What is the Difference Between an Online College Class and a Hybrid Class

Years ago, the only option that students had for taking college classes was in-person learning. But thankfully, college courses have evolved to better suit students’ busy lives. And in recent years, most schools have started offering both online-only classes and a relatively new concept: the hybrid class. Hybrid classes have the potential to revolutionize your college experience; they combine the advantages of in-person learning with the flexibility of an online class.

Online Classes vs. Hybrid Classes

Simply put, an online class is taught entirely online. You are not required to attend in-person learning or labs at any point during the course. A hybrid class incorporates elements of both online and in-person learning. This method is a necessity in some courses like those with a lab component. And sometimes, it just adds an element of flexibility to traditional learning. Often, the online components of these classes incorporate video lectures, live chats, discussion boards, and supplemental online reading materials.

Different Types of Online Learning

hybrid class

To be considered an online class, a course must deliver 100% of its content online. This includes the delivery of learning materials to students and the delivery of assignments to the instructor. But even in the realm of the online class, there are different types of learning. And depending on the individual class, you may find that several forms of online learning are used. Generally speaking, online courses will use synchronous learning, asynchronous learning, or a combination of both.

Synchronous learning means that students will need to access the course at a specified time. A great example of this would be live-streamed lectures. You’re more likely to run into this with classes that require participation, as the instructor can call on students to answer questions. Depending on the course, students may also be asked to do live presentations over video. And in some cases, they may also be asked to lead the discussion on a given topic.

Asynchronous learning does not require you to log in at any given time. While you will have assignments with set due dates, you can decide what time of day best works for you to complete your coursework. With asynchronous learning, you may still be asked to complete group projects, but group members can communicate to decide what times work best for them to complete work. If an asynchronous class requires some element of discussion, your instructor may ask you to create and respond to posts on a class discussion board.

Many courses involve some combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning. For instance, some online courses have live lectures but also ask students to complete quizzes or access discussion boards on their own time.

The Correspondence Course: Another Kind of Online Course

If you are looking for an online class that allows maximum freedom, you might like what’s called a “correspondence course.” In these courses, you have access to textbooks and other course materials. You may also be able to view pre-recorded lectures and other supplemental materials.

The difference between a correspondence course and a typical online class is that a correspondence course is self-paced. Generally, you are given an overall time limit to complete the course — usually a semester.

In most cases, all course materials are uploaded to a learning management system at the start of the semester. In order to help you pace yourself, your instructor will usually divide them into modules or units.

Papers or other assignments in a correspondence course are submitted to an instructor who grades them and offers feedback. While communication with your instructor is not a built-in part of the course, you can typically reach out with any questions or concerns. Generally, you can e-mail or even call.

Interestingly enough, the correspondence course is the oldest type of distance learning; it was put into place even before the existence of the internet. Instead of uploading or e-mailing completed assignments, students would send them via postal mail. But thanks to online learning, the correspondence course is more streamlined and efficient than it ever was before.

What Does Hybrid Learning Look Like?

blended learning

You already know that hybrid learning (also called “blended learning”) combines elements of in-person and online learning. But what exactly does that look like? First, to qualify as being a hybrid course, a given in-person class needs to deliver over 20% of its content via the internet.

There are in-person classes that do deliver some learning content online, though it’s less than 20%. These classes do not qualify as hybrid classes; they are considered to be “web-enhanced” courses.

Sometimes, a hybrid class is conducted mostly in person but requires students to complete a number of webinars. For instance, the instructor in a public policy class might hold some in-person lectures while also requiring students to attend online seminars hosted by experts in the field.

Hybrid classes are also the perfect solution for courses that require a hands-on component. For example, in an organic chemistry lab course, it’s impossible to conduct the laboratory portion via the internet. In this case, students would attend the laboratory session in person. They would then view the laboratory lecture and submit lab reports online.

While hybrid learning most often happens at the class level, you may sometimes see degree programs that combine classes that are fully online with classes that are fully in-person. Generally, this type of model conducts the most challenging courses in person to allow students to connect with their professors and with each other. The less challenging courses can then be conducted online. Though each individual class might not be a hybrid class, the degree program as a whole could be considered hybrid learning.

Does Every Degree Type Have an Online and a Hybrid Option?

The short answer here is no. Many degree programs — especially those in marketing, management, and data science — can be conducted entirely online. But certain degree types require extensive in-person learning experience. Two examples are degrees in nursing and social work. If you intend to pursue either of these programs, you’ll need to have a certain number of supervised experiential hours.

