Often there seems to be an “either/or” approach to taking online and face-to-face (F2F) classes. Some students may want the full campus experience of pursuing a degree at a traditional brick and mortar institution, while others want the convenience and flexibility of elearning. Some programs also offer a blended format in which classes are a mixture of both modalities. There may be a classroom meeting once a week, for instance, with much of the course taking place online. Students may also find that their F2F professors make use of available technology for various activities as well.
Given that both options have advantages for learners that potential employers will find appealing, college students should take both online and F2F courses. Here are four benefits college students can obtain by blending these two modalities.
Enhanced Communication Skills
Meredith Findling, Resource Manager at Kavalir, provided a list of the “top ten skills employers are looking for” (12 June, 2012). At the top of the list are communication skills, and Findling stated, “Being a clear, concise and effective communicator is critical in the workplace.” In fact, she explained, being able to demonstrate such skills will place college graduates ahead of other applicants. However, virtual and traditional education emphasize different aspects of communication skills that can be harnessed for improvement and gainful employment after graduation.
Many businesses and professions are becoming increasingly global, necessitating the need for holding telephone conferences, online meetings, and other such activities perhaps among a diverse group of people spread across the globe. Online courses provide an opportunity for students to develop increasing skills in this virtual communication context that almost has no boundaries; therefore, better preparing them for the workplace. Furthermore, online classes require a lot more reading and writing than F2F ones by their very nature. As students complete their assignments, they also increase their skills in written communication. For example, students must read and navigate the course site, follow directions, compose responses, and other such activities.
However, students should keep in mind that even jobs that are remote typically require some in-person events. Employees may have to interview at a company’s home office in person or attend and present at meetings. A F2F course will provide you with practice interacting with others, presenting using the latest technology to share your ideas, and honing your speaking and listening skills.
By combining the benefits of both online and brick and mortar classes, students obtain the communication skills employers are seeking and demonstrate that they can function in either world, the electronic and the human.
Increased Digital Fluency
Findling places “technical skills” at number five on the list of skills employers are looking for. She explained that “most jobs require an understanding of computer hardware and software; including e-mail, word processing and spreadsheets” (12 June, 2012). To see how important this is, review the World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report 2012: Living in a Hyperconnected World. The report covers in detail how rapidly technology is “deeply redefining relationships between individuals, consumers and enterprises, and citizens and governments.” From the individual country sections, you will notice that there is almost no way to avoid needing to become digital fluent in the global economy.
Online classes provide students with full immersion into this virtual world. Students must be able to access the course, utilize its features fully, and perform a host of other tasks online. As students advance through the curriculum, they also continually augment their technical skills, becoming increasingly fluent. Elearning offers students a chance to demonstrate what they can do utilizing technology.
On the other hand, F2F classes clearly don’t offer students as much time to hone their skills online. However, they, too, offer some advantages. For example, there has been a tendency to stereotype students into two groups: 1) digital natives, or those born after the start of the Information Age in the late 1980s; and 2) digital immigrants, those born before the start of the Information Age. The assumption is that because the digital immigrants grew up with technology, they are more tech savvy.
However, recent research indicates that the natives may not be as fluent with technology as assumed (c.f. Perez, S., “So-Called ‘Digital Natives’ Not Media Savvy, New Study Shows.” The New York Times. 29 July, 201). The reverse also may be true. The brains of the so-called digital immigrants may rewire themselves for better utilization of technology (e.g., Small, G. et al., “Your Brain on Google: Patterns of Cerebral Activation during Internet Searching.” The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 17(2), February 2009).
Therefore, one of the advantages of a F2F course is that it provides students some in-person, real time guidance on developing tech skills, such as number two on Findling’s list, “electronic research and analytical skills.” A F2F gathering also provides students with the opportunity to utilize the technology synchronously as a team rather than in isolation from a home computer.
Taking courses in both modalities will help students increase their level of digital fluency.
Another basic but important distinction is in professional networking. Online courses often have a student make-up from a large, possibly even global area. For example, students in virtual classes may come from locations around the United States, soldiers stationed overseas, foreign students residing in other countries, etc. These students may have opportunities to participate in class activities with businesses around the nation and the world as well. Therefore, they are already learning how to connect with others globally and virtually.
Traditional brick and mortar courses tend to be more localized or regional. Students may be taking classes with a fairly homogenous group of peers who come from the same town or state. There may be no interaction with others beyond this area. However, this does have some advantages as students will be getting to know others in or near their own communities.
By blending the online and F2F courses, you will be better networked at the local, regional, and global levels. This should increase your odds at finding gainful employment.
Finally, last month, Forbes contributor Meghan Casserly reported on a study in which 86% of 1,200 large companies said they look for “professionalism” in potential employees. The remaining traits on Findling’s list explain what this means. Employers want college graduates who can work alone or within a team, possess a good ethical compass, be consistently flexible and adaptable, and demonstrate planning and project management skills.
Because students must be self-motivated and disciplined to succeed in an online course—there is no professor standing over them to help them stay on task, virtual learning provides an excellent way to build these skills and demonstrate them for employers. Students must be able to plan their time and course projects in order to do well. In short, online classes demonstrate that a student can be a professional who can work independently and without direct supervision.
On the other hand, F2F classes show potential employers that a student has learned the attributes of professionalism as part of a team. Students may work in-person with others to plan, manage, and complete a project. Students should be able to explain what their role on the team was and how the workload was balanced to accomplish their goal.
While individual professors and programs may blend F2F with electronic delivery of a course, it remains important for students to opt for a mixture of both modalities. Doing so will bring you the skills that potential employers are seeking at a high level. By mixing both online and F2F courses, students can develop the skills of professionalism that employers are looking for in an employee. Therefore, this should help increase their chances of finding gainful employment after graduation.
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