How education is imparted across segments, from K12 to working professionals, is ripe for disruption. On the one hand, progressive schools and colleges are adopting flipped classroom models that foster blended or hybrid learning while on the other hand, edtech companies are trying to crack online education and provide great outcomes.
The one thing that we do know for sure is that the traditional brick and mortar classrooms where a talented teacher imparts high quality education to a select small group of “lucky” students who secured admission, is not going to address the needs of the vast majority who are not so lucky. So what is?
What is a good program?
To discuss whether blended or online has an edge, let us first set the framework within which we will analyze both systems where technology is used to reach a large audience. A program, as referred here, indicates any course or set of courses that learners pursue in online or blended mode. High rating on the following parameters indicates a good program. –
Good Learning Outcomes: Good programs ensure that robust and sustainable learning happens. Learners would have attained a deep comprehension of what is learnt and would be able to apply the knowledge. In contrast, learning that is superficial, which may help the learner clear a test or certificate assessment, but is quickly forgotten thereafter or that which the learner cannot apply to solve problems represents a poor learning outcome.
Competence / Mastery: Good programs will ensure that only those who demonstrate competence mastery on the range of topics needed in the chosen area will be allowed to progress and complete the program. The demonstrated competence will be benchmarked against industry standards so that if the student demonstrates the required competence through grades and project work in class, it will be an indicator of how well the student will perform at work.
Career Outcomes: Good programs will enable students to move successfully into careers they sought prior to enrolling in the program. Essentially their objectives are met.
Completion Rates: Good programs will be challenging, but will also adapt according to the needs of the students so that they can complete the program. Those students who need extra support will get it when they need it so that they can progress and will not be left behind.
Student Satisfaction: Students should be highly satisfied with their interactions with all the academic and non-academic aspects of the program such as faculty, assessments, feedback, support, course material, technology, and other infrastructure.
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Scalability: The program offerings should be scalable and reach as many students as possible who require access to these programs. Basically, they should meet as much of the demand as possible without compromising quality.
While the above are quantifiable metrics that can be tracked and measured against industry standards, the following qualitative aspects of the learning model are also important
Personalize Pace, Place and Path: In an ideal scenario, students can choose from many different learning paths according to their prior background, abilities and current needs. In addition to the ability to choose the learning path, students can also choose the pace at which they want to progress, the location from which they will learn and what material and assessments they use to move forward.
Increased Ownership: When students perceive that they have more control, they are generally more committed to completing the program and achieve career milestones
Opportunity to Build and use Relationships: One of the most important aspects of education, which is not often talked about, is the opportunity to build relationships with like-minded faculty and peers. These relationships are important not only for support and motivation, but also for long term career growth prospects and outcomes.
At an aggregate level if these parameters are also considered, they will lead to better outcomes, completion rates, competence and satisfaction and also scale up the offering without compromising on quality.
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How do Blended and Online compare?
Now that we have defined the metrics we want to compare, here is a quick perspective on where things stand today if we were to compare online and hybrid models. The context used here is that of tertiary learning focused on working professionals since these models have made most progress in that segment.
As it stands today, because blended mode programs provide direct faculty interaction, immediate doubt clearing in a classroom setting, peer interaction, timely support and tight program management, students are having better learning and career outcomes along with higher completion rates compared to pure online programs.
In addition, rigorous assessments and project work with personalized feedback and support provided by blended mode programs result in students being able to demonstrate higher competency. Blended mode is definitely high touch compared to online with academic and non-academic staff interacting one-on-one with students and as a result, generally, satisfaction rates are also higher. Moreover, in blended mode programs, students have more opportunities to build meaningful relationships with faculty and peers compared to online.
But the flip side to this high touch environment is more structure and a limit to scale. Completely online programs enable students to personalize and own their learning path. As technology allows scale, millions of students from all over the world can access content and make progress. In addition, completely online programs allow learners to learn without any geographic constraints. While blended mode programs can also be scaled across multiple locations, it does not lend itself unbounded geographic reach.
The above observations are summarized in the following table for reference.
So what has the edge?
If the objective is to enable students to have great career outcomes, high completion rates, have deep and meaningful learning (competence), and also achieve high satisfaction rates it seems blended has the edge today. In addition, in a blended mode, students also have the opportunity to learn directly from a talented faculty and also spend quality time in peer learning and build relationships that last a lifetime. This, however, comes at the cost of trading off scalability and unbounded geographic reach.