Blog Post

Hybrid service delivery models in the immigrant and refugee-serving sector

(This is the fourth in a series of posts from the Settlement Sector & Technology Task Group's final report: From Silos to Solutions: Toward Sustainable and Equitable Hybrid Service Delivery in the Immigrant & Refugee-Serving Sector in Canada. Over the coming days/weeks, I will be extracting thematic sections from the report and posting them as articles to make them more accessible. In each key theme, we provide an introduction, sector perspectives (from interviews and focus groups), a number of useful tools and practices we have found to help guide our recommendations to help the sector and IRCC develop the themes into practice, and then a list of specific recommendations that are relevant to the theme.)

Institutional and Sector Resilience 

In the first phase of our work, we captured a number of promising practices that SPOs had implemented to adapt to the changing environment regarding the format of service delivery and organizational operation. The pandemic crisis has opened up some new opportunities as digital strategies have expanded to reach more audiences. We see the progress that has been made by SPOs, which strengthen the capacity of program resilience. 

In this process, individual settlement practitioners and SPOs have demonstrated creativity, flexibility, agility, and elasticity to create success, strategies, and implications to conquer challenges, difficulties, and toughness in pandemic times. Digital transformation and adopting the hybrid service delivery model can be unique driving forces to encourage and continue institutional resilience in the immigrant and refugee-serving sector. 

The Hybrid Service Delivery Model

Introduction and Discussion about Hybrid Service Delivery Models

A recent report on digital transformation in the public sector suggests that digital transformation “means new ways of working with stakeholders, building new frameworks of service delivery and creating new forms of relationships.” In this report, we focus on the emergence of a hybrid settlement service delivery model as a new and emerging framework. 

Simply described, a hybrid service delivery model suggests a combination of in-person and online/remote (digital and non-digital) services for newcomers to Canada. It occurs when services are offered in-person as well as at a distance. It is both a tool and strategy that guides Settlement practitioners to determine how technology can be used effectively in service delivery, while ensuring support and room for in-person support. In the immigrant and refugee-serving sector a hybrid service delivery model should incorporate newcomer choice (where all services are offered via all channels, online and off, with clients free to decide and move between them) and be integrated in the entire service delivery process, guiding newcomers through service options and implications (where clients are informed what the best channel is for them when accessing a given service). 

In our analysis, we borrow heavily from the education and language services sectors. They have engaged in blended learning for many years. There are many frameworks, technologies, and approaches being used that are useful for our analysis. Later in this document we review and reflect on eHealth and Virtual Care. We had much to learn from Virtual Care as the health sector is well ahead of the settlement sector when it comes to use of technology in a regulatory and privacy framework. We continue to be able to learn and borrow from them in our analysis, models, frameworks, emerging roles, use of technology, ensuring client-centricity, and sector human resource development. At the same time, health exists within a strong regulatory framework that the settlement sector lacks. We believe that as the immigrant and refugee-serving sector moves toward hybrid service delivery, it should aspire to the high levels of regulatory standards that exist within the Health sector (for example, privacy, security, and confidentiality by design). 

As previously mentioned, there are also sector priorities that must be foundational in a hybrid service delivery model, such as digital equity and inclusion. Those are explored in depth below.

Below are a number of current definitions and models of blended and hybrid service delivery that should continue to be reviewed to determine the final, agreed-upon definition of an immigrant and refugee-serving sector hybrid service delivery model.

Definitions Hybrid Services

The language side of the settlement sector has a useful and simple definition of blended learning which fits as a starting definition for hybrid service delivery in the sector. From New Language Solutions:

Blended learning describes a teaching and learning environment in which face-to-face (f2f) classroom instruction and learning are combined or ‘blended’ with online and other computer-mediated activities. 

Existing research has already acknowledged that blended learning should not be seen as simply adding some forms of technology to practice of learning. It requires thoughtful planning, new approaches to instructional design, and a number of pedagogical shifts and skills. Commonwealth of Learning’s Guide to Blended Learning (2018) reviewed some of the key steps that organizations begin to think through before designing, delivering, and supporting blended learning programs:

  1. Technology access: A critical first step is to know which resources are available to your students. Is there limited bandwidth, unreliable Internet connectivity, or lack of devices such as laptops or smartphones? Once you are clear about access, you can choose learning activities with the technology in ways that allow all to participate.
  2. Design: Creating the appropriate in-person and online activities means designing courses with the pedagogic principles of both and integrating technology in a way that supports meaningful learning.
  3. Safety and security: Create awareness of cyber-malice and ensure security interventions against unethical learning practices, academic dishonesty, identity theft and bullying are in place.
  4. Skill development, support and training: Both students and instructors must have technological literacy and competence with technology applications.
  5. Motivation: Students need adequate motivation when engaging in a wide range of often shifting learning modalities, some of which may require significant skill development.

