It's Not All in the Blend for Engagement

The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE, November 10, 2016 | Go to article overview

It's Not All in the Blend for Engagement


Low satisfaction for students on combined online and face-to-face courses. Ellie Bothwell writes

US students on blended learning courses are generally less engaged with the teaching at their institution than their counterparts taking purely online or purely face-to-face degrees, according to a Times Higher Education survey that may question the notion that blended learning could result in a "great revolution in university teaching".

Students undertaking courses that combine both online delivery with face-to-face interaction were less likely to say that they felt prepared for a career, were challenged by the teaching, were able to apply their learning to the real world, could make connections among things they learned, or were able to learn critical thinking skills.

They also said they thought their degree was worse value for money and they would be less likely to recommend their university to a friend or choose their college again.

The research was based on a survey of 100,000 students at US universities, which asked participants to identify whether they were taught entirely face-to-face while possibly supported by digital tools; primarily face-to-face with substantial online activities; entirely through an online platform while possibly with face-to-face faculty check-ins; or mostly through a digital platform with face-to-face faculty interactions.

On all of the above questions, students on mostly online courses said they were less engaged than those on primarily face-to-face ones, but both groups were less satisfied than their colleagues on entirely online and entirely face-to-face courses.

Students on entirely online courses were the most satisfied on nearly all the above measures, with the exception of whether they felt challenged - where students gave the same average score as those on entirely face-to-face courses - and feeling prepared for a career, where entirely face-to-face students scored highest.

However, when it comes to interacting with staff, opportunities for collaborative learning and social engagement, students on entirely or mostly face-to-face courses were more satisfied than those on entirely or mostly online courses.

For each survey question, students were asked to rate their university on a scale of one to 10, where zero represented no support and 10 represented being fully supported.

When asked whether they could make connections among things learned, for example, students on mostly online and mostly face-to-face courses gave an average score of 7.7 and 8.04 respectively, while students on entirely online and entirely face-to-face courses gave an average of 8.42 and 8.25 (see graphs).

Students at both public and private not-for-profit institutions felt less engaged with blended learning courses, but at private universities students on entirely face-to-face courses tended to be most satisfied, while at public universities students on entirely online courses generally gave the highest average score. …

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