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Is Higher Ed Really Ready to Embrace Hybrid Learning?

Is Higher Ed Really Ready to Embrace Hybrid Learning?


Rebecca Koenig
Aug 9, 2022
The future of higher education will bring more hybrid learning models—but colleges may not yet have the staff and systems they need to scale up high-quality programs that blend in-person and online experiences.
So believe chief online officers at U.S. colleges, according to a new survey of more than 300 such leaders published today by Quality Matters and Encoura Eduventures Research. It’s the seventh edition of the Changing Landscape of Online Education (CHLOE) report.
In the survey, chief online officers predicted that by 2025, programs and courses that mix on-campus and online learning experiences will become the norm for undergraduate students, graduate students and adult learners. That vision—of blurred modalities across higher ed—is striking because it contradicts prevailing notions that older students and people seeking a master’s degree want to learn online, while adolescent students want entirely in-person experiences, says Richard Garrett, chief research officer of Eduventures and co-author of the report.
Yet bringing this hybrid vision to life in just a few years’ time would require colleges to change their strategies and also invest more in online education, the report suggests. That may mean hiring more staff who have expertise in digital course design and instruction—and reevaluating whether to pay for help from outside companies or bring services in-house. It may also mean doing more to truly prepare students for online learning.
“You definitely have this tension between this hybrid vision not too far in the future—and all of this messy reality,” Garrett says.
A hypothetical future in which most higher ed institutions go hybrid raises questions about how they would distinguish themselves while trying to compete for students. So before colleges race to spin up and expand hybrid programs, leaders at each institution should think carefully about how to differentiate what they offer, advises Bethany Simunich, director of research and innovation at Quality Matters and co-author of the report.
That process should start with identifying specific goals based on an institution’s mission and the students it hopes to serve, Simunich explains, followed by developing new staff plans for meeting those goals, and then communicating clearly to prospective students about what the hybrid experience will really be like.
As they look ahead, all institutions should ask a key question, Simunich argues: “How could higher ed ensure better outcomes for all students, especially if all students will have some type of mixed-modal student experience?”
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