Published on 2014/06/03

Four Things Students Need to Succeed in the Online/Hybrid Environment

Four Things Students Need to Succeed in the Online/Hybrid Environment
Online and hybrid courses aren’t for everyone. They require focus, dedication and the appropriate background knowledge.
So you want to take a hybrid or online college course. Are you aware of what that entails? Do you know the difference between an online and a hybrid course?

A hybrid course has nothing to do with crossing species or genetically altered fruit and vegetables. Actually, a hybrid course is one in which some course instruction and activities take place in the face-to-face classroom (instructor and students together in one location) and some take place online. The amount of time spent in class versus online will vary from college to college. At the college where I teach hybrid sociology courses, I meet with students face-to-face two hours per week and spend virtual time with them one hour per week. In the past I have also done the reverse; two hours online and one hour in the classroom. The structure of a hybrid course depends on a lot of factors, such as how prepared students are and how familiar students are with computer technology.

In contrast with a hybrid course, an online course is one in which all course instruction and activities take place online, and students and faculty have minimal face-to-face contact. For example, in some colleges, instructors may meet with students one or two times, and then the rest of the class “meetings” are strictly online. In other colleges, all activities take place online and students don’t meet with the professor face-to-face at all. They’ll communicate with the instructor over the course of the semester, but it will be done virtually.

Usually, professors will structure their hybrid and online courses differently from their traditional classes, and they will require work to be completed independently. This is one reason why students need to be prepared to take a course in a non-traditional setting. One of the reasons I switched to meeting with students face-to-face for two hours instead of one is because so many students signed up for hybrid sections of sociology courses not realizing what they were signing up for. Many of them did not know what a hybrid course was, but they signed up anyway, thinking, “Wow, I only need to be in class one hour rather than three, so whatever hybrid is (learning about aliens, maybe?), it sounds great!” Big mistake. Usually hybrid and online courses are much more challenging, and students frequently fail to realize that they require more work than traditional courses. Taking a course strictly online can be even more daunting than a hybrid one since all course activities take place in a virtual environment. The instructor will expect you to have the ability to follow precise instructions, work independently and meet strict deadlines. So, if you are looking for an easy way to earn college credits, hybrid or online courses are not for you.

Here are some points to consider if you do want to enroll in a hybrid or online course.

1. You Need the Right Tools

First of all you need an up-to-date computer or electronic device with the necessary software such as Microsoft Word, and a fast and reliable Internet connection. If you know that your computer is slow and crashes every third Sunday, then get another. You don’t want to risk losing assignments or not being able to log on when you are required to do so. You should be aware that additional software might also be required, such as data processing software, if you are taking a course in math, statistics, accounting or business. It is very important that you check with the professor before signing up to find out exactly what is required.

2. You Need the Right Knowledge

You may wish to take a self-assessment quiz (there are lots out there) to see if you are prepared to take a hybrid or online course. The self-assessment will determine your readiness for online learning by asking questions about the number of hours you’s have to dedicate to the course and whether you’re technologically savvy enough to meet the demands of the course. A major factor to consider is your motivation for enrolling in a hybrid or online course. If your answer is only somewhat or slightly motivated, you will most likely drop out or fail.

Hybrid/online courses generally entail a lot of reading, writing and research. If you are not at the appropriate stage in your academic studies to take on these tasks, you may wish to postpone your non-traditional course enrollment. Frequently, students make the mistake of signing up for a hybrid or online course with little or no experience in a traditional college classroom. Students tend to fare much better if they have at least some experience in taking regular college courses. If you are taking developmental reading or writing, then stay in traditional face-to-face classes until your skill level in these areas improves. Once again, hybrid/online courses are generally much more demanding than traditional ones, so hold off learning in a virtual environment until you are more academically prepared.

3. You Need the Right Attitude

Hybrid and online learning requires a very high level of motivation and dedication in meeting strict guidelines. When the professor states that such and such assignment is due on, for example, the 25th of the month, then that is the deadline. There is generally no leeway or acceptable excuse for submitting it late, barring a major catastrophic event. In some cases, an instructor might allow late submissions, but points will most likely be deducted for your tardiness. It’s critical for students to understand that online/hybrid courses are not “easier” or more relaxed that face-to-face. They are often more demanding, in spite of the flexibility they provide students.

4. You Need the Right Organizational Skills

Another reason that hybrid/online courses are not for everyone is because instructors will most likely teach differently. What this means is that not only will you complete a fair amount of work independently, but at least some of the work will be “inquiry based” and require the use of critical thinking skills.

For example, in one of my sociology classes I require students to complete an assignment by reading a chapter in a text and a recent article about the subject matter, viewing a series of slides connected to the topic, watching a short video related to the assignment, writing a short paper addressing questions that were originally posed, posting their comments about the assignment o the online discussion board, and responding to the postings of other students. This assignment requires a lot of independent work and the ability to follow directions, organize material efficiently, use a source other than a textbook, answer specific questions and reflect and respond to the postings of other students. This is very different than having all the material provided for you in the classroom and have other students around you with whom to discuss key points, This is just one example of the many assignments instructors create to support students in active learning.

Students need to be prepared to organize their time efficiently in order to comply with online and hybrid course requirements, and be sufficiently interested in the course and motivated to successfully complete it. Students need to be aware that they must contact the instructor if assignments are not clearly laid out or if they do not understand directions, work required, etc. Hybrid and online instructors will provide contact information and may even have virtual office hours, and students need to take advantage of the opportunity to contact the instructor, especially if there is little or no face-to-face contact. All instructors will provide a course syllabus and students need to view it as a contract. If you enroll in a course, then the expectation is that you agreed to what is listed in the syllabus. Contact the course instructor or department chairperson before you enroll in a course if you are uncertain about whether a particular course will interest you or one you can successfully complete.

Conclusion

In summary, hybrid and online courses can be a great way to obtain a degree or complete college courses, especially when life circumstances make it difficult to travel to a college campus on a regular basis. If a student is working or has home or childcare responsibilities, then hybrid and online courses can be arranged around these tasks. Keys to successful completion are preparation, motivation and determination.

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Readers Comments

Beth D 2014/06/03 at 9:11 am

This writer seems to be drastically downplaying the difficulty of traditional courses. Yes, students should absolutely be prepared to take a little more personal initiative to study the lessons without having a set class time, but the level of responsibility and independent work is roughly the same as with a traditional course. There’s a lot of reading in a traditional course, deadlines are strict and students are expected to adhere to the syllabus. Either way, students need to take responsibility for their learning.

    Janet 2014/06/10 at 1:19 pm

    I agree with you Beth about the rigors of traditional courses, however, the professor spends more time face-to-face with students than in non-traditional courses and s/he can respond immediately to questions, concerns about assignments, exams, etc. I do believe that non-traditional courses require students to work more independently.

Aaron Stark 2014/06/03 at 1:36 pm

I’ll admit I definitely took my first online course during my undergrad fully expecting it to be a cakewalk. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making sure students know exactly what they’re getting into.

nontrad 2014/06/03 at 3:59 pm

Online course are really designed for non-traditional learners, people who are generally older, more responsible, and who have good reasons for needing the flexibility. They’re not meant for undergrad students in traditional setting who have the power to go to class at a regular time. There’s definitely a time and a place for both styles.

    Janet 2014/06/10 at 1:34 pm

    Yes, there is a time and place for both types of instruction, however, what I have found teaching in a large, urban setting with many students having to work or take care of children or other family members, taking non-traditional courses gives them greater flexibility and may even allow them to graduate sooner. The key, of course, is to be prepared regarding the requirements of any type of college course.

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