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Online, Hybrid, and On-Campus Courses Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: May 13th, 2021


E-learning is a concept comprised of any and all forms of electronically supported methods of learning and teaching; most students have experienced it one form or another either by watching a video in class, participating in a computer lab-based exercise, or even by learning a few lessons either from the internet or via a CD provided by the school. Suffice it to say; it is a flexible and inherently prolific method of education since it can encompass a wide variety of methods and practices to educate students in any number of ways. It must also be noted that unlike other methods of education, E-learning can actually be self-paced in that a student can learn independently from an instructor through their own means and methods. As such, this method of learning has thus given rise to new methods of teaching of which online and hybrid courses are the direct result.

In this paper, what will initially be done is an examination of online, hybrid, and on-campus courses in order to give a background into the factors involved in this paper’s examination. After which what will be examined are the different perceptions in performance between online and hybrid courses, and as such, what will be investigated is the perceived impact of predicted performance versus actual performance and the churn rate (referring to the number of students that are retained versus those that leave a course) of distance courses versus on-campus courses. It is expected that through this examination, sufficient benchmarks in performance levels can be determined in order to properly determine the overall effectiveness of either online or hybrid courses in terms of either method’s ability to educate and retain students.

Online Courses

Online courses are one of the latest incarnations of the E-learning method of teaching wherein all course subjects, including readings, tests, class discussions as well as teacher input on various questions, are all handled via the medium of the internet. This particular method of teaching was devised as a direct result of both advances in internet technology and the fact that many students who wished to enroll in a particular University either didn’t have the time to attend full courses or were in locations so far away that commuting would have been impractical. There are also financial difficulties to consider in regard to several students who just can’t afford the steep tuition fees that come with a course load at a prospective university. This was where online courses came in since most of the course material could be replicated and distributed to students en masse, and the fact that the students aren’t physically there is the University itself enabled schools to charge far less for particular online courses. As a direct result of such actions, one of the current trends in education within the past three years has been a shift towards online methods of learning due to the convenience and affordability such a method of learning provides to students.

Performance Evaluation of Online versus On-Campus Course Takers

As indicated by recent examinations of the growth of online E-learning nearly 29% of higher education students within the U.S. opted to take at least online subject in 2009, which is indicative of a 21% growth rate compared to the number of students that had taken online courses in the previous year. While studies such as those by Pallof and Pratt (2001) indicate “no significant” difference” in student outcomes between those who chose on-campus versus online courses, various studies such as those by Dziuban & Moskal (2011) and Aharony (2011) indicate that the examination of Pallof and Pratt (2001) was premature in that numerous adverse factors related to online education have emerged which were originally not foreseen in the Pallof and Pratt (2001) investigation and as such presents new factual data that should be evaluated in light of these subsequent changes (Dziuban & Moskal, 2011) (Aharony, 2011).

The study of Dziuban & Moskal (2011) in particular indicates that while online courses are a more convenient method of learning, this doesn’t mean that they can be considered as effective as compared to physically being in a University and interacting with both the teacher and the course material face to face. (Dziuban & Moskal, 2011). This assertion was based on an examination of study habits and performance levels between students that opted for online courses and those that chose to take the course in a “normal” way (Dziuban & Moskal, 2011). The Dziuban & Moskal (2011) study showed that study habits deferred greatly between online and on-campus students, with study habits often being better for the on-campus group (Dziuban & Moskal, 2011).

One way of explaining this can be seen in the work of Metz (2010), which examined the effect of social interaction in college settings and how this affected the study habits of students (Metz, 2010). In the Metz (2010) study, it was seen that social interaction actually played a vital role in creating greater interest in developing a deeper understanding of a particular lesson as students interacted with one another and actually helped each other in understanding certain lessons through joint study sessions (Metz, 2010). Metz (2010) took into account individuals with anti-social behaviors and, as such, was able to show that social interaction actually resulted in better performance for students as compared to those who chose to “strike out alone,” so to speak (Metz, 2010). While there were exceptions to this particular examination as seen in cases of individuals who were scholars, as a whole however the examination showed a clear connection between social stimulation and the desire to learn more, which facilitated better study habits and thus better grades.

