In-person and remote learning arrangements each offer educational benefits, but both methodologies present certain challenges. Fully in-person programs can face potential complications around accessibility, but fully remote learning models may lack social and emotional connection, in-person networking opportunities and access to all campus resources and facilities.
Blended learning or hybrid learning models combine the benefits of in-person and remote methodologies while mitigating the potential harms, but, before we go any further, allow me to define some key terms:
- "In-person learning" refers to any educational model in which students regularly convene in-person (or face to face) in a shared space with other classmates and a professor.
- "Remote learning" refers to any educational model in which students complete a degree or certificate program completely online.
- Remote learning models can be synchronous or asynchronous. In synchronous remote learning, students attend live virtual class sessions together with the professor via software such as Zoom or Google Meet. In asynchronous remote learning, students access learning materials online at their own pace with no live virtual class element. Traditionally, asynchronous classes are what we think of when we say, "online class" or "online school," but full-time remote learning during the pandemic popularized the synchronous model as well.
- "Hybrid learning" refers to the combination of in-person and remote learning methodologies.
Now, let’s explore the benefits of in-person learning, the benefits of remote learning, and how the union of these two models uniquely maximizes the advantages and minimizes potential harms.
The Benefits of In-Person Learning
Three core advantages of the in-person learning model are social and emotional connection and development, access to all campus and facilities and resources and networking opportunities.
Physically attending classes on campus allows students to form deeper personal connections with professors and classmates. This element of social support can be critical for students struggling with coursework or their personal lives. Attending virtual office hours is an option that some institutions offer, but being able to sit down with your professor, look over your assignment, and work side-by-side on addressing any issues is an experience that’s hard to replicate in a digital format. For those struggling with personal issues, sitting with a classmate, mentor, or friend to have a private conversation, process an issue, or work towards a solution allows us to feel seen and heard. Fostering that same level of emotional connection can be difficult online.
Furthermore, forming study groups with like-minded classmates and attending class in-person promotes personal care and accountability in ways that virtual work may not. It’s one thing to Zoom in to a group meeting with your camera off while you’re half asleep, but it’s another thing entirely to get up, get dressed, and arrive to class prepared to make progress rather than to merely check in for attendance.
Working with professors and classmates in-person also contributes to the development of professional soft skills in ways that virtual learning cannot. Giving a virtual presentation is not the same as standing in front of a room full of your peers, presenting your research, and advocating for your position.
Access to campus facilities and resources is another major bonus of attending a program in-person. For example, FIU’s campus offers hands-on, experiential learning opportunities like working in our Sales Lab, participating in professional industry simulations with other students, and more. These resources, exercises, and campus facilities such as study rooms and libraries compel many students to choose fully in-person degree programs.
Finally, networking opportunities exist virtually, but it’s hard to replace the impact of an in-person introduction with an email. Forbes surveyed executives from several organizations and found that eight out 10 prefer in-person contact instead of virtual for business. 85% of those surveyed like in-person business meetings more because they can "build stronger, more meaningful business relationships," and 77% prefer in-person business meetings because of the increased "ability to read body language and facial expressions."
It’s hard to replace the impact of an in-person introduction with an email.
Though there are many benefits to in-person learning, this model could pose some concerns in terms of logistics, especially for busy working professionals. It can be difficult to travel for work or leisure, balance work and school, take care of your family, rest if you’re sick, or honor other obligations with a fully in-person degree program. In-person programs can also be more expensive than remote programs, leading to potential accessibility issues.
That’s where remote learning comes in.
The Benefits of Remote Learning
Where the in-person learning model excels at fostering human interaction, the remote learning model thrives in facilitating flexibility and accessibility. It can be easier for busy professionals to balance travel, work, and a home/family life with a degree program that doesn’t require students to be physically on campus in regular intervals.
Remote learning (especially a-synchronous remote learning) offers a level of flexibility that’s frankly unachievable for fully in-person programs. You aren’t bound by geographical limits with fully remote programs. American students in northern states can attend virtual programs in the south, and students from all over the world can attend international virtual programs at their school of choice without unrealistic relocations. Asynchronous remote learning also allows you to work on your assignments at the most convenient time for you, making it much easier to balance a part- or full-time job with school.
In a remote program, you aren’t bound by the geographical or scheduling limitations in-person programs present.
In terms of accessibility, health, and safety, remote learning models offer an avenue for students who may be physically, mentally or financially unable to attend fully in-person programs to pursue their degree. The financial burden of regularly commuting to and from campus paired with tuition costs, program fees, and cost-of-living expenses prevents some students from attending fully in-person programs. Separately, some students have physical and/or mental health conditions that may prevent them from safely attending in-person programs. Remote learning models provide an accessible, safe alternative for these students to achieve their academic and professional goals.
How Hybrid Education Maximizes Benefits and Minimizes Harm
The main disadvantage of the fully in-person model is lack of accessibility, especially for those who cannot physically travel to campus with ease. The main disadvantages of the fully remote model are (1) lack of human connection, and (2) lack of access to all campus resources. Combining in-person and remote methodologies while observing health and safety guidelines allows for a more accessible and flexible program that also promotes deeper human connection and provides access to all campus facilities.
Let’s take FIU’s Professional MBA Flex (PMBA Flex) program for example.
The PMBA Flex program combines online classes and evening classes to allow busy working professionals an opportunity to pursue an MBA without interrupting their career. This model offers a flexible option for students who may not be able to attend regular in-person classes but still desire face to face interaction with their classmates and professors. Students in this program do not physically convene as often as students in other programs, but the class sessions that do meet in-person offer opportunities for networking and hands-on experience in the classroom.
For some students, fully in-person or fully remote will always be better than hybrid models. No matter what methodology you prefer, as long as you never stop learning, you’re setting yourself up for success.