Are Hybrid courses the answer to the classroom versus distance learning debate?

A short but worthwhile article discussing some research on hybrid courses. Our own institutional data (@ Cuyahoga Community College) also shows a lot of promise relating to student success in hybrid courses.

Sustainable Hybrids

Author: Steve Kolowich

Inside Higher Ed Article

September 22, 2009

The question of whether distance education is as effective as classroom education is hotly debated in academe and largely unanswered by existing studies. However, new research from South Texas College suggests that hybrid courses — those that are offered online but also involve substantial face time — can produce better outcomes than those that are delivered exclusively on the Web or in the classroom.

Researchers at the community college, led by Brenda S. Cole, analyzed the spring 2009 grades of every student enrolled there. The scholars’ basis for assessing outcomes was straightforward: “A,” “B,” or “C” grades qualified as successful outcomes; “D” and “F” grades counted as unsuccessful.

The data showed that, over all, 82 percent of students of hybrid courses were successful, compared to 72 percent of classroom courses and 60 percent of distance courses.

These findings require some qualification, Cole said. When broken down by individual instructor, the data show no difference in the outcomes across the different delivery methods — meaning that the overall figures do not account for the grading habits of particular instructors, which could be a confounding variable. (At the same time, the sample size for the instructor subgroup was too small to render statistically significant findings — South Texas has offered hybrid courses only since 2006, and relatively few professors teach in all three modalities.)

Still, hybrid courses showed outcomes superior to distance and traditional courses when researchers controlled for other factors. Students who took all three types of courses generally performed best in the hybrid ones. And hybrid classes bested the other delivery methods in courses affiliated with the college’s business and technology, health, and liberal arts and social sciences programs. Only in the math and science and bachelor’s degree programs did traditional students do the best — and hybrid-course students outperformed distance-education students in every instance.

2 thoughts on “Are Hybrid courses the answer to the classroom versus distance learning debate?”

  1. The research reported here doesn’t address student retention as far as I can see, just the final grades of the students who continued to be enrolled in the courses. Further, the number of course sections that could be compared is small.

    I’m not arguing that hybrids can’t be better, but as evidence of the superiority of hybrids, this research doesn’t do the job.

    1. I agree with you – this study doesn’t address student retention, it addresses student success. The study is small and not generalizable, but there is increasing research showing success with hybrid delivery mode. As more studies are conducted, I think they are going to continue to show the value and success of hybrids.

      I don’t particularly like the focus on hybrids (or any mode) being compared to the traditional classroom delivery mode. In the spirit of outcomes-based learning, it is about each mode living up to its own potential – it’s not a competition. However, I do understand why is it often written as such – because there are still some folks that believe online learning is substandard to classroom learning – and it’s not – they each have their own strengths and limitations, but both can be delivered in a superior way, or in a lousy way.

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