Future of Higher Education: Fully Shift to Hybrid Model by 2025

The full shift to a blended teaching and learning model for higher education will become effective by 2025, according to a new report.

The pandemic acted as a catalyst to change the higher education landscape accelerating online learning adoption. Chief Online Officers (COOs) who took part in the CHLOE 7: Tracking Online Learning from Mainstream Acceptance to Universal Adoption, The Changing Landscape of Online Education report indicated that student interest in online learning has increased substantially in the past two years. The majority of COOs predict that is a trend that will continue to grow in the next several years.

During the survey, COOs were asked to project the prevailing modes of learning at their institutions toward the year 2025. Most respondents predict that the majority of students at all levels will be “combining on-ground and online experiences through a variety of blended and hybrid formats at both the course and program level.” 

Having the right infrastructure, staff, and resources to support online learning are paramount as well as counting with the policies, training, services, and quality assurance measures in place or under development to assure faculty competency and student success in the hybrid environment. COOs’ answers were very varied. Some indicated their institutions have made progress in many of these areas, and some reflected on gaps and challenges.

According to the report, over half of responding COOs believe that meeting the anticipated undergraduate online demand at their institution will require realignment of institutional strategy and priorities; and some see unresolved tensions between long-standing priorities and shifting student demand. 

Integration of services for online students

Regarding online services that support the online learner, CHLOE 7 found a trend toward handling many online services centrally. According to the report, an increase in the integration of services for online and campus students may reflect the fact that students themselves increasingly bridge between the two delivery modes. Course/program design and development, program marketing, student recruitment, and market research are least integrated. The survey also found a 17 percent increase in staffing levels over the past two years in key roles for online success such as instructional designers, educational technologists, advisers, and coaches. 

Just three services: Proctoring, market research, and program marketing reported a majority of the CHLOE 7 sample with at least a measure of outsourcing. Proctoring and market research are the only online learning services that respondents cited majority outsourcing. Schools with larger online enrollment cited extensive outsourcing of proctoring and student authentication services.

Hybrid still lacks definition

As per the survey, COOs expect that hybrid models will characterize the anticipated experience for the vast majority of students regardless of type, providing a balance between online and on-campus. But what do we mean by ‘hybrid’ education? Some institutions define their model as hybrid when their school offers “majority campus, some online.” Some others define it as “majority online, some campus.” Yet, there is a wide range between those two. The majority of COOs who took part in the survey, representing 40 percent, agree that campus and online will be in balance. Whereas 11 percent think online will dominate.

COOs anticipate further growth in online student interest by 2025

Regardless of student type, Traditional-ages undergraduates, adult undergraduates, or graduate students, 70 to 80 percent of online leaders said that as of Fall 2021, students have been more interested in online learning compared to two years prior. Fifty one percent of COOs at community colleges cited a much higher student interest, and those at private four-year institutions least likely, accounting for 30 percent. 

When leaders were asked what student online interest at their institution might look like in Fall 2025 compared to Fall 2021, the response was “more online interest” is anticipated with 77 to 89 percent of respondents expecting online interest among their students to continue to grow. 

Online leaders are suggesting an increased awareness and openness among students to online learning. However, “online learning” is a broad term with multiple definitions ranging from materials to courses to programs. Data collected on student attitudes suggest enduring instincts about campus appeal and online limitations mainly among traditional-aged undergraduates. According to the report, students want more online options and more flexibility. But that does not mean they want to completely reject the campus. 

In other words, embracing forms of hybrid, multiple and evolving, are the way forward for the typical student. And that is where 2025 will find us. 

The full CHLOE 7 report can be found here