Written by Joanna Hughes

While bricks-and-mortar classes once reigned supreme in terms of higher education delivery methods, the advent of online classes forever changed the face of higher education. Today, many contemporary students choose online studies because of the unparalleled convenience and customizability of this mode of learning. However, as the nature of learning continues to evolve, another mode of delivery has emerged, and is gaining popularity with many contemporary students: Blended learning, which combines the two into one.

Which begs the question: If you’re already studying on campus, should you consider adding online classes to the mix? Here’s a closer look at the question.

Enhancing Your Experience….and Your Career Readiness

Online enrollments continue to skyrocket with more than 30 percent of college students taking at least one online course, according to the most recent report from the Babson Survey Research Group. Said study co-author Julia Seaman, “The growth of distance enrollments has been relentless. They have gone up when the economy was expanding, when the economy was shrinking, when overall enrollments were growing, and now when overall enrollments are shrinking.”

There are obvious reasons to add online courses to your schedule. For starters, they can open doors to new opportunities. If your campus or school isn’t offering a class you want or need when you want or need it, you’ll almost certainly be able to find an online option that suits your schedule. Says Jeff Seaman, co-director of the Babson study,  “The anytime, anywhere piece – they like that, at least for a portion of what they're doing. The second reason tended to be scheduling; it made it possible to do the right courses to get your degree that you could not necessarily do – or do conveniently – if you were taking all on-ground courses."

Furthermore, online courses may actually enrich your learning experience. University of Central Florida provost and executive vice president Dale Whittaker told EdSurge of the takeaways for adding online classes as a complement to on campus studies, “What we know is that they’re actually doing better in the online courses than they are in the face-to-face. This comes back to 20 years of faculty development where basically we know that, if a professor teaches an online course, they have to go through 80 hours of training to learn to teach online….We have a very high quality standard for the online courses, so that if you ask the question, ‘Do they learn as well?’ I’m absolutely confident in that.”

This is particularly applicable in the case of taking local online classes because students can still meet their teachers, use campus resources, and connect with their classmates.

Lastly, there’s the digital competencies gained through online studies. While much is said about the value of face-to-face contact with classmates and instructors, students gain “future-focused” advantages through the skills bolstered by online studies. Proposes a report by New Zealand’s 21st Century Learning Reference Group, “In modern societies, new and emerging technologies power the skills that drive knowledge creation: complex problem-solving, innovation, communication and collaboration. Twenty-first century skills go hand-in-hand with technological advances. This report reflects the critical role of digital competencies in 21st century skills.”  

But It’s Not As Easy As You Might Think

Blended learning has been described as a “best of both worlds” arrangement. However, this doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, many students encounter unexpected difficulties along the way.

Perhaps the most common stumbling point for conventional students taking online classes? Getting over the expectation that they’re easier and/or less time-consuming. In fact, online classes -- while certainly flexible -- are also quite rigorous. As a result, students may end up overloading their schedules based on the assumption that they’ll have more time on their hands. Explains US News & World Report, “Online classes typically require just as much study time; the common assumption that online classes are easier than face-to-face options simply isn't true. In fact, most students find online learning more challenging because they don't have a professor directly overseeing them and must develop self-discipline.”

Factor in the demands of juggling face-to-face classes with the social freedom of college campus life, and it can quickly become overwhelming. According to blended learning student Lachlan Webb, meanwhile, without vigilance, it can end up being a case of out of sight, out of mind. “Having lectures and tutorials to remind me of the on-campus courses and nothing physical to remind me of the external ones meant it was so easy to forget about them. Of course, when this happened it resulted in having to spend time catching up,” he says.

The takeaway? While there are many upsides to embracing blended learning, maintaining awareness of the challenges that may arise -- and taking proactive measures to manage them -- can help you reap the biggest benefits. 

ArticleEducationStudent Tips
Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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