Taking such a factor into consideration, the reason behind the difference in study habits seen in the Dziuban & Moskal (2011) study between online and on-campus thus becomes more obvious. This is not to say that online courses are inherently academically inferior; they are based on the same course material, after all, however, as seen in the examples provided, the social aspect missing from the online learning experience reduces the overall value of this particular method of learning since it doesn’t allow students to experience the social aspect of going to college which creates an environment which encourages learning and social interaction. In line with this particular method of reasoning comes the study of Gravois (2011), which examined the effect of impersonal interaction in online learning environments and their effect on students (Gravois, 2011). As Gravois (2011) explains, one of the drawbacks of online learning is the fact that some students find it inherently difficult to develop to maintain a certain degree of focus or even motivation. Gravois (2011) connects this lack of focus and de-motivation to an inherent lack of direct guidance and interaction with the professors from their courses (Gravois, 2011).

One study, Ulrich & Karvonen (2011), attempts to resolve this problem by presenting the assumption that teachers are more than just facilitators of the exchange of knowledge but rather act as methods of guidance for students through their own personal opinions regarding particular lessons and the interactive means by which they attempt to engage students into wanting to learn more about a particular subject (Ulrich & Karvonen, 2011). This is, unfortunately, missing in most online learning environments where there is little direct interaction, and most of the lessons are almost completely based on rote learning. While some Universities have attempted to resolve this issue by making online courses more interactive and more interesting, there is still no replacement for directly interacting with a teacher, asking questions during class, and being personally guided when necessary. In fact, studies such as those by Rao, Cameron & Gaskin-Noel (2009) explain that some students are so used to the “normal” method of teaching (i.e., having a teacher within a classroom) that when they are introduced to an online learning environment, they sometimes find it difficult to exhibit sufficient interest in the system since it is outside what they are used to (Rao, Cameron & Gaskin-Noel, 2009). Connected to the concept mentioned earlier of a certain lack of social interaction is the fact that students who take online courses are also subsequently unable to develop their own social networks while taking up their college degree.

Studies such as those by Calafiore (2011) indicate that one of the most valuable aspects of college, aside from obtaining an education, is the development of personal social networks from which one can gain an inestimable value in the long run (Calafiore, 2011). The reason behind this is quite simple; personal networks enable an individual to obtain friends and potential business partners in the future. Not only that, such individuals may help generate job leads, which in today’s economy can be considered extremely important due to the intense competition in the local job market. In fact, studies such as those by El Mansour (2007), which examined the job prospects of graduates of online courses, revealed that while online and on-campus students can be measured as having roughly the same level of educational attainment, it was the on-campus students that were actually able to generate more job leads and did better in interviews due to the number of social interactions in college which better prepared them for “the outside world” so to speak (El Mansour, 2007). This doesn’t mean that online courses do not generate jobs for students; that is a false assumption, rather it can be stated that on-campus students have a greater advantage in terms of the quality of education received and the networks they developed, which results in a far greater chance of getting a particular job.

Hybrid Courses

A hybrid course can be defined as a “middle ground,” so to speak, between a course taken online and one being taken on campus. Its purpose was to blend the best features of on-campus learning, interaction, and socialization with the convenience and cost savings measures that an online course could provide. What must be understood, though, is that a hybrid course doesn’t consist of merely adding online lessons to an on a campus college course or adding a few faces to face classes for an online course. Rather it involves the successful integration of both experiences into a cohesive whole whereby each complements the other.

