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: Hybrid College Courses