Blended education spaces: insights from the Playful Hybrid Higher Education project

by Sandra Abegglen, Researcher, University of Calgary, Canada

This article delves into blended learning spaces, leveraging insights from the Playful Hybrid Higher Education Project. Emphasising the dynamic interplay between virtual and physical environments, it underscores the significance of blending experiences within educational settings for successful learning. The incorporation of playful elements into hybrid teaching is advocated in order to recognise the intricacies of hybrid learning, where participants navigate between physical/digital, synchronous/asynchronous, informal/formal, and structured/unstructured contexts.

The Project

The Playful Hybrid Higher Education project, situated within the School of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape at the University of Calgary, and funded by the Imagination Lab Foundation, explores the experiences of faculty and students in the hybrid classroom. The goal is to provide guidance for faculty navigating this new and evolving model of education, with an emphasis on playful and creative pedagogy. The research seeks to answer a pivotal question: How can faculty foster community and collective student success in hybrid environments using play and creativity?

The project is currently in its final phase, the data analysis and reporting.

Initial Results

Literature Review

Between Fall 2022 and Spring 2023, a systematic literature review was conducted. The initial literature review included a search on key terminology related to playful hybrid higher education using the University of Calgary library catalogue. Each item from that search was tagged with keywords. Those keywords were used to map the connections between the different items and highlight nodes: technology, teaching methods, teaching, student experience, student engagement, social media, play, pedagogy, online education, motivation, learning outcome, learning communities, learning, hybridity, hybrid learning, hybrid teaching, hybrid spaces, higher education, gamification, game, future university, flipped classroom, flexibility, engagement, employability, educational design, education, e-learning, distance learning, creativity, collaboration, COVID-19, blended learning.

Playful Hybrid Higher Education Literature Keyword Network Plot

Later, the literature search was expanded to further library catalogues. Currently, the literature database on ‘playful hybrid higher education’ contains 224 items. It can be accessed here, under a Creative Common Licence:


With the help of two surveys distributed in Spring/Summer 2023, faculty and student attitudes were explored.

Survey One asked about experiences with hybrid teaching and learning. The survey served as the initial step in understanding perceptions of hybrid education, focusing on attitudes and experiences of both faculty and students. The survey targeted education professionals and learners at Canadian Higher Education institutions. It was conducted online.

Survey Two was aimed at undergraduate students in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape (SAPL)), entering the Bachelor of Design in City Innovation (BDCI) program, although it was also open to other students at the University of Calgary. The online survey invited students to articulate their experiences of different learning modes: in-person, online and blended. Participation in the survey was completely voluntary, with no personal data collected. Completion of the survey took approximately five minutes, depending on the length of the answers provided.

The survey results revealed that 70% of our participants thought that hybrid learning is the future. Faculty and students agreed that hybridity offers flexibility and enhances accessibility, and that it is cost-effective. The current challenges with hybrid classrooms include: lack of effective technology, missing technical support, the possible break down of communication, and reduced embodied experiences.

Survey One: Is Hybrid Education the Future?


In Summer/Fall 2023, 13 interviews with faculty in Canadian Higher Education institutions were held. Education professionals with backgrounds in social work, arts and history, literature, architecture, gaming, and shared perspectives and provided in-depth insights on playful hybrid higher education and their classrooms. They also speculated about the future of education. Find out what they had to say about hybrid teaching and learning here:


Key take-aways from the Playful Hybrid Higher Education Project to this date include:

  • Faculty and students struggle with education if it is purely online.
  • Face-to-face teaching and learning has many benefits. It provides connection and support.
  • We need to develop new approaches that support student learning and engagement in the emerging, hybrid modality.
  • In the hybrid classroom, a carful blend of online and offline experiences for successful education is essential.
  • Targeted learning design can help defining tasks, tools and technologies, content, methods and methodologies, assessments, and opportunities for interaction.
  • Play can provide the necessary connection – and freedom to experiment.

“Quilting as a metaphor for the development of playful higher education highlights how people are invited to exist as ‘their own unique patch’, while simultaneously being closely knit together to form a shared whole. – A colorful quilted, vibrant and playful higher education collective or community” – Rikke Toft Nørgård, Josephine E. M. Solheim & Kimie Jay Bukholt, Playful Higher Education, 2022, p.10


We wish to extend our sincere gratitude to the Imagination Lab Foundation for their invaluable support in funding the Playful Hybrid Education research project. Their generous grant has been instrumental in enabling us to explore innovative approaches to hybrid education, bridging the gap between traditional, face-to-face and online learning.



Sandra Abegglen, is a Researcher in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape at the University of Calgary, in Canada, exploring creativity online and in hybrid education settings.

Contact: sandra.abegglen[at]