Ithaka Says Hybrid Courses as Good as Traditional Model

Ithaka S+R has released the results of a randomized study comparing outcomes between a traditional teaching approach at the university level and university courses using a “hybrid” methodology of machine-guided instruction, developed at Carnegie Mellon University, which includes one meeting with an instructor each week.

Deanna Marcum, the Managing Director for Ithaka S+R, called the results remarkable. She points out that the findings, which came about after looking at outcomes at six public universities, showed plainly that student results were similar between the two approaches — yet the hybrid approach provided additional benefits to each school such as cost savings and productivity gains over time.

We used a strictly quantitative methodology to compare the two learning approaches in a rigorous way. In six different public institutions, we arranged for the same introductory statistics course to be taught. In each instance, a “control” group was enrolled in a traditional classroom-based course; then, a “treatment” group took a hybrid course using a prototype machine-guided mode of instruction developed at Carnegie Mellon University in concert with one face-to-face meeting each week. Students were assigned to these two groups by means of a carefully designed randomization methodology.

The authors attempted to answer a number of questions:

Can well-designed courses with online components with a limit number of meetings between students and professors replace a traditional introductory course that relies on large lectures that regularly host hundreds of students?

In addition to general student outcomes, how well do hybrid classes service typically underperforming demographic groups such as minority students and those who come from low-income families?

Do hybrid courses work as well for well-prepared students as for those who are less well-prepared?

More research is needed. Even though the analysis was rigorous, it was a single course. We need to learn more about the adaptability of existing platforms for offering other courses in different environments. Ithaka S+R is committed to continuing this research and sharing our findings broadly.

We look forward to continuing to engage with all those who care about higher education to help deliver on the potential that new technologies provide.

To ensure the study’s quality, researchers undertook to conduct a number of pilot studies in order to figure out what would be the best approach to take in the main research phase scheduled to run in the fall of 2011. The pilots run in a number of schools in the spring semester of 2011 allowed authors not only to identify which metrics would be most suitable for measurement, but also how to structure the study to ensure an impartial outcome.