Don’t let this discourage you, though — many institutions can arrange for students to complete these necessary hours at facilities close to their homes. So even if you pursue a degree from a college that’s far from your home state, you can still earn that degree without needing to ever set foot on the campus.

The availability of online or hybrid learning for any given degree program also depends on your institution. Some institutions of higher education rely very heavily on online courses, but others offer next to no online or hybrid courses. If you would prefer hybrid or online learning and have not yet selected a college or university, be sure to take this into account in your search.

It’s a very distinct possibility that more and more institutions will start offering online and hybrid learning opportunities in the not-so-distant future. Since these are relatively new technologies (and the demand for them is steadily increasing), it often takes institutions time to develop distance learning programs.

What Are Some of the Benefits of an Online or Hybrid Class?

If you’ve never experienced this type of learning before, you might be hesitant to give it a shot. However, there are plenty of benefits when it comes to online and hybrid learning. One of the most obvious benefits is the lack of a commute. You can save money on transportation costs, and you also don’t have to budget a considerable amount of time for commuting back and forth to school.

Another benefit is being able to complete your coursework at the most optimal time for you. Some people focus best early in the morning while others prefer to work late at night. And for many learners, the ability to do coursework around your work schedule or other responsibilities is a major perk. Even if you work odd hours, you can still take a class or two, or even be a full-time student. If you’re a parent, you can also earn a degree without sacrificing time with your family.

In some cases, online and hybrid courses can provide instant feedback. This usually doesn’t apply to more in-depth assignments like papers or projects. But often, you can receive instant feedback on quizzes and online homework.

For classes that incorporate video lectures, you often have the option of re-watching the lecture as many times as you want. This can be especially helpful for courses covering complex and difficult topics.

In the case of online correspondence courses, you also have the benefit of pacing yourself. If you run into a unit that you find to be especially easy, you can move through it quickly and allow yourself more time to work on challenging topics. And of course, if you take a class that is 100% online, you can choose from almost any institution in the world.

Hybrid classes also offer a particular advantage — they let you build relationships with professors and students in the same way that in-person learning allows, but they also offer the independence and convenience of an online course.

Is an Online or Hybrid Class Right for You?

Undoubtedly, online and hybrid classes offer plenty of advantages. But is a class like this right for you? Before enrolling, there are a few things you should ask yourself. First, do you have a computer with a strong and reliable internet connection? If your internet is slow or unreliable, it can cause incredible frustration. And in some cases, it can cause you to miss out on lectures and other key elements of the course.

You also should ask yourself if you are an effective communicator when it comes to writing. Some students excel in traditional classroom discussions, but when it comes time to put their thoughts in writing, they stumble. Keep in mind that much of your communication with your instructor and fellow students is likely to be written in e-mails, discussion boards, or live chats.

Before enrolling, it’s also a good idea to make sure that you are both self-motivated and have a distraction-free place to work. With online learning, you don’t have a dedicated classroom environment or the supervision of an instructor. You may find it helpful to do some or all of your coursework in a library or other quiet environment.

And lastly, a very important part of taking an online or hybrid course is making sure that you have the ability to work independently and manage your time. After all, time management is a struggle for many people — even those who are otherwise motivated and successful. In the case of correspondence courses, you may find it helpful to create a schedule. That can help you make sure you don’t find yourself cramming the last few units at the end of the semester.

Tips for Success in an Online or Hybrid Class

hybrid class vs online learning

One of the most important parts of success in an online or hybrid course is understanding and respecting the amount of time it will take. Some students tend to underestimate the commitment a course requires because it’s not taught in the classroom. But the fact that a course is flexible doesn’t mean it’s easy. When taught well, these courses are as rigorous as — or even more rigorous than — courses taught in person.

Especially in a course that is entirely asynchronous, you may find it helpful to block off time throughout the week to complete coursework. This effectively takes the place of a scheduled class time and can help you make sure you pace yourself throughout the course.

Another way to ensure success is to remain engaged. It’s easy to feel isolated, especially in a class that is entirely online. If your class has a discussion board, make sure to be active on it. When you’re involved in any type of distance learning, engagement in the class needs to be more deliberate than in an in-person classroom, where it tends to occur at least somewhat naturally.

It’s also a good idea to build a rapport with your instructor. Just like traditional college students are often advised to attend office hours as a means of connecting with an instructor, it’s wise to ask questions or check in when necessary.

Hopefully you now have a better understanding of both the online and the hybrid class model as well as a sense of which one is the better choice for you. While adapting to one of these course formats can be an adjustment if you’re only used to in-person learning, that adjustment is often well worth it. If you work, have a family, or don’t have time for a daily commute, you may find that online or hybrid learning is a crucial part of earning your degree.

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