It must be noted, though, the hybrid courses, just like online classes, are still a relatively new method of learning and thus raises the need for continued investigation in order to examine its overall effectiveness. From the perceptive of Robbins (2012), a hybrid course can be considered “the answer” to the inherent problems found in the online learning experience (Robbins, 2012). Robbins (2012) states that as methods of teaching continue to conform with the necessity of convenience and affordability, the hybrid course method of teaching may become more widely accepted and may actually surpass online courses as the “preferred” method of teaching students in a cheaper and more convenient fashion.

This is not to say that hybrid courses will come to replace the on-campus experience. Rather, based on the previous example shown in this paper, it can be seen that there are inherent problems with the online method of teaching that needs to be addressed, and as such, the hybrid course teaching method seems to be the best way of doing so. The study of Parry (2010) supports this claim by elaborating on the fact that while many students choose online courses as a means of education, the reason they do so is due to the obligations they have to meet within their own lives (Parry, 2010). When surveyed as to whether they would prefer an on-campus experience, a vast majority actually agreed and stated that if they had a choice, they would prefer to continue their studies on campus instead of online.

While this paper has so far briefly detailed the inherent difference in performance levels between online and on-campus courses, its main purpose is to examine the difference in perceptions of performance between online and hybrid courses. As such, the next few sections will go into detail about the difference between perception and performance and, as such, will show which is the “better method of education,” so to speak, in terms of performance and the methods ability to retain students.

Withdrawal Rates in Distance Courses versus Face to Face Courses

Several studies such as those by Strang (2011) and Thomson (2011) explain that due to the inherent problems found in online distance learning courses (as explained by the previous section), what resulted was a greater attrition rate (10 to 15 percent higher) for this particular method of teaching as compared to students who took courses on campus (i.e., face to face courses). Strang (2011) attempts to explain this particular data by indicating that the sense of isolation, the general lack of support, and even the lack of structure in participating in online courses may be contributing factors behind the attrition rate (Strang, 2011).

Another study, Thomson (2011), tries to examine this issue from a sociological perspective by indicating that it is the social aspect of college life that reinforces the need to complete a course (Thomson, 2011). Thomson (2011) explains that as a student attends face to face courses, a certain sociological bond is developed between not only people that person gets to know within the class but also between the student and the teacher (Thomson, 2011). It is the sense of “social responsibility and closeness,” as Thomson (2011) explains, that is behind the continued desire to finish a course since all individuals have an inherent desire to maintain their social bonds. Another way of looking at this issue is from the perspective of Beqiri (2009), who explains that enrolling in the face to face courses actually reinforces the “social contract” that a person develops from the early stages of education all the way to high school (Beqiri, 2009).

For Beqiri (2009), this “social contract” is the current sociological concept that it is necessary to go from grade school to high school and from high school to college in order to be considered a productive member of society (Beqiri, 2009). This particular type of “contract” is so ingrained into the sociological consciousness of people that one of the current trends within the U.S. has been for students to effectively bury themselves in debt just to complete a college course. Siegle (2011) explains that the reinforcing factor in the completion rate of college courses is thus the result of continued exposure to an external environment wherein most of the individuals present continue to state the necessity of completing a college course (Siegle, 2011).

In the case of online distance learning, the reinforcement factor indication by Thomson (2011) is not as strong due to the inherent isolation of students who take such courses (Thomson, 2011). Siegle (2011) explains that social interaction and the development of social bonds within college acts as a continuing reinforcing factor of the social contract, and a such is necessary in order to encourage students to remain in college. When such a factor is taken away, students become more likely to question the necessity of completing a college degree over other concerns and interests and, as such, reveals how important it is to behave a continuing reinforcing factor in order to lower attrition rates for a particular college course. One rather interesting take on this subject is the study of Butler (2010), which compared the attrition rates between students who took hybrid courses and those who took face-to-face courses (Butler, 2010). Based on the study, it was seen that individuals who took hybrid courses were just as likely to complete them as compared to individuals who took face to face courses.

