Online+: A standards-based approach to hybrid learning

Award Winner: 
2014 Sloan-C Effective Practice Award
Author Information
Heather Zink
Kathe Kacheroski
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Rasmussen College
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

A standards-based framework is used to in Online+ course developments as a guide for the selection of the optimal learning environment as it pertains to synchronous and asynchronous instructional strategies.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

Rasmussen College uses a variety of instructional models to provide optimal learning environments for our diverse student population. Online+ is a model we use to offer a blended learning experience for students taking some of our online courses. Online+ courses are those in which a live classroom experience is embedded within the structural of the course as a part of the instructional strategies utilized within that online course. Research tells us that hybrid courses appeal to learners who want to capitalize on the benefits of real-time instruction, whether residential or virtual, but also need to process information on their own through online instructional elements and assessments. With the goal to provide a truly unique blended learning environment, we needed to develop a framework for the selection of courses appropriate for Online+ delivery. The result was a standards-based approach we call the Hybrid Framework.

The Hybrid Framework outlines the following:
--Curriculum Standards (criteria for course selection): What types of student outcomes best lend themselves to live instruction?
--Instructional Standards (thoughtful course design): How can we utilize various parts of the digital platforms we have to accomplish the desired outcomes?
--Teaching Standards (focused on faculty delivery): How do we empower faculty to make solid decisions around course delivery techniques? Can we align top faculty across the College-system to maximize student exposure to industry experts?

In the Pre-Development phase of Course Development, decisions are made by School Deans and their teams into the most optimal learning environment for a given set of course outcomes. As Rasmussen strives to maintain consistency across all campuses through a standardized course curriculum, decisions regarding modality offerings are made at this phase of Course Development. The Hybrid Framework standards guide the decision-making during the Pre-Development phase of the course design process – curriculum level, instructional design, and teaching standards for a given course. Establishing research-based, data-driven policies for designing hybrid courses is creating confidence in the use of the framework, helping to formulate a plan for measuring the success of the course, and communicating clear expectations at all levels of the organization.

Standards are set at all phases of the course design process to help the School Dean/Instructional Designer/Subject Matter ExpertTeam make informative choices. Hybrid courses offer a mix of real-time activities and online elements in the course design strategy. This framework guides the selection of courses specified for hybrid delivery, the types of activities/assessments to include in the appropriate classroom setting, as well as standards for faculty teaching these types of courses.

A: Curriculum Standards (for the selection of courses)
GOAL: To create a purposeful alignment of the learning experience, examining the desired student outcomes will drive the decision-making process surrounding the optimal learning environment.

Educational benefits to student learning exist in a real-time learning session. What outcomes can be achieved through a live meeting, whether it be physically in the same room or virtually through the use of web cameras? Such outcomes are:
--Establishing peer-to-peer connections to create a community of learners
--Simulating real-world human interaction
--Creating a space for real-time problem solving activities
--Providing hands-on experiences to interact with course content
--Keeping current with field-related trends

If the desired outcomes presented above are part of the curriculum of the selected course, Online+ course delivery strategies should be employed to maximize the student learning potential and assist in achieving the course outcome.

B: Instructional Standards (for the course design)
GOAL: Creates consistency in the curriculum -- with clear objectives, instructional techniques can be employed to accomplish the desired outcomes.

After a course is selected for the Online+ approach, specific elements within the course design must clearly present the types of learning to take place asynchronously and those elements which can be tackled with a synchronous learning session. Questions to consider within the course design process are –
· What is the purpose/objective of the synchronous learning activity?
· What is the assessment for the student during/following the synchronous learning activity? A STUDENT ROLE IN THE SYNCHRONOUS SESSION MUST BE PRESENT.
· How will the lesson plan be designed to assist faculty in delivery of the synchronous session? What presentation materials will be included in the Instructor Guide (PowerPoints, PDF files to share)?

Options to consider for the location of course activities
Suggested Real-Time Activities includes demonstration of a technique or process (where live questioning is most beneficial), live group discussion or role-play, problem-solving/case study scenarios, student presentations requiring live Q&A, as well as others. Suggested online activities (asynchronous) include readings, vocabulary introduction & practice, quiz/assignment submission, video content, and others.

C: Teaching Standards (for faculty delivery)
GOAL: To empower faculty with information to make good decisions around course delivery techniques.

In a standardized course delivery process, faculty need guidelines to follow and must be given clear expectations for the synchronous learning session. Lesson plans are created during the course design phase and guide the types of content and activities addressed within the live learning experience. Additional guidance is also provided in the form of an Instructional Guide specific to the course surrounding the logistics of when to hold the session, what tools to utilize in the virtual classroom tool, how to handle attendance in the session, and preparing students for the live class.

Presentation materials are provided in all Online+ courses to offer the faculty member a starting point for content. They can use these materials or adapt them as they like to meet the weekly course objectives. Faculty conduct these sessions as part of their own office hour time, so no additional prep load is needed to teach an Online+ course as the live instruction time is built into the weekly lesson.

Faculty are also provided with the training they need within the course, as well as for effective virtual classroom teaching. A combination of live workshops with an informational training guide permit faculty to learn at their own pace and then attend live events to practice their skills.

No matter what type of institution you come from or who initiates the course design discussion (faculty-driven or instructional design teams), a standards-based approach is applicable. The Hybrid Framework can help institutions of higher education improve the quality of instruction by creating a set of standards, or decision-making strategies, on which to develop courses. Through the standards, you can create a sustainable framework in which creativity can thrive.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

The process of including a synchronous learning session within courses has been occurring since Fall 2011 demonstrating an increase in student satisfaction (via qualitative course survey feedback), as well as an improved student success rates quarter over quarter & year over year. Development English improved pass rates 9.3% from the previous quarter and 9.2% from the previous year during Winter '14 term. Development Math improved 2.2% over the previous quarter and 5.5% over the previous year in students passing the course. Students also continually request an Online+ course as they would love to see live classroom interaction including within all of their online courses. Rasmussen is working to develop over 15 Online+ courses per term over the next several years.

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

Learning Effectiveness: Through the use of a standards-based framework, a quality learning experience is designed to promote student learning in the optimal environment -- live or asynchronous. With a blended approach to learning, we have now been able to simulate the face2face classroom experience of a residential course in an online environment. Students gain real-world experience of teleconference technology that will prepare them to survive in a mobile, global work environment. We use the curriculum, instructional, and teaching standards as a way to solve teaching & learning problems on a broad level. The framework is organized into logical questions to be asked as strategic points in the course development process thereby contributing to an innovative learning environment where creativity can flourish through an instructor.

Student Satisfaction: Online+ course design increases student/faculty interaction a traditionally asynchronous environment. Through the use of virtual classroom technology, students can participate in the live classrooms from the convenience of their home or work environment, basically anywhere, even from a mobile phone or tablet, using the virtual classroom mobile app. They also have a choice in attending the live experience or viewing a recorded version of the session if live attendance is not possible in a given week. Online+ provides online students with increased support, permitting our institution to attract learners who are not ready for completely asynchronous, self-paced online courses. Students continually request more live classroom experiences be added to their remaining online courses. This demonstrates the desire for real-time connections within a sometimes isolating course environment.

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Heather Zink
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Effective Practice Contact 2: 
Kathe Kacheroski
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