Study Shows Promise And Challenges Of ‘Hybrid’ Courses

Students learn just as much in a course that’s taught partly online as they would in a traditional classroom, but such courses won’t reach their potential until they are both easier for faculty members to customize and more fun for students, according to a report released today.

The report, “Interactive Learning Online at Public Universities: Evidence From Randomized Trials,” is based on a study conducted by Ithaka S+R, a consultancy on the use of technology in teaching.

The finding that hybrid courses are no better or worse than traditional ones isn’t, as it might appear, “a bland result,” said one of the co-authors, William G. Bowen, president emeritus of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

“One of the responses most frequently raised in efforts to experiment with this kind of teaching is that it will expose students to risk,” he said in an interview. “The results of this study show that such worries are overblown.”

The results do indicate that such courses, as they exist today, “do no harm,” said Mr. Bowen, who serves as a senior adviser to the Ithaka group. “But surely these courses are going to improve dramatically as they become more customizable and more fun.”

Some experts advocate online classes as a way to deliver courses more economically and effectively, particularly for members of minority groups and others who might be subject to stereotypes in a classroom setting. Meanwhile, skeptics suspect that online approaches depersonalize education and shortchange students.

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