An expansion of online offerings was thought to be a promising way to meet the unique needs of the diverse student bodies of community colleges, but research shows that online offerings can hamper learning in this setting. Hybrid learning models have shown promise when it comes to effectively teaching community college students while simultaneously providing them with flexibility and autonomy within the bounds imposed by limited resources. Here we discuss a few models worth considering.

Hybrid learning combines traditional classroom interaction between teachers and students with experience-based learning and the use of IT or digital tools to help students reach learning objectives. Hybrid learning differs from blended learning in that the latter combines online and offline learning in somewhat static and predetermined proportions, while hybrid learning is more about getting the right mix of online, offline, tech-assisted, collaborative, in-class, remote, and teacher-guided learning.

Online offerings were thought to be the solution to the unique challenges faced by community colleges and their students. Unfortunately, however, research has shown that community college students tend to not fare very well in online classes while they tend to perform as well in hybrid classes as they do in face-to-face classes.

Why Hybrid Learning Works

Because hybrid classes combine online and in-person, face-to-face instruction, they are not as flexible as pure online classes. They do require the presence of students at school or on campus, but here are a few reasons why hybrid models work better for community colleges than a complete move to blended or online instruction would.

  1. Community college student bodies are very diverse. About three out of every five community college students are at-risk in some way and require redress. Furthermore, about one in eight community college students are single parents, and about three out of five of them only attend college part-time.
  2. When given a choice between online and in-class instructions, data shows that students who prefer online instruction are usually better prepared academically, are financially better off, and have higher English language fluency than the typical community college student. Of those who choose online instruction, however, the withdrawal and failure rates are as much as 13% higher than the withdrawal and failure rates of students who choose in-person instruction.
  3. Controlling for the economic status and educational background of all students, the data shows that student grades, college enrollment rates, degree completion rates, and student transfers to four-year college programs are lower for online students than they are for in-class students.

Benefits of Hybrid Learning

Research from Columbia University found that hybrid courses were easier for students to manage than online offerings, and hybrid classes provided real benefits in terms of flexibility and were preferred by students who had to juggle commitments at school, work, and with their families. School and campus commute times are lowered in a hybrid setup, and because the online part of hybrid courses can be completed anytime and anywhere, it helps students improve their efficiency and they can get more done in less time.

Hybrid classes, by design, are intended to focus more on reaching objectives and using in-class time efficiently. Teachers and students have been found to make better use of in-class time when splitting instruction time between in-class and online modes, and many instructors reported receiving online responses and assignments that were much more insightful, thoughtful, and better-researched than the responses provided by students in class right after certain topics or subjects were taught.

Finally, a well-designed hybrid course can improve the autonomy and independence of the learner. By maximizing student self-direction, giving students power over their own class choices, guiding them with respect to organizing their work, and providing better, more efficient, and more engaging in-class sessions, students take a lot more ownership and control over their learning processes. This can help them identify what they need to know, how they learn, and what they want to learn, all of which can contribute to professional success.

Other benefits of hybrid courses include better sharing of resources, such as the staggered use of classrooms or IT resources that can help a community college cater to more students in a given quarter or semester, and lower paper and photocopying costs, thanks to documents and class materials moving online.

The discussion above makes it clear that in-class instruction combined with online work has significant benefits for community college students as compared to purely online or purely in-class instruction, but how and where can a hybrid approach be used? A few options are discussed below.

Hybrid Models

The benefits of hybrid models in a community college setting are clear. The question for educators and district leaders is how to choose the right hybrid model. Here are a few suggestions worth considering.

Rotating Schedules

Based on grade level or enrolled courses, some students within this model receive face-to-face instruction in school or on campus two days a week, while the remaining students come to school or campus on the other two days. Everyone would participate in distance learning on one day of the week. When they are not on campus, students can work on enrichment activities that can be either online, in-person (based on teacher and resource availability), or in small groups.

Dual Schedules

Under this model, half of all students attend classes in-person for one week while the other half works online, and the groups switch week to week. Managing only two large groups of students makes scheduling and tracking easier for teachers and administrators.

Staggered Schedules

Cohorts can have staggered starting and ending times or dates for the classes or courses. This can help with resource sharing and other needs such as social distancing. There are many ways students can be scheduled. For example, planners can break down in-class and online student groups based on days of the week or alphabetically based on last name.

Other Options

A few final options that can be experimented with include the following.

  • In-class instruction followed by online assignments that must be completed at home, with asynchronous collaboration taking place online.
  • A teacher provides online materials for learning, and in-class instruction is used for review and discussion.
  • If there is added pressure to go online, the first few weeks of a course can be in-person, followed by an extended period of remote, online work.
  • By reducing class timings from, say, three hours to 90 minutes but keeping the remaining 90 minutes for remote work or assignments, you can reduce in-class timings without losing out on the full three hours required to earn course credits or meet course completion requirements.

Final Thoughts

We must remember that technology is a teaching tool and can be used to augment in-person, group, and collaborative study when based on student, school, and district needs. With social distancing issues, class scheduling conflicts, and the limited resources and budgets that community colleges have at their disposal, getting the right mix of in-person and online teaching is critical to keep students focused, on-task, and working effectively toward their learning goals.

To help you do that, a Kajeet Solutions Engineer can help you understand how IT can help you, how to leverage the IT you already have in place, and how to design a system that is tailored for the success of your students. Please contact us here today for a free consultation.