When online education was first introduced, it was marketed as a pathway for students with daily obligations that prevented them from attending classes. In particular, adults with careers and/or family responsibilities were targeted as the main demographic for the online student body. However, as technology has evolved over the years, so too have the methods of instructional delivery in higher education. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, colleges and universities are becoming increasingly reliant on online and hybrid (less time spent in a physical classroom, supplemented with online instruction) methods of education.
This shift is due to multiple reasons. Some schools, such as the University of Central Florida, have a shortage of classroom space. Online and blended coursework eliminates that problem, as students enrolled in such classes do not need to sit in a physical classroom to learn. Other universities, such as the University of Maryland, require 12 hours of coursework to be taken in alternative learning modes. Minnesota State is attempting to push a higher requirement of online coursework for colleges and universities by 2015. As technology evolves and we rely on it more and more, it becomes necessary for students to become acquainted with the medium they will most likely use often throughout both their careers and their personal lives.
There are a number of other benefits to the blended and online component that is now being implemented as a complement to traditional coursework. It is convenient for both faculty and students, and it gives students more control over their schedules. For students involved in extracurricular activities, sororities, fraternities, and other obligations, this is a large benefit. For blended classrooms, the work must be done and submitted online prior to the day students meet in the physical classroom, which helps the professor know where everyone stands and allows him or her to make more progress with the curriculum.
As with all teaching methods, implementing online and hybrid coursework into a traditional course schedule is not without some drawbacks. The Chronicle article points out that some students use their text books for quizzes and exams in online courses, due to the lack of enforcement. Some professors feel it necessarily to stay on top of their students with constant reminders, as students tend to forget to complete assignments without the reinforcement of weekly classes. However, this merging of systems is still fairly new and universities are still determining the best approach for integrating alternative methods of coursework into traditional degree plans.
The Chronicle ends the article on "Tomorrow’s College" with the following quote: "If you want to encounter distance education, a student once said, sit in the back of a 500-seat lecture." It’s true that the standard college setup of lecturing at a large body of students lacks in engagement and stimulation. It is therefore very possible that this move toward hybrid curriculums could add something fresh to what has been a long-standing traditional method for delivering higher education.
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