Distance education is still a relatively new concept, so the learning curve can be steep for prospective e-learners. To complicate the matter more, the field of distance education is ever-changing, with new concepts being added to the “virtual learning soup” all the time. If you’re considering studying remotely, one of the terms you’ll need to familiarize yourself with is the term “hybrid” as it refers to degree programs.
The terms “distance learning” and even “online learning” are very broad monikers that encompass many different types of academic programs. Since these labels are often used as umbrella terms, it’s important to tease out precisely what type of distance education offering you’re considering before you commit to a specific learning mode. In this article, we’ll introduce the unique learning programs referred to as “hybrid” or “blended learning” options, discuss the benefits and drawbacks of such programs, and provide tips and strategies for choosing a hybrid degree program that is right for you.
The Hybrid Degree Program Defined
Merriam Webster defines the term “hybrid” as “having two different types of components performing essentially the same function.” You may have heard the term “hybrid” before as it describes new technologies such as vehicles, for instance. It’s commonly known that a hybrid vehicle combines the components of a gas-powered motor with an electric-powered motor to achieve the same result. Hybrid education programs are similar. They combine the elements of online instruction with traditional face-to-face instruction to power learning. Put in more practical terms, a hybrid degree program is a degree program that requires students to attend classes both online and in-person to fulfill program requirements.
Why Hybrid Programs?
If the technology exists for learning to occur completely online (and it does!), then why do hybrid programs still exist? This is a common question, especially among prospective students who recognize the convenience and efficiency of entirely online instruction. If you’re a big proponent of online learning, then you may wonder why anyone would choose a hybrid degree plan over a 100% online offering. There are actually some compelling reasons why hybrid programs are preferable compared to fully online options, especially in certain circumstances. Let’s discuss.
Hybrid Programs Are Better for Hands-On Learning
Online learning has come a long way, and today, the technology exists to deliver content from the classroom to the at-home student in real-time. For many students, this might mean they never have to attend class in person again. For others, though, fully online instruction still misses the mark in some important ways. The truth is that some concepts are still better taught via hands-on instruction. The developers of hybrid degrees recognize that certain skills and knowledge cannot be adequately conveyed through online platforms alone. In order for certain topics to be effectively taught, it is sometimes necessary to receive face-to-face instruction.
Lectures can be recorded and listened to online, but advanced medical or mechanical techniques, for example, need to be learned from someone who is available to answer questions and provide constructive feedback. Hybrid degrees incorporate the best features of both online instruction and on-campus study to deliver a holistic educational experience. If you’re looking for hybrid degree programs, you’ll find that many of these options exist in fields of study like healthcare and automotive technology, for instance. These are disciplines that can’t be learned entirely via distance education. That’s because there’s no technology currently available that can effectively replace a real-life instructor who can literally guide a student’s hand or demonstrate a technique in a real-world setting.
Hybrid Enhances Interactive Learning
Another good argument for hybrid degree programs lies in their ability to engage students with interactive learning experiences. If you’ve ever felt alienated from your classmates or professors during online classes, then you know first-hand the struggles many students experience when trying to learn solely via remote instruction. Even when the lecture is live-streamed, some students feel a disconnect from viewing the instruction via a personal computer instead of from a seat in a lecture hall. Hybrid degree programs bridge this gap by combining the best of both primary types of instruction: online and traditional. As a result, students are able to reap the benefits of convenience and flexibility that online programs offer while still having the opportunity to interact with classmates and instructors in person.
Hybrid Enables Class Participation for Some Students
As an extension of the interactive learning benefits of a hybrid program, some types of students may also find that such a program offers new opportunities to participate in class. During in-person classes, outgoing students often dominate the conversation, which can lead to introverted students being unable to share their viewpoints. Online meetings, however, give every student an equal chance to contribute thoughtful responses, which is beneficial for students who struggle or those whose first language is not English. If you think you might feel more comfortable participating in class if your contribution takes place online versus in-person, then you might have something to gain from a blended learning format. Furthermore, the class discussion, in general, is enhanced when all students feel comfortable and empowered to contribute. One could argue that such an inclusive setting benefits everyone.
Effectiveness of Hybrid Instruction
A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education indicated that students enrolled in hybrid programs often perform better than either entirely online or entirely in-person students. While the study pointed out that there were other differences, such as curriculum and study time, that may have impacted the results, researchers concluded that these types of blended learning programs were at least as effective as other types of instruction. Thus, you can be reassured that you’re not sacrificing any learning gains by choosing a hybrid degree program.
Drawbacks of Hybrid Degree Programs
No discussion of a particular distance education option is complete without analyzing the benefits and drawbacks of the type of program in question. While hybrid degree programs are innovative and offer a “best-of-both-worlds” experience, they’re not perfect, and they’re not for everyone. Before you’re sold on the advantages of a hybrid degree, you need to explore any potential pitfalls of such a program.
