While online courses are becoming an ever more popular and talked-about way for students to earn a degree in a non-traditional format, they’re not the only way for schools to get innovative with their educational offerings. Many schools are combining traditional in-class learning with online lectures and interaction, creating blended or hybrid courses. While these types of experiences have been in existence for well over a decade, it’s only in recent years that they’ve gained serious attention and some schools, many with long histories of developing blended learning opportunities, are rising to the top. Some have come up with creative ways to employ the blended experience, others are engaging in serious research about the best blended learning models, but all are offering students innovative and flexible ways to work on a degree. Here, we highlight just a few of the schools (in no particular order) we think stand out in the blended learning marketplace, many of whom are making big strides in helping define blended and hybrid courses for the coming decade.
Bryn Mawr in Pennsylvania has long staked the value of its educational experience on close classroom interactions between students and professors, but even this small liberal arts school has decided to experiment with blended learning. Working though Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative (OLI), Bryn Mawr is using computers to take over some of the tasks that professors used to do, helping guide students through textbook material and tracking their progress throughout the course. While the school’s program is still in the beginning stages, outcomes are looking promising: 80% of students reported that the computer-based aspects of the course helped them to learn, and 25% reported that they felt that they learned more than in traditional courses. Even better, 94% of the students in the blended courses passed the course and 41% even showed evidence of deeper learning, showing that there’s a place for blended courses even at traditional liberal arts schools like Bryn Mawr.
Wesleyan in Connecticut is another small liberal arts college that, until recently, hasn’t really delved into the online learning model, instead focusing on small class sizes and regular student-teacher interaction. Yet along with Bryn Mawr, the school is seeing some success working with a blended model that combines the best aspects of traditional and online learning. Wesleyan is also working with the OLI, employing modules that help students work through course material online with professorial guidance. Administrators at the school believe that blended courses could provide a way for the school to help its more economically disadvantaged students succeed alongside their peers by providing early warnings that students are struggling and freeing up more time for professors to help these students. So far it seems to be working, with low-income, at-risk students performing at levels equal to those of their peers.
Not only does UCF have some of the best blended courses in colleges today, but the school has actually developed a model that other schools can use to bring the blended learning experience into their classrooms. Thanks to a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Florida school has been working hard to develop their Blended Learning Toolkit, a multifaceted resource that offers everything from strategies for blended course design to materials for training faculty and staff. The school was motivated to share the benefits of blended learning after seeing amazing levels of success with these types of programs in courses on their own campus, with students often performing at much higher levels in blended courses than in traditional courses.
Students at UW Milwaukee have access to several different types of hybrid courses and those interested in learning more about their offerings can get access to course materials and syllabi online to see how this school is making the most of blended learning opportunities. There are currently around six or seven different courses offered at the school that use the hybrid learning model, in an incredibly diverse assortment of departments that range from nursing to anthropology. Students in the courses complete a fair amount of work online but are also required to complete practical field assignments and meet up in person several times throughout the course. The Wisconsin school has been using the hybrid courses for a few years now, and many instructors have reported great results with some even turning more of their courses into hybrid-style experiences.
Even back in 1999, CUNY was developing blended learning courses. The school hoped that blended learning would make it easier to reach a more diverse group of students from the New York City area without having to expand into costly new buildings and facilities. Between 1999 and 2003, CUNY’s Online Distributed Learning Network delivered 158 different blended learning courses. Since then, the school has worked hard to improve and expand its offerings, developing not only better courses for its students, but also models of blended learning courses that can and have been used by other educational institutions.
The University of Minnesota is home to a growing number of blended courses. Why? Some professors at the Minnesota school, like Tom Fisher, Dean of the College of Design, think that classes have to offer students more than just information in order to get them to attend. He believes that students can get information and basic instruction online, but that class time should be reserved for things that can’t take place in the same way in the virtual sphere, like face-to-face interactions with teachers and peers. Fisher isn’t alone in adopting the blended model. Students at the University of Minnesota can take a wide range of blended courses, from those in business to those in chemistry, and with the president of the university in full support of the new model, there will undoubtedly be more offerings in the coming years.
Early in 2013, the University of Maryland, College Park plans to roll out a much wider range of courses for its students, including a number of MOOCs integrated with traditional classroom instruction. Thanks to a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Maryland school has the funds to invest heavily in these kinds of hybrid courses, offering students a much more flexible way to take courses required for their degrees. While only a pilot program at present, the data gathered from the experiment will give administrators and professors a better idea of how the blended model can improve instruction and education for students at the school and perhaps, in turn, schools all over the nation. Under the new program the school will have about 40 courses using the blended model, and if they’re successful, the program may just be there to stay.
The Penn State Video Learning Network allows students at 20 participating Penn State campuses to talk with members of the school’s faculty and staff through videoconferencing. While it’s not quite the same as some blending learning opportunities, that difference may be a big part of its appeal. Whatever the reason for its popularity, it’s a leading model of blended learning, winning the Shirley Davis Award for Excellence in Synchronous Distance Learning in late 2012. Each Penn State campus is set up with a classroom outfitted with videoconferencing equipment. There, students attend their courses with remotely located professors, later completing coursework and having discussions online. The school developed the program to better serve the needs of adult learners who need to take courses at night or on the weekends, when professors aren’t always available on campus.
In the fall of 2012, 10 professors from eight different colleges within the University of Virginia were chosen to participate in a pilot program designed to test out hybrid courses on the school’s campus. So far, the hybrid courses have reached 2,800 students in undergraduate and law programs, blending podcasts, animations, online tests and assignments, and blogs, with in-class interaction in the form of group projects, discussions, and professor feedback. Course topics ranged from Spanish to computer networks. The Virginia school reports that the program was largely successful, creating a strong foundation for growth and expansion of the hybrid course program in future years.
KU doesn’t currently have a large number of online courses, but the school is working to remedy that, focusing on growing the number of hybrid courses it offers first. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, in partnership with the Center for Online and Distance Learning, has been rolling out new hybrid courses for both undergraduates and graduate students. The courses allow students to spend more in-class time interacting, with lectures and reading done outside of the classroom, usually online. The Kansas school’s willingness to embrace the hybrid model, despite having very few online degree programs, shows that even schools that aren’t quite ready to go all in on online courses can find a compromise that benefits both the school and the students in hybrid courses.