AlphaPlus, which supports Ontario adult literacy education professionals to incorporate digital technology in their work outlines blended learning as:

a combination of face-to-face in classroom and technology-mediated learning using devices such as computers, smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices with an internet connection. These devices may be provided by programs, or learners may be free to bring their own device. Our position is that blended learning in adult education is not only about the use of tools and resources. Instead, it is a way to think about program and curriculum development, including learning design and delivery.

And the Irish Further Education Support Service provides additional useful context:

QQI (2018) refers to Garrison and Kanuka’s (2004) definition of blended learning as “the integration of classroom face-to-face learning experiences with online learning experiences” (2018, p.3). Driscoll and Carliner (2005) identified four typologies of pedagogy which could be blended learning, namely:

a mix of web-based technologies

a mix of various pedagogical approaches (for example, constructivism, behaviourism, cognitivism)

a combination of any form of instructional technology with face-to-face instructor-led conditions

a combination of instructional technology with actual job tasks to form an effective mix of learning and working

More broadly, the European Commission Mutual Learning Programme for Public Employment Services provides a useful distinction between four different multi-channel strategies:

  1. Parallel positioning: Services are offered via all channels with citizens free to decide which channel to choose.
  2. Replacement positioning: Channels replace one another based on the assumption that one channel is more effective and efficient than another for a particular task/client group.
  3. Supplemental positioning: Each channel has its own characteristics that make it suitable for certain services/client groups.
  4. Integrated positioning: In this model all channels are integrated in the entire service delivery process. This means that all services are offered via all channels but that the strengths and weaknesses of channels are considered in their design. Users are steered to the best channel and channels integrate seamlessly.

Additional definitions outside the sector

To explore the integration of blended approaches on a more permanent basis, we should be clear about what we are referring to, and how the term is applied across the sector. We continued to probe these definitions with sector stakeholders while diving into the literature.

Blended learning can be defined as “the thoughtful fusion of face-to-face and online environments to conduct teaching and learning.” The concept is often used interchangeably with terms such as hybrid, mixed-mode or flexible learning. 

The application of a blended learning model is usually based on specific needs, capacities, modalities and pedagogies of a particular institution or sector. There are varying definitions based on the context and circumstances in the field of education. 

For example, the Online Learning Consortium, a professional organization devoted to advancing the quality of online learning worldwide, defines blended learning as a course where 30% - 70% of the instruction is delivered online. On the other hand, at the University of Ottawa, a course is considered to be “blended” when at least 20% or no more than 80% of in-class hours are replaced by interactive online learning activities as an integral part of the course.

Similarly, the Sloan Consortium report, Blending In: The Extent and Promise of Blended Learning in the United States, describes four different course models, only one of which, the third, is truly blended or hybrid learning:

  1. 0% online learning describes a traditional face-to-face model. Content is delivered in writing or orally.
  2. 1-29% online describes a “web-facilitated” course that “uses web-based technology to facilitate what is essentially a face-to-face course.” Syllabus and assignments will be posted, for example, using a course management system (CMS) or web pages.
  3. 30-79% describes a truly blended (hybrid) model, a course that blends online and face to-face delivery. A large majority of the course's material is delivered online, and it usually includes conversations online as well as certain face-to-face sessions.
  4. 80+% online is an online or distance learning course where most or all of the content is delivered online. Typically in a purely online or distance learning course there are no face to- face meetings.

Going Forward: Digital Strategy as a Key Priority   

Moving toward a hybrid service delivery model requires an overall digital transformation approach. As sector leaders and IRCC reimagine current service models and implement new ways of engaging people, technology, and processes, a digital strategy is required. 

IRCC and the sector can borrow from current evidence and approaches to digital transformation when building a hybrid service delivery model for the sector. Government of Canada Digital Design Standards are applicable:

  • Design with users
  • Iterate and improve frequently
  • Work in the open by default
  • Use open standards and solutions
  • Address security and privacy risksBuild in accessibility from the start
  • Empower staff to deliver better services
  • Be good data stewards
  • Design ethical services
  • Collaborate widely

These standards also align with IRCC’s current funding vision under the CORE Principles.

