Jul 16 2012

8 Tips for Creating a Perfect Blend of Online and Face-to-Face Courses

Find the right balance between the two class types.

Constantly changing technology has altered how college and university classes can operate. Students no longer have to be sitting in the same room as their professor but this flexibility creates another issue. What is the right mix of face-to-face and online classes?

Here are 8 helpful tips for identifying the right blend between the two:

  1. Offer students opportunities to use online resources. Even if their professors don't use them, the school should make them available, suggests Gartner's Marti Harris. It helps students in their coursework and might pique faculty's interest.
  2. Rethink classroom activities. Simmons College Assistant Professor Karen Teeley saves complex material that needs a back-and-forth explanation for face-to-face classes.
  3. Use lecture capture as a tool for study and review. If students know they can refer back to lectures, they can listen and engage during the class rather than frantically taking notes, says Harris.
  4. Build around a strong learning management system. That's the most important tool in blended learning, says Mike Simmons of the University of North Texas. Then you can add other tools that promote interactivity and engagement, such as software that checks papers for plagiarism and add-on assessment tools.
  5. Get all the college's stakeholders to buy in. Administrators, faculty, IT and instructional designers need to come together around blended learning, says Joel Hartman of the University of Central Florida.

    Two common elements in programs that fail are that higher-ups decide to do it without convincing those in the classrooms, or faculty launch it without adequate training, resources or policy frameworks.

  6. Find creative ways to get faculty involved. Instead of trying to pull faculty into online learning, create a natural force for them to want to become involved, explains Hartman. His team meets with deans and other academic administrators to find out how their programs are going, and they discuss how blended learning can help them meet their goals.
  7. Use backward design. "You have to envision the entire course before you start," says Bill Wisser of Simmons College. "If you don't know where you want to end up, you can't create your map."
  8. Invest in training. The University of Central Florida offers an eight-week, 80-hour faculty development course. Like the program at Simmons, it uses a blended learning format. Faculty in the course receive a stipend and, if needed, a notebook computer.

"The idea is to provide such deep support for them that they know they're being valued," says Hartman. "We try to remove the risk for them."

To read more about blending online and face-to-face courses, see the EdTech case study "Improve Learning by Offering a Blend of Online and Face-to-Face Courses."