Campuses not meeting demand for hybrid classes

The percentage of students who prefer online classes has skyrocketed since 2007.

College students enrolled in entirely-online courses might prefer more face-to-face learning, according to a survey that says higher education is in need of more “hybrid” courses.

Hybrid or “blended” classes, shown by the Education Department (ED) to be more successful than web-based education, include online curriculum mixed with occasional in-person lectures.

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Support for classes that involve at least some traditional classroom-based education is shared by prospective college students as well as current students.

Nineteen percent of students surveyed said they are enrolled in a hybrid class, while 33 percent said they would like to take one or more hybrid courses, according to a report on college student preferences published by Eduventures, a Boston-based higher-education consulting company.

Three in 10 prospective students would take “wholly online” classes, compared to 44 percent of current students, more than doubling the 21 percent of students who preferred online classes in 2007.

The study suggests that some students are “forced into wholly online delivery because there is not enough supply of hybrid courses.”

The survey of 20,000 students showed that 34 percent of students prefer on-campus classes, slightly more than 31 percent of prospective students.

The “simplicity” of entirely-online classes – in which students can complete almost all their work without leaving their home computer – might stunt the growth of hybrid classes, which require occasional trips to campus, the Eduventures survey said.

Raymond Rose, a longtime online education developer who works with colleges to create online education programs, said the gap between supply and demand of hybrid classes could be the result of hardheadedness among some in higher education.

“A number of professors reject [the popularity of hybrid courses] because it doesn’t meet their belief system,” he said, adding that resistance remains a decade after online courses began gaining traction among college students. “Even though the train has left the station, there are still folks who aren’t doing anything with online education.”

It remains difficult to define a hybrid class, Rose said. Classes that meet twice a week in person and classes that meet twice a month can both be considered hybrid.

“There needs to be a clearer definition of what hybrid actually means … because they can look very different,” he said.

Small colleges and universities could use the appeal of hybrid courses to attract local students looking for curriculum that fits their schedules – especially adult learners – while getting face-to-face instruction for professors in a lecture setting.

“Hybrid may be a way for smaller/mid-sized nonprofits to couple their online ambitions with local/regional brands and avoid an ultra-competitive national online market,” the report said.

Hybrid classes have fared well when compared to their online and traditional counterparts. A 2009 ED analysis of college student grades in hybrid courses said that students did better in “blended” classes than in online or face-to-face settings.

“Studies of earlier generations of distance and online learning courses have concluded that they are usually as effective as classroom-based instruction,” said Marshall “Mike” Smith, a senior counselor to ED Secretary Arne Duncan. “The studies of more recent online instruction included in this meta-analysis found that, on average, online learning, at the post-secondary level, is not just as good as but more effective than conventional face-to-face instruction.”

While students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through face-to-face instruction alone, instruction combining both online and face-to-face elements “had a larger advantage relative to purely face-to-face instruction than did purely online instruction,” the ED report said.

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