The clear disadvantage of a hybrid degree program for many a student is the trip to class. For students looking for the maximum level of convenience, in-person attendance requirement puts hybrid degree programs out of reach and quite honestly defeats the purpose of electing a distance education learning option in the first place. If your schedule simply doesn’t allow the extra time it takes to travel from your home to campus, then a hybrid degree program isn’t the right fit for you. Moreover, if you don’t have transportation to and from your classes, you won’t be able to fulfill the in-person attendance requirements of a hybrid program.
Imagine showing up to class on a Friday only to realize that your course meeting was being held online that day. Now, you’ve wasted time and gas money to get to campus, and to make matters worse, you’re currently missing the online component of the course because you accidentally showed up in person. Not the best start to a weekend. The unpredictable schedule of a hybrid degree program can be confusing for some students. If you’re not the most organized of students, or if your schedule is already hectic, it may be challenging to navigate a schedule that requires two different types of attendance at specific times. Opting for a purely online program or an entirely in-person degree plan may simplify things.
Students who have typically learned in person may find the transition to a hybrid degree program particularly taxing. That’s because there can be a bit of a learning curve when using new types of instructional technologies. If you’re a non-traditional student, that curve could be especially steep. Often with hybrid degree programs, you’ll need to learn how to navigate an online learning platform to meet the attendance requirements for the portion of the class that is held remotely. You may also have to learn how to use video-conferencing software to attend your classes from home. If the idea of having to learn these new technologies in addition to the actual course content seems overwhelming, then you may want to reconsider your decision to attend classes via a hybrid format.
What are the Different Types of Hybrid Programs?
The ultimate point of distance learning programs is to offer academic flexibility for busy adults and working professionals. Every hybrid degree program has the components of online and on-campus instruction, but each is uniquely divided between the two platforms. Some programs, such as medical, science, and teaching degrees, have a more significant on-campus requirement. Other programs, such as liberal arts, offer a larger online component. In some programs, online discussions will prepare students for live follow-up class discussions. In other programs, all lectures and discussions will be posted online, and students will only attend classes for hands-on activities. Prospective students should thoroughly explore the hybrid programs available and choose one that meets their specific needs.
How to Choose the Right Hybrid Degree Program
If you’ve weighed the pros and cons and ultimately decided that a hybrid degree program is the right choice for you, then congratulations are in order. You’re about to embark on a unique academic journey that will provide myriad learning opportunities, both in-person and virtually. Before you celebrate, however, you need to ensure that the hybrid learning program you’re choosing is the right fit for you. How exactly should you go about the process of selecting the ideal blended learning option?
Strike the Right Balance
Arguably, the key to choosing the right hybrid program is to strike the right balance between in-person classes and online meetings. As we mentioned, not all hybrid programs are created equally. Some of these distance education options may split the in-person and online requirements 50/50, while others could be over 90% online or in-person. That’s quite the difference, so how should you go about deciding?
First, students should ask themselves how much campus time they feel they will need to master the learning materials. Second, if the hybrid program offers limited on-site courses, students must consider if they are willing to attend a campus that is potentially far from where they live. These schools will provide academic alternatives, but students must consider temporary living arrangements and coordinate home and work responsibilities. Students must also analyze their financial needs because hybrid programs may cost just as much as full-time on-campus programs in some cases. Students should research each program to find out what financial aid options are available. It’s a lot to consider, but with some research and a little luck, you’ll be on your way to finding the perfect hybrid degree program for you.
Frequently-Asked Questions About Hybrid Degree Programs
It’s normal to have questions before enrolling in any type of academic degree program. Because of the unique nature of a blended learning program, students considering hybrid learning may have a particularly long list of concerns. Below, our editors have compiled a handful of frequently asked questions about these types of distance education options. However, for information about a specific school or program, you should visit the official website or speak to an admissions counselor.
Q: What is a hybrid degree program?
A: A hybrid degree program is sometimes referred to as a “blended learning” option because these programs blend in-person instruction and online learning.
Q: Do all colleges and universities offer hybrid degree programs?
A: No. Hybrid degree programs are actually less common than fully online programs, so it may take some research to find a program in your academic field that blends face-to-face and remote learning.
Q: Are hybrid programs challenging?
A: Like all academic programs, hybrid degree programs can vary significantly in terms of rigor. Still, some types of students may find hybrid programs particularly challenging because of the potential limitations of the format. For example, students may find the schedule confusing or struggle to complete online assignments independently.
Q: How much time is required in class?
A: In-person requirements can vary widely among different types of hybrid programs. If you have limited time to attend face-to-face classes, you’ll need to confirm how many class meetings are required and how long each session will last before committing to the program. Remember, fully online degree programs typically offer much more flexibility in terms of scheduling.
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary: Hybrid
- U.S. Department of Education: Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning