How to create an interactive lecture for +1500 students? The Hybrid Learning Theatre

Similar to all educational institutions around the globe, University of Amsterdam was struggling with the pandemic and its effect on having real-time, meaningful interaction with students online. Having started conversations with 150+ lecturers on what they needed for their online education, the idea of building a new ‘theatre’ for hybrid education came to life. On the 31st of August 2020 the Hybrid Learning Theatre (HLT) was launched. The comfortable sofas, two large screens, professional lighting, sound and three cameras, form the perfect mixture for the ultimate learning experience. The hybrid classroom of 10 x 10 m2 allows 13 on-site students (see Figure 1), 1500+ students online, and includes a 4.5×2.5m ‘Zoom Wall’, where 100 participants can be projected on the screen for real-time interaction. The set-up and technology enable active participation, in-class discussions, and therefore gives students the opportunity to benefit from an engaging learning experience, regardless of their geographical location. Recently, the room won the EUNIS overall award for Best AV-Enabled Education Space.

Figure 1: Hybrid Learning Theatre: cozy chairs to create a welcoming atmosphere

The technical aspects

What makes this type of education which is hosted by the Hybrid Learning Theatre different? By making several visual shots, a lecture/seminar/Q&A session is visually less monotonous, and it is easier for students to stay focused on the lecture. By using a mixer and several video images, UvA switches between several shots; these are sent to the Zoom output. By switching live through different shots, we see the presentation, a front-shot of the lecturer looking students in the eyes, a side-shot of the lecturer, and a shot where all live students are filmed (with consent) while asking questions. This creates a more intimate image, enhancing a sense of belonging – as if the students are still ‘present’, even while watching from home.

Figure 2. Technical aspects of HLT: Top and Front Lighting Design

Experiences of both students and lecturers

Student experience

Of all the students that participated in the first survey (N = 144), 80.99% (percentages of students who agreed or strongly agreed) experienced the interaction between students and the lecturer as effective.

Furthermore, 70.42% felt more involved during these types of lectures than they do during a ‘regular’ Zoom lecture and 80.55% (percentages of students who agreed or strongly agreed) even prefers a lecture in the HLT over a regular Zoom lecture (see Figure 3)

Figure 3: Students prefer HLT

Those who followed an HLT-based lecture online also noted a positive influence on the overall learning experience due to the visible interaction between the lecturer and the students. These described experiences underline the goal of allowing both peer-to-peer, lecturer-student, and student-content interaction in a hybrid setting. One student who attended a class in the HLT in person wrote: 

“This was the best lecture that I ever experienced. The atmosphere is welcoming and I feel very comfortable”

Lecturer experience

Of the lecturers who participated in the survey, 87,50% experienced the interaction with students in the HLT as effective or very effective. When asked if a lecture in the HLT would be preferred over a ‘normal’ Zoom lecture, 100% preferred their lectures in the HLT. Overall, lecturers rated the HLT with an average grade of a 9.13 out of 10. One lecturer noted that for a class of 300 students the students that registered for physical attendance were more engaged in the lecture, thus having a positive influence on student interactions:

“In the Hybrid Learning Theatre, the students that are participating are truly motivated and curious, which makes teaching more fun, even more fun than regular on-campus lectures.”

Curious to know more?

The University of Amsterdam will continue using the Hybrid Learning Theatres in the academic year of 2021/2022. What about your institution? We look forward to the next steps in hybrid education across the world.


Maud Pols, Project Leader Educational Innovation, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Relevant links:

  • University of Amsterdam (2021) UvA EB Hybrid Learning Theatre. YouTube video
  • “Intieme colleges op de Universiteit van Amsterdam: grote luie stoelen, zwarte doeken en plantjes” read the full paper (in Dutch) here
  • “Hybrid learning theatre” read the full paper here.
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