Hybrid College Courses Help Fill Gap

July 5th, 2011

By Nicole Jewell : Guest Blogger

Online schooling has recently proven quite popular and with good cause. Many older students, stay-at-home mothers and full-time employees whose work hours cannot be adjusted to traditional school schedules, now have a higher education at their fingertips.

Some still ridicule non-traditional learning as being inferior or ‘not real’ because a proper classroom was never sat in under the direct supervision of an instructor. But does the act of sitting at a desk in class with fellow students make an education genuine, or is it the amount of work a student puts into it?

A recent trend within post-secondary arena is a ‘hybrid education’, which combines regular online engagement with traditional classroom instruction. Many community colleges, universities and technical schools are now splitting their course work over the Internet and the brick and mortar classroom.

Any questions as to the validity of the degree being awarded are dispelled by the typically once a week classroom attendance, with the remainder of homework, discussion and message board work still being dealt with at home or office on the computer.

Not everyone is as self-disciplined to manage all learning aspects outside of a physical classroom without, so the in-class time serves as a touch-base for those who need to fix their eyes on a real-life instructor, rather than a computer screen and keyboard.

Accreditation Is Key

One may wonder why online schools have such a poor reputation. It most likely stems from the fact that a decade ago, an online degree could simply be bought at the right price, without having to do any legitimate work to earn it. Although this practice is also not unheard of in traditional schools, it is much harder to verify. Most online schools, from technical and community colleges to universities, have undergone thorough strict and intense scrutiny to obtain and maintain their accredited status.

These accreditations are a huge endorsement of quality – meaning that the school is recognized by one of six regional accreditors and therefore approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the United States Department of Education – the same organizations who accredit brick and mortar schools. Naturally, such claims of validation should be verified by the prospective students and not taken on faith alone.

Each of the six regional agencies is responsible for their respective states and counties. All students need to do to check that their online school is accredited, is to follow-up this assertion with the relevant agency that services their county and state where the school is located.

If the online school is justly accredited, the distance learning degree is every bit as valid as one that comes from an institution where it’s necessary to sit and raise your hand.

Despite the strides made to accredit schools in the online sphere, there is still a stigma which suggests that online degrees are inferior to those completed in a traditional classroom.

In light of this, perhaps a hybrid education kills too birds with one stone. In the short term, it will provide students with greater scheduling flexibility, while its classroom component inspires confidence that this degree will be valued in the job market. In the long run, the hybrid education model will help to ensure that the value of an online education doesn’t get swept under the rug and dismissed as inferior.

An emerging term in university catalogs is that a course is ‘web-enhanced’ – indicating a hybrid style of learning. But not all classes touted as web-enhanced are set in that structure. For some, it means that all classes are held on campus and web-based learning is only a complementary added value. As the definition can vary from institution to institution, students should verify that nature of the class before signing up – discovering scheduling conflicts later on will be unforgiving.

By and large, the majority of the workload is web-enhanced and can even be completed in the computer lab of the attended school. While hybrid courses are not ‘learn-at-your-own-pace’, they allow for a little more structural leg room that can really complement the learning process. This kind of distance learning allows for further flexibility and convenience, while allowing students the milestone of weekly attendance in a non-virtual classroom setting.

The High Points

A hybrid education boasts several perks that a strictly online school does not. One of its biggest advantages is the ability to enjoy student organizations, clubs, teams, and a little campus life. Students can still enjoy the communal feeling and shared history of the institution. By meeting other students in person, even once a week, it’s easier to develop a sense of camaraderie, have an interactive student life and meet new people who are in your immediate area and not thousands of miles away (as can be the case with a strictly online education).

Less time spent and gas consumed by fewer commutes to school can also be considered a bonus. Online institutions also offer these benefits, as well as having more time to work on assignments.

A hybrid education can be that special blend so many are looking for. It does allow for the best of both worlds with less con and more pro. It’s especially convenient if the school you’re interested in is nearby and you have that extra spare time necessary for a commute. It can also prove to be less of a financial burden, since so many online schools charge for their round-the-clock convenience.

