Students engage on campus in a hybrid course togetherFor more than a decade, hybrid courses have become increasingly prevalent in the higher education landscape. Often called blended courses, hybrids blend traditional in-seat classroom components with online course components, offering students the best of both worlds. Students attend class in-seat (typically once a week) and engage daily with their classmates and instructor through discussion groups, readings and assignments through the online component.

Known for keeping pace with innovative modes of learning, Columbia College began offering hybrid courses in 2009. With more than 5,000 Columbia College students at Nationwide campuses opting for at least one hybrid since then, the popularity of these courses among adult students is growing.


Columbia College-Crystal Lake in Illinois surveyed its students and found that conflicting work and family obligations made it difficult for adult students to attend class more than one night per week. The result was in-seat courses that met once a week from 5-10 p.m.

“Anyone who has sat through anything for five hours can testify that it is painful in more ways than one,” says Debra Hartman, who has been director of the Crystal Lake campus since 2009 and teaches classes there, as well. “Students have often worked all day before coming to class, making the five-hour stretch trying. Even the best instructors have difficulty making solid use of that last hour of a five-hour class.”

Offering more hybrid courses allows classes to meet once a week for a more manageable three-hour stretch and typically with a later start time, making it easier for working students to get to class.

The Crystal Lake campus began offering its first hybrid class in March 2011. Today, more than 80 percent of the campus’s courses are hybrid.

According to Hartman, the online component allows classmates and instructors to interact throughout the week, rather than once a week.

Crystal Lake student Elizabeth Trunda enjoys the convenience of hybrid courses. Working most evenings and weekends, the online component allows her to take exams online in her own time.

“Hybrid courses allow for classroom time to be very focused,” says Trunda. “Rather than sitting in class to take exams, my instructors use that time to help the class to understand how the material is relevant to the work world and to understand more challenging material.”

The way of the future

MarJean Knokey, director of Columbia College-Whidbey Island in Washington state, notes that the hybrid format soon will be the norm rather than the exception in higher education.

“Take a few minutes researching higher education and hybrid classes, and you will find hundreds of articles on the subject. It is the future.”

Knokey, who has been in higher education for nearly 40 years and director of the Whidbey Island campus since 2003, points to one such article in the “International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning.” The article shows that student academic performance in hybrid courses was as good as and sometimes better than in-seat courses.

New dimensions of learning

“Never before have there been four generations in the classroom,” says Jewly Harris, director of the Columbia College-Salt Lake City campus since 2000. “You have the Matures or Traditionalists born before World War II, the Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials. This provides a real opportunity for growth, learning and change between generations.”

In other words, the generation gap is alive and well. Hybrid classes offer the ability for students of different generations to bridge that gap. It can also help students no matter their primary mode of communication or education.

Elisa Asare, 28, Salt Lake campus student and administrative assistant at the campus, recently took a hybrid international business course. Among her classmates were an older generation of international students.

“The international students were seasoned business owners in their home countries, so it was extremely informative and really fun,” says Asare. “It was challenging but I feel like I have learned more than I could have asked for.”

While the offering of hybrid courses continues to grow at Columbia College, the advantages for the busy adult student juggling work and home life are evident.

“The transformation to hybrid is like watching ballroom dancing,” Knokey relates. “In short, all aspects of higher education have met at a crossroads, with technology, students and faculty in a beautiful waltz.”