Butler (2010) attempts to explain this by stating that it is due to the adaptation of increased sociological interaction, the setting involved, and the overall feeling of greater interaction with not only fellow students but with the teachers as well that becomes the reinforcing factor that increases retention rates as compared to individuals who take online courses. While it may be true that for some educators, there is no inherent difference between online and hybrid courses in terms of their academic depth and quality, much has to be said about the environment in which they are individually situated and the effect this has on student attrition rates. What must be understood is educational quality isn’t limited to merely academic content, but rather it also involves the ability to retain the interest of students with lessons that incite them to learn more about the degree they are attempting to complete. When a course is unable to do this, it cannot really be stated that it delivers the best type of educational experience that it can since student attrition rates for particular online courses are evidence enough that students think otherwise regarding the quality of education they receive.

This is not to say that online courses should be outright banned due to the lackluster educational experience, but rather students should be given the option of combining their online curriculum with on-campus learning so as to facilitate the necessary reinforcing sociological factors needed to develop the desire to finish the course. As indicated in the Ke & Xie (2009) study, various universities in not only the U.S. but in other countries as well have started to realize the inherent limitations and problems related to student attrition rates due to the lack of sufficient sociological and reinforcement features in online learning and as such many of them have started to adopt new lesson plans in which hybrid curriculums have become more rampant (Ke & Xie, 2009). This is all in an attempt to further their goal of providing a convenient and affordable education to those that desire it.

Online and Hybrid Courses: An Examination of Perceived Performance and Actual Performance

One of the latest studies to examine the performance difference between online and hybrid methods of education is the Xu and Jaggars (2011) study, which sought to determine the degree of course enrollment, student retention, and performance of students utilizing online and hybrid courses within community and technical colleges in the state of Washington. As such, the results and demographic data for the next few sections originate from the Xu and Jaggars (2011) study as well as subsequent other academic articles that support their data and conclusions. It is the assumption of the researcher that though the data set is relatively sparse, it should prove adequate in being able to show the necessary difference in performance between the two E-learning methods.

It is rather interesting to note that studies dating from the onset of online E-learning (the late 1990s) till roughly 2004 indicated that there was no inherent difference between the performance of students who took up online courses with those that went for hybrid courses. Yet, from 2005 to the present many new studies have come forth indicating that students who participated in online classes actually had lower success rates on several outcomes as compared to their counterparts. For example, the study of Xu and Jaggars (2011) in particular showed a certain degree of performance loss in online students despite such subjects previously having high-grade point averages prior to enrolling in the online course (Xu and Jaggars, 2011). This is not to say that all cases reflected a distinct loss of performance; however, it was even noted by other studies such as those by Sebastianelli (2011) and Fritz (2011) that there was a 20% loss of performance or more in the cases they examined (Sebastianelli, 2011) (Fritz, 2011).

Further solidifying this assumption is the evidence Xu and Jaggars (2011) present in terms of the dropout rate of students in such courses wherein nearly 8% of all new enrollees to online courses were expected to drop out within the first two semesters alone. What must be understood is that prior to the establishment of literature compelling universities to accommodate the hybrid learning process, universities assumed that the overall quality of education was roughly the same between online and on-campus courses and that student performance levels for either one would all remain consistently equivalent. Yet, based on the various arguments and data that this paper has presented so far, it can be seen that this is far from the truth. Unfortunately, this difference in perception between the perceived performance of students and their actual performance actually has negative repercussions for students within colleges and universities. For example, as mentioned earlier in the section involving the examination of dropout rate between online and hybrid course students, it was seen that students taking online courses had a 10 to 15% greater attrition rate, which when combined with estimates regarding the percentage of students that drop out during the first two semesters which take up online courses is indicative of a serious problem that needs to be addressed.

