Hybrid Courses Are Best


Research coming out of the University of Central Florida will likely change forever the way most of us teach.  If you know of similar research studies, please let me know at brown@wfu.edu.

The UCF catalog classifies some courses as “M” which means “media enhanced and reduced seat time.”  An M-Course may meet MW instead of MWF in order to free up time and effort for students to work individually or in teams between classes.  Usually the out-of-class work is facilitated by the Internet.

For several years, researchers associated with the Center for Distributed Learning (http://distrib.ucf.edu/dlucf/present.htm) have been comparing results in M-sections against both traditional (face-to-face) and web-based-only sections. 

The initial comparative outcomes are dramatic and consistent.     Students enrolled in “M” or hybrid courses have the highest success rate!   These rates are higher than face-to-face courses and higher than web-based-only courses. (See presentation by Steven Sorg, Frank Juge, and Robert Bledsoe at http://distrib.ucf.edu/dlucf/present.htm.) 

Their results match my experience and instincts.  If these research results are widely replicated, at UCF and beyond, we will be designing most courses by “the 90-10 Rule.”  The 90-10 Rule posits that both 100% face-to-face courses and 100% Internet-based courses are inferior to hybrid or mixed courses.   For some students and subject matters, the most effective mix will be as much as 90% face-to-face and only 10% Internet-based.   For other circumstances, the most effective mix will be as much as 90% Internet-based and 10% face-to-face.   Usually the optimum mix will be between 90-10 and 10-90.

If 90-10 is to become the “gold standard,” a key role for institutions will be to assure that face-to-face students have adequate Internet support.  And, the best distance learning programs will be supported by periodic regional gatherings of course participants and by get-to-know-and-trust-you retreats.     

As a professor designing my own courses in this wonderful 90-10 environment of increased options, I have found it helpful to construct a table of comparative advantage.   Almost everything I do is best done face-to-face, either in my office with individual students and during class when one student’s comment can stimulate another’s learning.  My problem is limited classroom and office hours.   Both professor and students are willing to give more time to our course, but it’s not the same time and it’s not the same place.   My challenge is to structure assignments to take advantage of these times we’re willing to give, and to free up face-to-face time for class discussion, visiting lecturers, and in depth exploration into basic economic concepts.  

As shown in this chart of comparative advantage, I ask myself “what activities that I normally pursue in class can be shifted to out-of-class with the least loss in effectiveness?”   In the “lecture monologue” row, the “advan” in the “virtual only” column reflects my subjective belief that a monologue lecture delivered over the Internet is almost as effective as an in class lecture.   In contrast, in the “12 person discussion” row, the “disadv” in the “virtually only” column reflects my judgment that 12 person discussions over the Internet are much, much less effective than in class discussions.  Even though it would be best would be best if students both heard and discussed my lecture during class, by making the lecture available over the Internet before class I have enough class time, as never before, to encourage a full in-depth discussion of my lecture.   Another example: by moving announcements about the course mechanics to the Internet, I lose only a little effectiveness and I gain the opportunity to bring in an outside lecturer who can in turn stimulate controversy and debate.  Still another example: Even if I had the time in class to answer each individual student question, I can answer those individual questions in a much more timely way (at the time the student encounters them) by periodic response through email.


            Other professors with different teaching styles, students, and subject matters will, and should, make different entries is this “table of comparative advantage.”  Whether one’s course is 90-10 or 10-90, the “table of comparative advantage” technique encourages us to place the right activities in their most appropriate environments.   Properly designed hybrid courses are a wonderful way to get students to spend more time-on-task and therefore hopefully develop a better mastery of the material. 

Hybrid courses can capture the best of both worlds.