Pros: Combines the best of face-to-face and online environments; research indicates hybrid instruction is more effective than purely face-to-face or online instruction.
  • Cons: Still requires students to physically come to campus (albeit less frequently), which can limit their options for schedule flexibility; requires careful calibration between face-to-face and online learning activities.

Fully Online Modalities with No On-Campus Presence

The following modalities do not require a physical classroom. All course activities are conducted online via synchronous videoconferencing and/or asynchronously.

Online: Asynchronous

Asynchronous online classes have been the default modality for online learning at DePaul since the early 2000s. There are no set meeting times, and course content is available to you and students 24/7 via D2L. If an instructor offers synchronous meeting opportunities in this modality, student attendance should be optional and students who cannot attend should not be penalized.

  • Pros: Most flexible format in terms of scheduling for both instructors and students.
  • Cons: Can be difficult building a sense of community in the class and keeping students engaged and motivated; requires significant up-front investment in course design.

Online: Synchronous

This class meets at scheduled times via a video conferencing tool, such as Zoom. The scheduled meetings cover the entirety of the required contact hours for the course.

  • Pros: These online courses are most similar to in-classroom learning in that all instruction and student interaction can be conducted in real time.
  • Cons: Least flexible of all online learning formats; students must have the time, bandwidth, and tools to participate in frequent, required video conferences at fixed times.

Online: Hybrid

Online hybrid blends asynchronous and synchronous online formats, with 30% or more of the learning activities designated as asynchronous online. Synchronous videoconference meetings are scheduled and occur using tools like Zoom. It is important to establish dates and times of synchronous meetings in advance. This allows the information to be included in the scheduling system so that students can build their course schedules with that information in mind.

  • Pros: Synchronous meetings may help increase a sense of community among students and the instructor; they enable real-time discussions and group work.
  • Cons: Requires reliable high-speed internet access and fixed schedules for synchronous sessions.

On-Campus Modalities with Zoom-Enabled Classrooms

The following modalities require an on-campus classroom that is equipped with Zoom hardware and software. These classrooms allow some students to be physically present while others access the class online at the same time through Zoom. Two different set-ups are being implemented:

Flex (or Bimodal)

This class meets on campus in a Zoom-enabled room. Students are free to attend on-campus or synchronously on Zoom and may change their attendance location anytime throughout the quarter. All learning activities, including assessments, are planned in an equitable manner, serving both student audiences. There is no expectation for students to attend in-person learning activities, including assessments.

All classes are automatically recorded. Recordings are automatically uploaded to D2L and are available in a folder that is by default hidden from students. Instructors have full control over student access to the recordings. Note all course materials, including class recordings, are governed by the University’s course access policy.

  • Pros: Increased flexibility for students. Instructors can expand access to live class sessions without investing time in creating asynchronous learning activities.
  • Cons:  Engaging with a class in which some students are present on campus  and others are on Zoom can be challenging.

Flex Plus Zoom

This class meets on campus in a Zoom-enabled room. It offers two sections for students to choose from: a Flex section where students can participate in person or in Zoom, and a Zoom-only section (called Online: Sync-Classroom Link in PeopleSoft).

  • Pros: Great flexibility for students. Allows for increased enrollment beyond the physical limitation of the room. 
  • Cons: Engaging with a class in which some students are present on campus  and others are on Zoom can be challenging; assessments need careful planning for the remote and in-class audiences.

On-Campus Plus Zoom

This class meets on campus in a Zoom-enabled room. It offers two sections for students to choose from: a regular face-to-face section where in-person attendance is required and a Zoom-only section (called Online: Sync-Classroom Link in PeopleSoft). Students register for either the on-campus section or the Zoom section. Students need instructor’s permission to switch sections.

  • Pros: Instructors can expand access to live class sessions without investing time in creating asynchronous learning activities.
  • Cons: Less flexibility for students; engaging with a class in which some students are present on campus and others are on Zoom can be challenging.

HyFlex (or Trimodal)

This class meets on campus in a Zoom-enabled room. It offers two sections for students to choose from: an on-campus section (typically Flex but could also be regular on campus) and an online asynchronous section. Students in the online asynchronous section have the option to join the on-campus class via Zoom, if and when they are available. All students can review recordings of the live classes. All classes are automatically recorded and can be accessed via the course D2L page.  Note all course material, including class recordings, are governed by the University’s course access policy​

The two sections are encoded in PeopleSoft, respectively, as an on-campus course with a specified room, and an Online: Asynch (Synch-Option).

  • Pros: Instructors can expand access to live class sessions.
  • Cons: Students who don’t attend class sessions in real time may feel left out when watching recordings after class has ended.

Modality Matrix

Modality Assigned Room on Campus Requires Synchronous Meetings Uses D2L Number of Sections
On-Campus
Yes
Yes
Strongly Encouraged
1
On-Campus Hybrid
Yes
Yes
Yes
1
Online Hybrid
No
Yes
Yes
1
Online Asynchronous
No
No
Yes
1
Online Synchronous
No
Yes
Strongly Encouraged 1
Flex (Bimodal)
Yes, Zoom-enabled
Yes
Strongly Encouraged
1
(Students can float between on campus & Zoom)
Flex Plus Zoom

Yes, Zoom-enabled
Yes
Yes
2
(1 Flex + 1 Zoom only)
On-Campus Plus Zoom
Yes, Zoom-enabled
Yes
Yes

2
(1 on campus + 1 Zoom only)
HyFlex (Trimodal)
Yes, Zoom-enabled
Yes for the on-campus section.
No for the asynch section.
Yes
2
(1 Flex or on campus + 1 online asynchronous)

Consult with Your Instructional Designer

Questions? Talk to the instructional designer assigned for your college/school.