The Pros and Cons of Various Course Delivery Formats: Face-to-Face, Online, Hybrid/Blended Online
In this blog I summarize my experiences of teaching classes in various delivery formats (online, blended/ flipped/ hybrid and face-to-face) and the relative strengths and weaknesses of each. Teaching or taking a class in a certain delivery format can sometimes be a choice, and I hope that sharing my experiences may help some of you to make a better choice as instructors or learners.
Face-to-Face: A traditional class format where instructor and students meet in a classroom face-to-face. Lectures and activities are all done in the classroom (or laboratory) with additional assignment done by students outside the classroom. A learning management system (LMS) may be used to organize and deliver content to students, and used to collect student work.
Pros: All students and faculty are used to this format and there is not much of a learning curve for either the instructor or learner in terms of how it is supposed to work. An instructor has ample time face-to-face with students to deliver lectures, interact with them about the material, and carry out active learning activities. Tests can be scheduled during class time and all students are expected to attend classes, and thus be in geographic proximity of the class location. Students can easily engage in any hands-on or laboratory exercises and interact with each other and the instructor and benefit from the mutual rapport.
Cons: The classes offer the least flexibility in terms of how and when students watch lectures and the requirement to be within the geographical proximity of the class location. Most lectures are not recorded and do not give the students a chance to revisit the content again if they need to in the same form (class notes are typically a more abbreviated form). Typically working adults and others who do not have enough time to attend regular scheduled classes find it difficult to keep up with the class. Some students also may find the class pace to be too slow of fast and do not have the means to have it adjusted to their desired pace. For example, students needing remedial work and students who somehow know the material already still have to work through together at the same pace with others.
Fully Online: A class that is completely taught online with no expectation for a learner to be at any campus of the institution offering the class. All components of the class have been designed such that a student can complete it remotely through the learning management system (LMS) and other embedded tools.
Pros: Offers the most flexibility to learners they may be at any geographic location can still take the class provided that they have adequate internet connectivity. Such classes also tend to self-paced and each learner can move at a pace to their linking to some extent. These classes also align well with the concept of separating design and delivery, where an online class can be designed very thoughtfully and methodically the first time, and then subsequently can be delivered by others with perhaps a lot less experience. That is, the quality of the content becomes more important than the “coordinators” of the class.
Cons: The biggest con of a fully online class can be the lack of instructor contact. Some students absolutely thrive on the personal touch of an instructor and face-to-face interactions with them. This type of class also requires student to be very self-motivated, and able to push themselves along. Students who are perhaps less mature, and need more handholding, can find themselves moving around aimlessly in this format. They would prefer a well-structured classroom format, where turning up physically for class would often times be a significant part of their responsibility. The fully online format also has challenges in scheduling students to take tests. Tests given online through the LMS are prone to cheating and very difficult to monitor. Proctoring agencies such as ProctorU are fast becoming a good alternative where students can give a test at a nearby proctoring agency. These however involve additional costs and eats away at the flexibility offered by online classes. In some disciplines, some components are very difficult to convert to online exercises. For example, many laboratory exercises in Engineering required hands-on interaction with real hardware making it impossible for these to be offered online, at least for now.,
Blended/hybrid: A class that includes both face-to-face and online components blended together to achieve learner outcomes. A common approach with such classes is the “flipped classroom” format where most lectures are online and class time is used for discussions, problem solving, tests, and other activities that may require significant learner-learner or learner-instructor interactions (such as active learning activities).
Pros: This format allows can provide the “best of both” formats (online and face-to-face) by combining them. Learners get some flexibility in when and at what pace they watch lectures. Those desiring face-to-face interaction with instructors also get a chance to do that. Tests and other activities that are preferably done face-to-face can now be done during class time. Learners also feel less disoriented when they begin a class as an instructor can walk them through the class during their meeting time. For instructors, this format can allow them to use class time for supplemental activities that aid learning, leaving students to watch any lectures themselves online. Further, online modules can be customized for individual learners if some need remedial work, ensuring their time in the classroom is spent more usefully.
Cons: The hybrid format also can end up being the “worst of both” formats. It has reduced flexibility compared to a fully online class and will make geographical proximity to the institution offering the class important. Further, those students who are self-motivated and good at self-paced learning may prefer the fully online format. Similarly, those students who want more instructor interaction may prefer a face-to-face class due to limited interaction time. The design of the online modules and lectures still require a significant investment of time.