Eduventures Summit 2022 Preview: Debating Higher Education’s Delivery Mode
“Delivery mode” is a curious term: it has a technical air and might not be immediately understood by the average American or even the average college student. A simple distinction is between campus programs and online ones. But everything is now more complicated.
The pandemic thrust remote learning and home working center stage. As higher education leaders work to shore up enrollment and placate restless faculty and staff, delivery mode is suddenly more confusing, contested, and important than ever. Looking ahead, will it be back to business-as-usual with campus-online bifurcations or something new?
This is the subject of my keynote at Eduventures Summit 2022, June 15-17 in Boston. Here’s a sneak-peek at what I’m going to be talking about…
For most schools, neither the campus norm nor an online brave new world is a realistic strategy. For all its strengths, the traditional campus experience, whether residential or commuter, can be experientially limiting and inconvenient for students. Students value the campus, but also crave immersive experiences elsewhere, such as study abroad and internships. With inflation rampant, colleges need to leverage technology and other settings to lower cost.
Fully online programming has been an enrollment bright spot in recent years, but favors brand and scale. It will be increasingly difficult for the average institution to compete against the name-recognition and marketing budgets of the biggest players. Schools that did well online over the past decade are struggling to maintain—let alone grow—market share. Now that R1 universities are getting comfortable online, at least at the master’s level and in non-degree programs, the unstoppable combination of biggest and best is already here. (For adult undergraduates, fully online checks the convenience box but remains suboptimal in terms of student experience and outcomes).
As we recently wrote, colleges must compete on their true assets and on what competitors cannot offer, such as regionalized content, special resources, and in-person experiences.
Hybrid, the creative combination of delivery modes, is the underappreciated, underdeveloped, head-spinning but potentially game-changing answer: to better meet student needs and help schools thrive.
But what the @#$* is hybrid?
We define “hybrid” as the combination of campus, online, and other settings. But because the essence of hybrid is amalgamation, the real question is what elements to combine and how best to combine them.
That is what makes hybrid both exciting and unnerving. Figure 1 lays out some possibilities.
To arrive at an optimal delivery mode for a given purpose, multiple options must be considered. This Delivery Mode Toolkit is designed to apply to any level or field of study. Some clarifications:
- Wider Definition of Delivery Mode. Figure 1 proposes Co-Curricular and Workplace as delivery modes alongside the conventional “campus” and “online.” This treats all four as learning settings rather than a jumble of categories. Delivery modes may overlap, such as an online course taken in a workplace or study abroad on a college campus.
- Not a Hierarchy. More transactional learning can have efficiency and convenience advantages and is well-suited to certain learning activities (e.g., review of standard material). Immersion can enhance learning but may be a poor setting for reflection and synthesis and may not always be practical. Most learning activities have elements of transaction and immersion.
- Family Resemblances. Learning activities on the same level horizontally in Figure 1 are not exact equivalents but indicative of the transaction-immersion range within that delivery mode. Pedagogic techniques, such as active or problem-based learning, add color to delivery mode. Institutional identity, spanning academic, religious, ethnic, or gender distinctions, is influential.
The starting point is that most students spend their time in only a handful of spaces in Figure 1.
Pre-pandemic, the majority of college students were either primarily campus-based or wholly online. Some institutions and programs encompassed elements of the Co-Curricular and Workplace columns as formal learning opportunities, but it was often left to individual students to engage or not. Income and connections often stratified opportunity.
Mid-pandemic, many campus students (not to mention faculty and institutions) had a crash course in (typically synchronous) online learning, opening a sense of wider, if still fuzzy, possibility.
“Hybrid” is the opportunity to think more systematically about the power and potential of intentional delivery mode and learning activity combinations.
The Bottom Line
One delivery mode is not inherently “better” than another. A live seminar is great for extended conversation in a small group, while a service-learning project may prove most effective at grounding abstract notions. Purpose and context matter. But too often in higher education, delivery mode is relegated to habit or personal preference rather than pedagogic intention or brand.
We must debate delivery mode.
In my Summit keynote, I will review the latest data on delivery mode trends and preferences in higher education, and look at selected institutions, programs, and initiatives committed to innovative learning activity and delivery mode combinations.
Please join me at Eduventures Summit 2022, back after three years, live and in-person in Boston, June 15-17!
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