On the front line

Expanding professional development through hybrid learning: A case study

In Short

For anyone working in the youth serving space, the writing has long been on the wall. Our youth are struggling. Those working with youth over the last decade have watched as we inched closer to the current reality. Educators and youth professionals find themselves on the front lines.

For anyone working in the youth-serving space, the writing has long been on the wall. Our youth are struggling. Although the surgeon general only recently declared a youth mental health crisis, those working with youth over the last decade have watched as we inched closer to the current reality. Educators and youth professionals find themselves on the front lines.

Since 2016, The Jewish Education Project has trained over 300 Jewish professionals in Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA). YMHFA, an evidence-based training program through the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, equips adults with the tools to respond to Jewish teens in need of support. Yet, after each training, educators requested more. In considering how best to respond we asked ourselves: What is the key content? What is the best modality? Should learning be individualized or communal? Asynchronous or synchronous?

After a year of content development, we chose to develop the Youth Mental Health and Wellness Certificate Program. This three-month learning journey combines an asynchronous eight-hour eCourse and three synchronous cohort sessions. The asynchronous portions allow the learners to develop their skills, knowledge and abilities in ways that cannot be adequately explored during the program’s synchronous gatherings. Differentiated instruction is provided through readings, multimedia content, individualized activities and formative assessments. Participants can return to core course material as needed and choose to extend their learning with optional course materials. By coupling the asynchronous portions (the “eCourse”) with synchronous sessions, the Certificate Program affords learners additional opportunities to practice and apply content, while developing an ongoing network of colleagues with whom to work through challenges, share best practices and build pathways for continued support.

We tested the program with beta testers in winter 2020 and spring 2021 and graduated our first cohort in December 2021. Cohorts are asked to complete both a pre- and post-certificate program evaluation, deepening our understanding of participants’ experience and providing valuable feedback for the program’s continued evolution.  

As our agency considers expanding our asynchronous or hybrid learning opportunities, we’d like to share some lessons that continue to inform our work: 

  • Hybrid Learning is Exponentially More Effective and Affective – The value of supporting asynchronous learning with synchronous virtual gatherings cannot be understated. Learning is amplified when both modalities are combined for their complementary benefits. All materials and interactions with the learner must advance the learning process while considering the challenges of cognitive overload. Asynchronous learning opportunities are best created in a partnership between a subject matter expert and instructional designer, proficient in both learning theory and technology.
  • Interactivity Matters and Increases Engagement – An asynchronous course can achieve a high level of interactivity and engagement.  To achieve this, employ both pre-built and custom learning interactions using an authoring tool.  The “chunking” of content allows for greater participation, supports course completion, and allows learners to participate with a flexible schedule. 
  • Iteration and Scalability are Essential to Success – Asynchronous and hybrid courses are scalable to almost any learning cohort, regardless of a learner’s location. In designing your course, include learning elements and dissemination strategies that support this flexibility. View the asynchronous learning components as a perpetual work in progress that permits tailoring the course to different audiences. Adjusting these elements in real-time is feasible and cost-effective.

The Youth Mental Health and Wellness Certificate Program has just launched its second cohort. We anticipate that this program will become a year-round fixture of our agency’s investment in a national strategy of professional development. Professionals interested in joining a future cohort, creating a cohort for their community, or reviewing a sample of the course should contact the authors or visit info@jewishedproject.org.

Rebecca Ruberg is the teen engagement consultant for The Jewish Education Project and the certification program’s author and facilitator. 
Jonathan Fass is the managing director of educational technology and strategy at The Jewish Education Project.
Amanda Winer is the director of research and evaluation at The Jewish Education Project.