With the spring term in the rear view mirror, all of higher education is putting as much effort as possible into planning for a smooth fall term. Institutions across the country had to face the unexpected and daunting challenge of moving from residential instruction to remote learning in the span of a few weeks. Although the experience was difficult for all involved and the road was sometimes a bit bumpy, this abrupt migration to finish out spring term must be considered a success.

Lingering on the achievement, however, would be shortsighted as thoughts must quickly turn towards fall term and beyond. Planning and preparation must begin, but many questions remain: Will institutions remain fully online in the fall term? Will regular residential classes be able to resume? Or will it end up being some type of mix? At this point, no one can know for sure.

One thing is certain, though. Traditional residential instruction as we have known it for decades will forever be changed. The lasting impact of the pandemic, coupled with the advances of learning technology and the expectations of today’s students will demand it.

Making the case for hybrid learning

Residential instruction in the future will be a mix of residential and online instruction. This hybrid learning approach will not look the same everywhere, as every institution will need to determine what works best for their students, faculty and fulfillment of their mission. But in one way or another, all institutions will have to be hybrid.

Beyond the aftermath of the current pandemic, several factors will contribute to this permanent change to hybrid instruction.

More demanding and discerning students

A recent report revealed that 63 percent of college students surveyed felt their online instruction is worse than the residential instruction they were receiving. Some of that unhappiness is due to the unexpected and immediate nature of the transition, which did not allow faculty the time and support to create effective and engaging online experiences.

But much of that discontent is due to the students’ failure of expectations. Students choose the residential experience for the sense of community at the campus and everything that goes with it. No matter how well designed, no online experience can compete with that experience. Moving forward, students will demand the benefits of the residential experience, but also fully expect that the institution fully capable of a smooth migration online if it becomes necessary again.

Requirement to meet the standards of the modern student

Putting the pandemic aside, institutions are already challenged with meeting the expectations of today’s digital native student. These students have grown up online and hardly remember a time when they didn’t have a powerful mobile device supporting every interaction.

The modern student lives in a hybrid world of their own creation. They are very familiar with the potential of the hybrid environment, and will not be satisfied with an education that consists solely of classrooms, lecture halls, whiteboards and PowerPoint slides.

The benefit of dual modalities

Moving to hybrid learning unleashes the power and possibilities of this mixed modality. Carefully designed hybrid approaches allow faculty to leverage the best of both the residential and online worlds.

What is particularly exciting about hybrid teaching models is how the precious time spent face-to-face can be made even more impactful and valuable. The construction of foundational knowledge can be left to the online modality, freeing the residential classroom to focus on meaningful discussion, interaction and activities that can only be performed in person.

Potential for increased price flexibility

Each year, students are becoming more price conscious and more focused on their personal return on investment. Higher education enrollments nationwide have been on a downward trend for the last decade. Reversing that trend is going to require higher education to change, and one of those changes has to be a more affordable degree.

Moving from a fully residential to a hybrid model will present opportunities for institutions to explore new cost-reducing initiatives such as smaller real estate footprints and reduced need for facilities. Any money saved from these opportunities could ultimately be passed down to students in the form of lower tuition.

Flexibility to accommodate future disruptions

No one knows what the future holds, but it is safe to assume that this past spring will not be the last time we have to deal with a situation that shuts down residential campuses. By putting a hybrid model in place for all residential instruction, institutions will have the ability to transition to fully online delivery without disrupting the quality of the learning experience for students and faculty.

Embrace the advantages of hybrid learning

COVID-19 has forced all of higher education to make immediate changes that no one would have thought possible. Now that we’ve passed through the crisis phase, it’s time to learn from the experiences and begin developing the next generation of teaching and learning – a generation where all residential classes are hybrid learning!

Author: Dave Lungren

Dave Lungren is the Vice-President of Content Solutions with Collegis Education. Over the past 17 years, he has worked with more than 30 institutions on the design, development and deployment of online and hybrid programs.