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It’s difficult to start a discussion about blended learning and online education without first mentioning the grandfather of American online colleges: University of Phoenix. Founded in 1989, University of Phoenix’s online programs would help it quickly grow to become the most popular online school in the U.S, revolutionizing the way we think about education. Shortly after University of Phoenix launched its first online courses, skeptics questioned the effectiveness of online education and whether or not it could deliver the same learning experience as a traditional classroom.
In 2010, University of Phoenix would reach its peak enrollment of nearly 500,000 students, demonstrating a real demand for flexible, affordable education. But, in the following years, growing criticism and speculations caused the number of students to drop. As the school declined throughout the 2010s, many interpreted the fall of University of Phoenix as proof that online education was a failed experiment. Detractors of online education also cited issues with UoP’s business model as “evidence” that online education was destined to fail from the start.
In the mid-2010s, some of the most prestigious institutions in traditional education saw the value in this new educational model and began offering their own programs online. After respected institutions like Harvard started offering online programs, the stigma once attached to receiving an online education disappeared. Today, just about all of the eight ivy league schools offer courses, certificates, or degree programs online. In fact, Harvard and MIT joined forces in 2012 to found EdX.com, where they offer their own course material free-of-charge to the public.
Online education offers huge advantages in the areas of price and flexibility. Since an online school doesn’t need to support a large campus, sports arenas, or other amenities, tuition costs are often much lower than that of a traditional school. Online learners also use their own technology and home internet connection, which would otherwise have to be paid for by the school.
Secondly, online degree programs are a godsend for working professionals who want to pursue their education, yet don’t have the time in their schedule to attend regular classes. Along with distance learning campuses, online education has allowed an entire generation of professionals to return to complete their undergraduate studies. Instead of putting their lives on hold to study, online courses allow business people to learn and earn their degree on their own time.
Finally, the third main benefit of online education is the ability to attend classes from anywhere in the world. Although getting a degree from a prestigious university once meant selling your house and moving to another state—or another country—, anyone with an internet connection can now complete their education while staying put.
Lack of Personal Interaction-
Although the popularity of online education has greatly increased over the years, so has the number of its detractors. Critics of online programs say that the disadvantages far outweigh any possible advantages gained over traditional education. One such disadvantage is the lack of face-to-face interaction with fellow students and professors. This is a valid concern, as much of the learning process takes place by conversing with other learners and seeking additional resources from instructors. Unfortunately, chat boxes and emails simply can’t replace the camaraderie of other students and rich after-class talks with professors.
Lack of Guidance-
A highly overlooked aspect of traditional education is guidance. More than just lecturers, great teachers provide their students with emotional support, guide them to additional resources, and provide a certain degree of personal counseling. At larger brick-and-mortar universities, advisors meet 1-on-1 with learners and help them plan out their future.
These sessions can be extremely valuable to learners, as it provides them with a clearer vision of their educational plans and helps them make key decisions regarding their major. In recent years, online schools have attempted to implement guidance counselors, but execution remains less than stellar. However, promising new research shows that online counseling via video chat may be just as effective as real interaction.
Low Graduation Rates-
One of the greatest criticisms of online education is low graduation rates. However, graduation rates of online programs are substantially lower than traditional programs for a variety of reasons. Many students enroll in online courses with the illusion that they will be easier or require less work than a traditional class. In some cases, online courses can actually require more homework and projects to compensate for less time in the classroom.
Students who lack self-discipline tend to struggle to maintain a consistent learning schedule and fall behind in their studies. It’s also much easier to lose track of coursework when there exists no regular classroom attendance to keep you on track.
The act of waking up, getting dressed, and showing up to class also has the psychological effect of preparing one’s mind to learn. To illustrate, think of the students who show up late, in pajamas, and sit in the back row versus the ones who dress up and sit in front of the lecture hall. With online courses, the temptation to sleep in late, procrastinate, and skip coursework is even greater. Therefore, it’s not recommended for everyone.
Blended learning is a teaching method that combines both online educational resources with instruction from a teacher in a live classroom setting. Rather than relying solely on online course portals, educational apps, and other web-based resources, blended learning seeks to combine the best of both worlds. But, are supporters of blended learning just “fence-sitters” who can’t decide between online or traditional education?
Well, research actually shows that schools which employ this method are able to save up to $1,100 per student when compared with “brick-and-mortar” schools. Additionally, further studies have shown that blended learning is more effective than traditional education and online courses alone. Blended learning also allows schools to provide students with the most advanced curriculum available along with the support of a teacher.
All of this, of course, depends on the balance between physical and virtual learning, as well as the method used. According to educational experts, there are five main models of blended learning: rotational, flex, a la carte, and enriched virtual (We’ll break these down in our next article). All five models deploy online and face-to-face instruction in varying percentages and methods.
Which one is right for you? You’ll have to read the article to find out.
Over the last few years, retailing experts have realized that consumers constantly go back and forth between the real world and the virtual world when they shop. For example, a shopper may do the majority of their research online and buy the item in-store, while they do the opposite for their next purchase. This is referred to as “omnichannel.”
In a sense, Blended Learning is doing something similar with education. By merging traditional education with online courses, blended learning allows students to seamlessly transition between learning in the virtual world and the physical one. For this reason, blended learning is best-suited for this generation of learners, who often make discoveries in the virtual world, apply them in the physical world—and vice-versa.
To ignore online education altogether would be like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Instead, Blended Learning also allows traditional educational institutions to produce similar—if not better—outcomes in learning while employing new technologies and lowering yearly budgets.