While it may be true that all colleges and Universities in one way or another have some form of attrition rate for particular subjects, the fact is that based on the literature and arguments shown in this study so far, it is quite obvious that the main cause of attrition rates within online courses is the very design of the course itself which causes students to feel isolated and feel that they lack sufficient guidance which would, as a result, affect their performance and create feelings related to quitting the course entirely. Recent studies such as those by Russell (2009) indicate that by and many large professors don’t encourage their “best and brightest” to take online courses since, for them, nothing truly replaces direct face to face interaction when it comes to presenting ideas, theories, and examples. This does hold a certain degree of merit based on the earlier examples provided in the first section of this paper, which examined the problems inherent in online courses.

What must be understood is that the initial failure to acknowledge the problems inherent in online courses for the sake of the expansion of available slots for students for specific subjects or to allow more students enrollment through distance learning resulted in numerous students become disillusioned with the college itself which led to attrition rates noted in not only the Xu and Jaggars (2011) study but in other studies as well. As Kremer (2011) notes, the initial semesters of a student’s college curriculum can be noted as a crucial point in developing sufficient interest in a course to encourage them to complete it. When such a necessary step has been replaced with an isolated experience with little contact with the teacher or other students, it becomes a discouraging experience which not only affects their performance but the way in which they perceive the necessity of the course. The end result is early discouragement over the lessons being taught, which inevitably results in the higher attrition rates noted in students that exclusively went for online courses.

Benchmarks for Online and Hybrid Courses

The effectiveness of either online or hybrid courses rests on several distinct benchmarks. The first is the degree of interest students attribute to the course itself; this is a direct result of not only the lesson curriculum but in the way in which the school structures the course to entice students to learn more. The second benchmark is the degree of attrition in either course; this involves the number of students that leave after a set period of time. As this study has shown so far, online courses have a far higher attrition rate as compared to hybrid courses due to the problems that have been indicated numerous times in this study already. The third benchmark is that of social interaction; this is indicative of the amount of social contact with peers students can gain from a college experience, which online learning courses have just barely begun to address through the use of social media networks in their online classes. The fourth benchmark is the degree of academic performance that either student group is able to derive from online or hybrid courses.

This is in direct relation to their performance in quizzes and tests, which would be indicative of the degree of effectiveness either method of teaching has on them. The 5th benchmark is that of interaction; this is indicative of the degree of interaction between students in a course and their teachers. This benchmark is particularly important due to the evidence showing that discouragement in a particular course, which leads to people having incomplete college degrees, is a direct result of a lack of encouragement and interaction from teachers, which studies examining online learning have shown to be prevalent in this particular type of teaching method. The 6th benchmark for evaluating online and hybrid courses is the way in which students perceive the lessons they are currently taking up. This can come in the form of developing the desire for learning, understanding lessons in a certain way or being able to apply lessons as a direct result of guidance and advice from teachers. It is often the case that for this particular benchmark, hybrid courses often are far ahead of online E-learning courses due to greater degrees of interaction between not only students between themselves but between teachers and students. The last benchmark is that of the outcome, namely, how do students that graduate through online courses differ from those who take hybrid courses. By utilizing these benchmarks, it is possible to evaluate the effectiveness of either an online or hybrid course to determine whether it is an effective means of learning or not.


Based on the data presented, it can be seen that while online E-learning has its advantages in terms of its convenience for both schools and students, the fact remains that it has several problems that detract from its overall usability. The social isolation, the lack of attention, and the resulting loss of motivation all affect the way in students in online courses perform, and as such, it isn’t surprising that such courses have a higher attrition rate when compared to both hybrid and purely on campus courses. Hybrid courses, on the other hand, have shown to be an ideal mixture of both online and on-campus methodologies in terms of the convenience it provides as well as facilitating the social experiences that were initially missing from online courses. Evidence of the effectiveness of this particular teaching method was seen not only seen in the Xu and Jaggars (2011) experiment but in others as well, which showed that attrition rates for hybrid course takers were on the same level as those who were taking their courses on the campus itself. Based on these findings, it is recommended that future studies evaluate the true effectiveness of online courses and actually attempt a gradual transition towards hybrid lessons for nearly all cases except those that cannot adapt to the hybrid course schedule.

Reference List

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