Canada’s Digital Government priorities are laid out on the Government of Canada website. These should be mirrored within IRCC as well. These priorities outline current modern and emerging technologies on the government radar:

While there are some concerns that the Canadian government has made less progress on digital services during the pandemic, there are lessons to be learned from their experiences that contribute to building a hybrid service delivery model. From a technology infrastructure perspective, there is common ground to build on here, from within government, while learning from sector leadership in this area already. For example, pre-arrival service providers were fully digital before the pandemic. Blended language learning has existed for many years. 

Sector Perspectives on Hybrid Service Delivery

Hybrid service delivery is seen as simply how things are done now:

Before COVID-19, blended or hybrid meant partly face to face and partly online, very clear cut, everyone was happy. And everyone was thought of as innovative if they did that. Now, to me, it’s morphed into synchronous versus asynchronous, because synchronous could be online or face to face. It’s the dichotomy between the face to face and online is thrown out the window. You could still have a face to face, or maybe you are doing face to face as much as you can. Otherwise, it’s not going to happen…. So the big difference between hybrid and blended service is that technology, a kind of a linear hardcopy based solution is no longer linear. It is exponentially changing. And by the time you think of something, it’s gone out the door. (school district, interview)

Discussions highlighted the importance of different options for service delivery and the exploration of diverse possibilities: 

I just want to highlight that the hybrid could be two different ways. Like it doesn’t have to be both at the same time, in class, and in person. It could be like, for example, for our workshops, what we have been doing is that we have in class, a number of people just to maintain social distancing, and we’ll have another group joining in line. (employment, focus group)

Settlement practitioners underscored different options and possibilities that assisted their program to be more accessible for clients:

And I’m glad that people use the word hybrid, not just totally online, because we have some programs planned to move forward in the new normal, which are for the vulnerable populations. So, they have a lot of challenges, of course. So, then technology, it’s not just technology or lack of devices, but even their own language. Can you imagine how to explain technology to them? So with those clients, we still see one on one with safety distance, of course. And when we reach out to them, we go to their houses, but outside in the driveway, and then pass on what are the things we need to pass on. And we help them that way. So yeah, and I’m glad this hybrid knowledge is not totally online, because they are clients who need face to face services. (S, school and library, focus group)  

When we define the hybrid service delivery model, it is important to reflect what the concept of hybrid looks like in the immigrant serving sector. To some programs, hybrid means no geographic restriction for service delivery. This phenomenon was referred to by our participants as “service without borders” (W, school and library, focus group), which carves out opportunities to reach rural areas and communities across Canada:

Before the pandemic, we can’t serve clients outside of our service area. But now with online, we have people from different cities, they asked about our services. Our settlement practitioners speak their own languages, which some agencies don’t have. So a lot of times it’s very natural for clients, immigrant clients to reach out to us and say, Oh, can you help me? And we used to say, No, we can’t get to that area because it was in person. But now because services are online, we can provide the services for them. (school and library, focus group)

“Services without borders” means blurring lines between pre-arrival and in-Canada services. SPOs promote their work online, which means it is shared with individuals who are outside of Canada, regardless of whether a SPO is a pre-arrival service provider. Some underlined the importance of guidelines from IRCC to offer directions for the new normal:  

Because we promote our service on Facebook and Twitter, we receive requests not just from Canada, not even just from our province. In the beginning, when we started advertising, for some sessions, we actually had people who wanted to sign in from the Philippines and Sri Lanka, because it's out there and they are interested….I think this will answer about what direction and again something that IRCC needs to look at. but I think once we have adapted to the new normal, and we're actually now or when we're on our way to actually create some level of standard hybrid services or whatnot. (school and library, focus group)

It is important to continue to understand the dynamics of digital transformation in the immigrant and refugee-serving sector and address the nuance of intersectional identities of populations programs are serving as well as different roles in SPOs would have experienced differently in digital transformation: 

The more we delve into this, the more we realize that there’s a lot of nuance to what works for which population and some of it is actually not entirely intuitive. It’s worth putting in the time to do the research, because some of the findings are not what I certainly would have anticipated....It’s also worth paying some attention to the needs of indirect service providers like ourselves, because I think that our experience and our transition has been different. (settlement program, SPO, focus group)

