The Blended Model: How to Combine Digital and Analog Education

Although digitally delivered education options are growing at light speed, many degree programs and online colleges still require some type of practical, hands-on, and on-site experience for their students. It wouldn’t make sense to get a nursing degree without interacting with some real patients, or a religious studies degree without ever visiting a church. These requirements may interrupt your ability to keep a job while you get your degree, but the hands-on experience will look great to future employers and will improve your credibility as a practitioner in the field you are studying. This combination of internet learning and face-time, called the hybrid or blended model, provides a compromise between the convenience of online education and the richer, more involved learning that happens in the classroom.

Types of Hands-On Experience

Some online universities require students to visit an actual campus or learning center at some point during their education. These required visits last only a week in some cases, but the time is dictated by the institution, and some may last a semester or longer. Other universities require you to take an internship at a clinic, law firm or business to reinforce the concepts you are learning in your online classes. While this may feel like a hassle, getting an internship gives you the space to prove that you’re dedicated to your field, resourceful, and able to work in the actual industry you’re training to be a part of. Below are some examples of on-site experiences that can add depth to your education and a line to your resume:

  • Internships usually last between a month and a year, and most fall in the three-to-six-months-long category. You probably don’t need to visit your school’s headquarters to do an internship. Just find an interesting company in your field that you can commute to, and see whether they could use an extra hand. Some companies have established internships, some even pay, but many companies will gladly accept some extra help around the office, and that contact with professionals can be a boon for you as a student.
  • On-Campus Intensives are short, high-impact courses that you have to take on campus or at one of your school’s learning centers. They give you face time with professors and other students and the opportunity to learn practical skills that just can’t be taught electronically. Liberty University, based in Lynchburg, Virginia, requires all of its online students to spend at least a week on campus. Some online universities will pay for your transportation to and from these courses, but some won’t. Make sure to find out your school’s policy.
  • Having a job in your field can be a great way to augment your education! If you’re going back to school to grow your knowledge in a field you already work in, your employer might help you pay for school, and your school might let your job stand in for whatever other practical experience requirements they have.

Different Styles of Learning

Blended education programs do not simply translate classroom materials into electronic formats for distribution via the internet. New technology allows for unique ways of distributing and presenting information. The purpose of a blended program is to distribute the material that is most “digital friendly” through the internet, which saves you time and maybe money, and use classroom time for subjects that truly require interpersonal interaction for proper learning. Subjects that are often taught using hybrid methodology include:

  • Nursing
  • Engineering
  • Business
  • Social Work
  • Ministry/Chaplaincy

Almost any degree offered at an online college or university can be attained through a mixture of online courses and on-site practical experiences though, and often the ratio of electronic to in-person learning can be somewhat customized to your preferences.

The Blurry Line Between Online and Offline Education

The boundary between the blended model of education and a straightforward campus education is blurry. All colleges use electronic media, distribute materials via the internet, and use electronic communication and management tools to allow electronic submission of assignments and to let students access class materials when class is not in session. Some universities have started offering free online courses in complex subjects, such as Stanford University’s recent listing of a free online course in artificial intelligence. Apple’s “iTunes U” feature has made it easy for educational institutes to post free or paid course content online in the form of audio and video podcasts. Some other tools that are blurring the line between classroom and online education include:

  • Blackboard: This company offers several software platforms to make communication between professors, students, and classmates smoother when they aren’t in the classroom. Blackboard lets you upload documents for editing and comments, download assignments and post useful resources for fellow students to check out.
  • Moodle: This is a free source software that performs similar functions to Blackboard, but is more easily user customizable. Someone with programming skills can build a new module for Moodle. There is a large online support community for this platform, but the main core development is still done by an established corporation in Australia. Moodle allows you to upload and download text, pictures, video, and audio into course pages whose membership can be managed by a professor, so a Moodle page at the beginning of the semester might be empty, and slowly fill up with course materials and related info as more students contribute to it.
  • Mp3 players and Tablet Computers: The proliferation of portable computers and internet capable devices has completely changed what is possible for online education. An Indian company called DataWind has created a tablet computer that only costs 50 US dollars and comes preloaded with the Android operating system and a suite of educational software. The Indian government subsidizes half the cost of these tablets for university students, and the students can use the tablets during class to take notes or access auxiliary information.

How to Save Money Using the Blended Education Model

The reason that blending electronic and in-person methodologies is so popular in every level of school, from K-12 through college, is that it increases the scalability of the college’s operation while simultaneously decreasing costs. Professors can teach more students for less money than ever before because of the information amplifying and reproducing capabilities of the internet. You can take advantage of the same principles to keep money in your wallet while still getting schooled. Here’s how:

  1. Figure out what you want to learn in school. The fewer classes you take, the less money you spend. It can be fun to experiment in college, but if some of the subjects you’re interested in work well in electronic formats, like writing or accounting, try to find affordable or even free online courses in those subjects. Only take subjects in the classroom if face-time is really important for your learning style.
  2. Learn about the credit transferring policy of your school. Most schools will take prior education into account, and some will even give you credit for work experience. If you start planning a year or two ahead, you can take general classes online while working in a related job, and have credit for both by the time you decide to actually head to a campus to finish your degree.
  3. Take free courses on your spare time. This might not get you credit toward a degree, but with the multiplicity of free seminars and even full-on college classes available online, there is no excuse not to use your free time for learning. Even if you aren’t pursuing a degree, the knowledge you gain from an online course can inspire you and influence the direction of your life. Take joy in the act of learning itself.

Nowhere To Go But Up

We’re just at the beginning of the technological revolution in education. Get comfortable with learning and conducting educational and professional activities over the internet, because the more widespread communication technology becomes, the more of these activities will be moved online.