Are Hybrid Online/Classroom Programs the Answer?

Most educators and trainers alike see the advantages of face-to-face education and training over online programs. The value of face-to-face education or training may be a given, but good things are coming, believe it or not, from hybrid online programs. It seems logical for several reasons. I may be going off topic here venturing into the world of education; however, that wouldn’t be unheard of and there is precedent and application to training today.

Like most everyone in academia or in training and development, I used to believe there are far more disadvantages to online programs than face-to-face education, coaching or training in a classroom. In all fairness, the online trainers may want to comment on this post and I would appreciate any stats you have the would prove me wrong in my assessment of face-to-face learning, or show the increasing numbers of online participants.

Like it or not, online is here to stay. It’s reputation, deserved or not at this point, was ruined for a time, and today is at least hampered by the mere existence of the diploma mills. Ironically, there is probably no connection at all, but the mere fact a school didn’t have a physical campus made it suspect. I can only assume there are more diploma mills than there used to be because of the Internet; however, there are plenty of good online programs out there, if that is what you need. And, many online hybrid programs these days are coming from traditional universities seeing the advantage of hybrid education as well as making up the losses by a downturn in student enrollments–therefore tuition payments, as well as corporate universities and universities that specialize in these kinds of programs.

It is argued that online programs lack discipline and allow the student too much freedom in “attending” to study. Let’s not talk about “party schools” or “frat parties” or the fact some students just don’t have to study as hard as others–period. Some online schools are credible in that they do demand the students make real attempts at learning. There’s constant evaluation. Remember classes that had a mid-term and a final, or just a paper at the end to prove you learned what you were supposed to? Those kinds of courses can be found at any major institution (at least in America).

While you shouldn’t expect to transfer credits automatically from an online or online hybrid program, the schools I’ve mentioned here are all accredited and credits should transfer. Check first, if that’s important to you. There may still be perceived disadvantages to online programs (as there are to all programs I should add), but some subjects lend themselves to that treatment better than others. Some educators will say the lack of a collegiate environment and personal contact is a distinct disadvantage. This may be true. Socialization, especially, among colleagues to be is important, but isn’t any education important for its own sake?

All things being equal, there are advantages and disadvantages to the traditional schools as well–some make sense and some don’t. So online education is not traditional; it doesn’t have some of the advantages or disadvantages of traditional education either. Just because a GED is not a high school diploma, it is better than no diploma at all.

Cost is a factor for most of us. Economic social disadvantages or advantages can determine where we are able to go to school and when. In fact, I was lucky to go to college at all.

I had the disadvantage of going to big Midwestern school, which is fine in the midwest for the most part; but I moved away. It’s all in your perspective, isn’t it? (It didn’t matter when I joined the Air Force.) Like other state schools, Mizzou tended to have strong alums that supported the local students, but their companies wouldn’t turn their nose up at an Ivy-leaguer. Ivy league and other prestigious institutions still get you in the door of the corporations that will ultimately pay the big bucks, get you noticed in applying for government and education jobs, and, if you are political, the appointment over someone from a lesser institution–all things being equal.

Ironically for me, because I went to a Midwestern school, I met the USAF Academy‘s desire to have a diverse faculty. After the Air Force paid my way for a graduate education, I taught English, speech and theatre. There are advantages and disadvantages to attending and teaching there, too, but that’s for another article. Just to give you the flavor: PhD versus Masters, where you went to school (that Ivy League thing again), tenured or non-tenured, published or not, and a few you don’t see at other institutions: Regular or Reserve Commission, Academy grad or not, pilot or not. That’s just from an instructor perspective. There seems no escaping it.

Sometimes we have no choice. The money or family support isn’t there. We have to work and find a way. Online programs are what they are. As with anything, do your best and hope for the best. But if you have an opportunity to take classes (even night classes at an institution of some note) will give you an advantage in the end.

It is argued that online programs lack discipline and allow the student too much freedom in “attending” to study.

All this probably makes you think I’m going to unload on online programs like Capella University, but I’m not. I still believe (and there is evidence) that face-to-face works best. Hybrid programs like at DeVry University, Phoenix University, and even well-known major universities like the University of Houston make the most of technology and the student population that needs the flexibility the programs offer. I was hired to teach a hybrid course in public speaking. I can tell you my interview there was more rigorous than others. I had to be technologically and subject-matter proficient. Fortunately I host and write a blog on training and development as well as other blogs on literary and theatrical criticism. That meant I could talk to students online in a natural way.

Online schools simply are not regarded well unless you already have a job and the advanced degree can fill the square employers need to promote you. Don’t assume it’s a panacea or a guarantee of success. I helped my admin assistant who wanted to be promoted after she got her bachelors degree part-time, and she took a job–a GS-5/7/9 management track and lasted a week. I don’t think it was the fact that she had a degree that she had earned a “non-traditional” way, but that she felt it entitled her. She no longer wanted to be an admin assistant once she had the degree, but she wasn’t ready for the new job either just because she had it.

However, in this economy, hybrid classes are getting more popular, and I hope gaining more acceptance. At least here you have the benefit of in-class work to do those face-to-face things important in teaching. Also, the technology-based trends are taking hold in all schools, elementary to university, and so the stigma is not so great. I should point out that not all online programs that have a classroom period at the beginning and end of the term can rightly be called a true hybrid online program. They start with people and face-to-face and end that way, but along the way, there is still the notion that face-to-face learning is best, and I think it better when it is repeated more than twice.

As for online schools that offer graduate programs being more acceptable, that is entirely possible. But I think among those who really care, where it matters most–in academia, in science, in the arts it’s laughable to them. It looks nice on letterhead and may bring a few customers in like many letters following a name. CPA, CSA, LLC, ESQ are a few letters that come to mind as well as letters signifying certification based on having attended a training course touted as professional. Mine would be: MA, MA, MSP… Really? But we do it.

It’s all out there as a means of establishing credibility. Do I trust an MBA from Wharton over an MBA from Phoenix University (online)? Maybe. An online PhD versus one from any accredited State University or a more prestigious higher learning institution? I would accept it because it shows tremendous work regardless; however, that doesn’t mean the others are more widely accepted at first glance. If you have an online graduate degree, I have to look to see if I recognize the name. If I don’t, I have to look it up. If I have to look it up when I have candidates for a position with ones I don’t have to look up… I think you get the gist.

A final word. Although we have different definitions for training and education, there are some gray areas, areas that overlap, areas that give rise to new techniques and learning. How we learn, we took from education…or did we? What we do know is that it is evolving process. As I always say, my ideas are my own with the help of mental stimulation offered by others. Check out my website for more of What I Say. I know I’m not always right, but I try to be honest and fair. Feel free to comment, either here or on my site. Happy training (and educating).

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