Hybrid Service Delivery Tools & Practice

We can and should continue to build on sector evidence and practice. A new study on blended learning in LINC (2020) provides key approaches and practices for blended learning to thrive:

  • Stable wi-fi and consistent and sufficient technology support
  • Sufficient portable devices on campus
  • A Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy and practice
  • Experienced and knowledgeable LINC teachers enthusiastic about and professionally developed in using technology and EduLINC
  • Leadership by administration to provide the technologies, childcare, other resources, and support for teachers
  • Transition to blended learning classes for students
  • Ongoing professional development and training for teachers
  • Consistent teacher-student engagement and interaction with students (teacher presence) – online as well as in the classroom
  • Integration of Portfolio-Based Language Assessment (PBLA) activities into the blended learning program/curriculum and PBLA activities in the online activities

We should also look outside the sector. We have cast a wide net to find useful resources for the sector to use in the process of evaluating and adapting existing models. They are summarized below and need to be evaluated for the sector adaptation.

  • Quality Assurance Rubric for Blended Learning (2020) is a formative and summative quality assurance tool that bases evaluation on 7 areas: content, instructional design, course structure, learner support technology/media, assessment, quality assurance and evaluation.
  • Further Education and Support Services published Strategies for Blended Learning (2020) for organizations delivering blended courses that provide simple strategies to help make blended models smooth and effective. Their model called ADDIE, which stands for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation, provides five iterative steps of a development process. The report also provides tips and strategies for content design, online engagement that could be useful for the sector organizations to model. 
  • In the adult education context, AlphaPlus’s position paper defines blended learning as “an approach where educators leverage technology and digital access for learners to create, communicate, collaborate and apply critical thinking skills to construct knowledge in a connected world.”
  • Education Elements (2020) developed the five domains of blended learning teaching practices that can be used as a rubric: developing a classroom culture that values learners’ opportunity to learn and problem-solve independently; Blended Learning Management creates systems and routines that maintain an effective blended learning environment; integrate digital curricula and flexible learning environments to support student- centered instruction independently; assessments and analysis, which entails measuring and analyzing students' academic success using a variety of online and offline data sources; and using technologies to enhance the effectiveness of a blended learning environment.
  • Blended Learning Course Quality Rubric was created by Teaching and Learning Support Service (TLSS) at the University of Ottawa, Canada and covers subjects such as course architecture, learner assistance and infrastructure, technology use, course organization, and curriculum presentation.          
  • Blended Course Learnability Evaluation Checklist can be used to evaluate the course's content. It can be used by practitioners who are creating a blended course as a learning tool. 
  • Flipped Learning Network defines flipped learning as “a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter”.
  • The SOFLA model, Synchronous Online Flipped Learning Approach, was developed by Marshall (2017) and Marshall and Rodriguez Buitrago (2017) in order to align flipped learning principles with online instruction. SOFLA is analogous to flipped learning in that work done outside of class is now transferred to an asynchronous space, and work completed in class is completed in synchronous training sessions with the instructor and learners' peers. 

The Hybrid Service Delivery Model - Relevant Recommendations

  • Recommendation 1: Develop a roadmap to support organizational digital transformation -- all sub-recommendations
  • Recommendation 2: Establish a common and sector-wide vision for digital literacy -- Now: Technology should be looked at through a social justice and service lens, recognizing that there is a digital divide, and that not everyone has access to technology, or wants to access services via technology. -- Next: There is also a need for consistent and ongoing training for staff, not only focused on how best they can use technology, but also how to train clients to use it in a service context. The sector and IRCC should develop guidelines on how to develop and implement digital literacy tools to assess clients’ digital skills. This guidance should include the provision of training materials, tools, and recommendations for agencies to support clients’ digital literacy skills
  • Recommendation 3: Establish a hybrid service delivery lead at IRCC -- all sub-recommendations
  • Recommendation 4: Establish baseline sector competencies -- all sub-recommendations
  • Recommendation 5: Establish a national sector capacity-building approach -- Now: Identify and evaluate new and modified roles that have emerged during the pandemic to support digital service delivery. Continue funding existing roles through this fiscal year. -- Next: Establish a knowledge mobilization approach to all digital funding at IRCC with a goal to quickly evaluate and share learning from funded projects at national and regional levels. 
  • Recommendation 6: Ensure sector nuances are taken into account -- Next: While this report scratches the surface of understanding the digital equity, divide, and literacy nuances of newcomers, more work should be done here, both by IRCC and the sector.

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