Models for Alternating Cohort Courses

Some in-person courses are organized around an hybrid alternating cohort schedule in order to meet social distancing requirements. For instance, for a T/TH schedule, one cohort of student attends class in-person on Tuesday and the other cohort attends in-person on Thursday.  In addition to deciding what to do with your in-person time with students, you will also need to decide what students will do on the alternate (online) days. These four questions can help you think through the issues:

  1. How will I use my face-to-face time with students?
  2. What is the relationship between the face-to-face activities and the learning activities completed online?   
  3. What will my students do on the alternate (online) days? Students may be expected to carry out online activities during class time (e.g., working in groups), or complete online learning activities asynchronously.  
  4. What will I do on the alternating days? Will the in-person class period be the same for both cohorts?

Models for Organizing Hybrid Courses with Alternating Cohorts

Models vary on two major dimensions: (1) HOW students participate in instructional activities on the online day (joining the in-person class session for the other cohort, interacting with a GTA or discussion leader, interacting with other peers in their same cohort, or working on learning activities on their own) and (2) WHEN that participation is scheduled (either asynchronously or at the regularly scheduled class time). These dimensions, in turn, have implications for whether the same instructional activities are carried out in each in-person class session or whether each class session moves to new activities and content. The following models describe different ways of handling students' online learning time. Once you decide which model to follow, you might want to look at this page for specific recommendations on creating options for online participation for in-person courses. 

Model 1 (Traditional Hybrid Model). Asynchronous Online Activities. In this model, on their "online day," students complete asynchronous online learning activities, and attend class in-person on the classroom day.  On the online day, students participate in online or out-of-class learning activities (e.g., through Blackboard, Teams, or another platform), such as discussions, reading, watching videos, or collaborative work.

  • Most often (in the Traditional hybrid course model), the in-person and online activities are designed to serve different functions, and in-person activities are repeated for each cohort. Designing the in-person class period to be the same for all cohorts may be an easier approach than having one cohort do the same thing online that another cohort does in person. This approach will also better enable you to to leverage the time that you do have with your students in-person for the activities that are most ideally suited to that context.
  • Alternatively, a course could have online activities that are substitutes for in-person/classroom activities on the same content. In this case, each class session moves to new content regardless of which cohort is in attendance. This will work best if:
    • In-person learning activities can be easily replicated online (e.g., discussion), OR
    • You ask online and in-person students interact virtually around work or reflections produced in their modality (e.g., a jigsaw approach in which in-person students post major take-aways from a class session, and online students generate take-aways from their asynchronous work)

Model 2. Synchronous Online Activities. Like the most common form of Model 1, the activities of the classroom day are the same across all cohorts. Unlike Model 1, however, you use the scheduled class time on the alternate day to structure your students' out of classroom time. During regularly scheduled class time, students work together on learning activities (e.g., using their own meetings via Zoom, Teams, or phone), but do not interact with the instructor or classmates in other cohort who are concurrently meeting in-person in the classroom. 

  • This model is ideal for team-based or collaborative learning and group projects because it leverages the common class time to make it easy for students to collaborate outside of the classroom environment.  
  • Keep in mind, however, that these group activities will go much better if you provide guidance and coaching to scaffold this work. For example, ask students to develop a plan for how they will work together in real-time, and consider assigning students roles for the work that rotate each week.  
  • Students could also be expected to work through learning activities on their own during the scheduled class time. In this case, flexibility is reduced, whereas the structure to students’ independent coursework is enhanced. Might be ideal for classes that serve less experienced students (e.g., freshmen).

Model 3. Synchronous Discussion, Lab, or Supplemental Instruction. During regularly scheduled class time, students interact (online) with a GTA or an undergraduate peer mentor or learning assistant, other discussion group leader, by participating in a separate online live session for their cohort. This could include a discussion session, a "lab," a drop-in Q&A or office hours session, or one-on-one consultations between students and instructiontal staff. In this model:

  • In-person and online sessions serve different function.
  • In-person instructional activities are repeated for each cohort.
  • Instructors should also consider the pros and cons of synchronous online activities (live stream sessions) to help them decide whether/how to use this model.   

Model 4. Synchronous Remote. In this model all students are on the same schedule in terms of core learning activities, but one cohort participates in the activities in person and the other online (either synchronously, such as zooming in for a lecture or discussion). The modality (in-person or online) then switches the following class period. During regularly scheduled class time, students use Zoom or Teams to join the in-person class remotely. In this model:

  • Each class meeting involves new content/ instructional activities.
  • Online sessions treated as remote replacement for in-person sessions.
  • Instructors should consider general pros and cons of synchronous online activities (live stream sessions) to help them decide whether/how to use this model.
  • A benefit of this approach is that all students will be on the same learning schedule (but not class attendance schedule)
  • But class sessions with some students in-person and others simultaneously online come with many challenges, which CTE leaders and faculty collaborators have identified through recent experimentation in KU classrooms. 
    • It is difficult to ensure that there is equivalence in the learning experience and impact for students participating in-person and online.  It was quite difficult to create an environment in which the remote students could track what was happening in the class (particularly in larger classrooms where microphones will not pick up comments and questions from in-person students) and participate in the class.  
    • It prevents instructors from being able to use the most effective approaches suited to that context (whether in-person or online). Our verious efforts to make the online students included as full participants in the in-person class session (e.g., having in-person students on Zoom as well) ended up eliminating much of the value-added for being in the classroom. In the end we felt that the in-person class would be far more effective and engaging without worrying about participation of a remote cohort, and that the remote students could have a much more effective and engaging experience if their learning experience were fully online (either synchronously or asynchronously- see Models 1-3).
    • One approach is for the instructor to invite online students to "join" an in-person class meeting remotely, but to to create parallel online learning activities that could be the primary form of participation for the online cohort (e.g.,see model 1 above), rather than relying on remote access to the in-person class session to help students meet objectives for that day. 

​Have you developed an approach that doesn't fit one of these categories that you'd like to share? Email us at with your plan!

Frequently asked questions about alternating cohorts: 

  • If a student misses the class meeting of their cohort, can they attend on the other day, if there is room? Yes. Instructors have flexibility in allowing students to temporarily swap cohorts, but they are responsible for ensuring that there is enough capacity in the room. You will also need to come up with a set of procedures for how and when students can request attendance on the alternate day.