Question: How Do Blended and Hybrid Graduate Certificate Programs Differ from Online Graduate Certificate Programs?
Answer: The primary difference between blended or hybrid graduate certificate programs and online graduate certificate programs involves the number of campus-based requirements. A blended or hybrid graduate certificate program is a program that offers some of its coursework online but which requires students to attend a significant number of campus-based classes. In contrast, online programs provide all or most of their coursework via online instruction. While there are no set guidelines that schools must follow when naming or classifying their programs as online, hybrid or on-campus, GraduateCertificates.com classifies programs that require more than three campus visits per year as blended/hybrid programs. Programs that offer all of their instruction online and programs that require three or fewer campus visits per year are classified as online programs.
Blended and hybrid are broad descriptive terms used to denote academic programs that consist of a mix of online and campus-based instruction. As there is currently no fixed definition of what constitutes a blended or a hybrid program, the proportion of online vs. campus-based coursework in these programs varies by school and by program. Some blended/hybrid graduate certificate programs offer several courses in an online format and several courses in a traditional, campus-based setting. Other programs have courses which combine online and in-person instruction in which students review course materials and interact with classmates online (for example, through discussion forums), while also attending some face-to-face classes on campus.
Graduate certificate programs are generally structured to accommodate students who are working full time while attending school, so a common structure for a program that uses hybrid instruction might involve weekly online readings and assignments coupled with campus-based meetings on the weekends. These face-to-face sessions may happen weekly, once a month, or on a few Saturdays throughout the semester or term, depending on the program and the specific course/instructor. However, because there is no set ratio of in-person to online instruction that determines whether a program is hybrid/blended or online, students should consult with their programs of interest to determine any in-person requirements for programs that mention hybrid instruction.
Online vs. Hybrid/Blended Graduate Certificate Programs
In contrast, online graduate certificate programs consist of programs that have no campus-based requirements and programs that use online instruction for most of their classes but which hold a limited number of on-campus instructional sessions that students are required to attend. These sessions can be as short as two or three days or as long as a week to ten days and are generally used to provide students with learning opportunities that benefit from in-person instruction. For example, some online programs hold campus-based orientations at the start of a program in order to introduce students to instructors and familiarize them with the school’s online learning platform. Campus visits are also commonly used by online programs for workshops, seminars, networking opportunities, and final project presentations.
While blended/hybrid programs are designed to provide students who live near a school’s campus with a more convenient and flexible alternative to a fully campus-based graduate certificate program, these programs are generally not a practical option for students who do not live within commuting range of the school offering the program and who are not able to relocate in order to be closer the school. Online graduate certificate programs, even online programs that require one, two, or three campus visits, are typically designed for students who do not live in the immediate geographical area of the school offering the program (although local students are often able to attend online as well).
Students who cannot afford the travel expenses or the time away from home that campus visits entail should look for online programs that do not have any campus-based requirements. Students who like the idea of being able to visit a school’s campus, meet with instructors face-to-face, and interact with other students in person should look for online programs that include one or more campus visits. Finally, students who would like the option of being able to enroll in online courses and campus-based courses should look for programs that offer courses in multiple formats (e.g., online, hybrid, on campus) and which give students the flexibility to choose between online and in-person instruction.
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