Nicole Jewell is a writer for the education blog at TeacherCertification.org. She can be reached at njewell(@)ethingsonline(.)com

Tags:

7 Responses

  1. Grace says:

    You’ve piqued my curiosity. Do you happen to know of specific four-year schools that feature a selection of these hybrid courses? What percentage of colleges offer them?

  2. tonyD says:

    Going forward, I don’t think accreditations are so important and could actually be harmful. Almost all of the products/services we consume do not come with any formal accreditation yet, for the most part, we are able to discern high quality from low. I suggest accreditation could become by definition, an accreditation body will stifle any deviation from some established standard of curricula and teaching methods. The effects of this are similar to the current struggles of traditional universities to adapt to social and technological change (the Facebook generation, social media, etc.).

  3. Hi Grace,
    The hybrid courses are still fairly new and perhaps a bit controversial. However, a lot of schools currently offer them or are in the process of organizing hybrid courses for the upcoming semester. In fact, I’ve read that 21% of colleges are offering “hybrid or blended courses” – which is up from 15% last year.

    U. of North Carolina was one of the first universities to experiment with hybrids. They started with a Spanish course back in 2009 and have constantly added more classes to their curriculum. In addition, Abington college at Penn State, Austin Community College, University of West Georgia, Kennesaw State University all offer hybrid courses at the moment.

    So these are just a few that I’ve found with a quick Google search, but it seems that, due to the success of the programs, colleges are adding more courses to their programs.

    Thanks for commenting and I hope that answers your question!

  4. Hi TonyD,
    I’m a little confused by your comment. Do you mean to say that you think there shouldn’t be any formal accreditation at all? I understand that the ability to teach well and create curriculum should be done without “stifling” educators, and creativity is essential. However, there certainly has to be a formal accreditation system to insure that colleges/universities are providing students with a quality education. If there is no system of accreditation, any guy with a building can set up shop and offer diplomas that we know will be worth nothing.
    Accreditation in put into place to protect consumers from fraud not necessarily to dictate curriculum.

    Anyway, that’s what I believe. Thanks for your comment!

  5. tonyD says:

    Nicole,

    Yes, it’s my opinion we could do away with formal accreditation in general. There’s a few specific cases – medicine, engineering, etc. – where I could see more of an argument for it’s use but even there I’m not convinced. My problem with accreditation is that the phrase “quality education” is ambiguous. Many educators believe that means providing someone a broad liberal arts education whereas many (I would argue most) students would consider a “quality education” to mean something that will provide them job skills.

    To borrow your analogy of any guy setting up shop and offering diplomas; any guy is free to set up shop and offer, say, coffee that tastes like crap. However, it’s likely this guy would soon be out of business (not to mention a few hundred thousand dollars). I see no reason why similar market forces couldn’t be applied to the educational sector. Indeed, we see this beginning as online training sites spring up, with quality ones like lynda.com tending to stick around while poorer quality ones quickly die out.

  6. Hi tonyD.
    Yes, I see your point, but I still think regulation is required when talking about education. And absolutely, the term “quality education” is ambiguous, there still has to be something out there that protects consumers.

    And to beat the coffee analogy to death – sure, set up a coffee shop with crap coffee and you’ll lose customers eventually, but at what cost? $1.50 for crap coffee is a quick lesson learned for the consumer, but $6,000 -$15,000 on a degree from a school that shuts the door two months after you start your program is something else. That is why, even in the crappiest of coffee shops, you need a license (or many) from the city. The city doesn’t ensure that you are serving “quality coffee”, but rather you have the means to serve it in a clean environment sufficient for serving the public.

    Also, you have to remember that accreditation isn’t always based on the specific curriculum. I think the problem is that a lot of schools continue to promote that “broad liberal arts education” and refuse to modernize with more useful job skills, as you have said. But I don’t believe that is where accreditation comes in. It’s the school’s responsibility to step up to the plate and provide a variety of real-world, useful programs at a reasonable cost.

  7. […] its merits or lack thereof, there is no doubt that the e-book has a significant role to play in the future of higher education. However, technological devices and applications will need to become more versatile and […]

Leave a Reply