Not all students are the same. From the ways they learn and study to the accessibility and financial support they may benefit from, learners often have varying needs that can impact their educational success. That’s why it’s important to consider how to provide additional tailored support to those who may need it.
In this blog post, we’re going to explore three different ways blended learning in higher education can help support lower-income students.
What is Blended Learning?
Blended learning, in the simplest terms, is traditional in-person teaching used together with online or virtual learning components in a complementary fashion. It differs from remote learning, which involves taking the entire educational process online.
For many higher education institutions, COVID-19 fast-tracked the adoption of a blended learning model. Although many colleges are resuming more regular in-person teaching, we anticipate blended learning will continue to be a household name in higher ed.
This is especially true when we realize the potential blended learning has to increase the accessibility of postsecondary education, particularly for lower-income students.
Blended Learning and the Digital Divide
While blended learning can present advantages for lower-income students, we recognize it’s not a catchall solution for everyone who finds the cost of college or university a challenge.
The digital divide—the fact that not everyone has equal access to technology, nor do they have the knowledge or skill to use it effectively—is not a new concept.
We also know that its impacts tend to be felt the most by already marginalized communities. Data from the Pew Research Center reveals that while 80% of white adults in the U.S. say they have home broadband, only 71% of Black adults and 67% of Hispanic adults say the same.
Although introducing online learning tools and pedagogies can ease access for more people, it’s important when adopting them to be mindful of the diversity of the student body.
With this in mind, let’s explore three ways to use blended learning to support lower-income students in higher education.
The Complete Guide to Blended Learning
Find out what blended learning is. Plus, discover benefits, challenges and examples of it.
1. Increase Support and Engagement
One way creating a blended learning environment in higher education can help lower-income students is through the increased engagement it can foster.
A study done in May 2020 by Global Strategy Group found that 48% of lower-income students said they would need increased academic support when returning to schooling after the pandemic.
Using online tools, a learning management system (LMS) included, can help educators bridge those gaps. Analyzing LMS-provided data can help flag at-risk or unengaged students and allows instructors to intervene with personalized feedback and guidance before the situation escalates.
For example, Northeastern Technical College (NETC) is on a mission to empower students from underserved communities using the data and analytics it tracked through D2L Brightspace™.
“We’ve added features to our Brightspace platform that allow faculty to see everything they need on one screen. So for example, they can identify students who aren’t performing well or who aren’t attending their course on a regular basis,” said Derk Riechers, director of multiple modalities at NETC. “For students who are at risk, we can bring in our student services or dean of students to do additional advising, guidance and tutoring.”
2. Provide the Right Tech and Software
As mentioned before, the digital divide can stand in the way when it comes to providing students—especially those with lower incomes—with access to the technology required to support blended learning.
Respondents in a global survey examining digital learning in higher education found one of the biggest barriers to online learning was the inability to access the required tech or reliable internet.
Implementing a blended learning model in college can help push institutions to find viable solutions to these problems and provide better access for all students.
Colleges can, for example, consider programs to provide or loan equipment to students who may not otherwise be able to access it. In the fall of 2021, eight schools from the California State University system did this. They identified the technology that would best help students learning online and loaned it out to those who needed it.
Another benefit of blended learning is that institutions can leverage technology such as an LMS that uses responsive design—the ability for course content to have a consistent look and feel on any device. This can help increase access for students who may not be able to get their hands on the latest smartphones or laptops.
During the COVID-19 pandemic and the push toward online learning, 46% of low-income students found they were missing the connection with their friends, classmate and instructors.
One of the ways using blended learning in a university can help overcome this feeling of loneliness is by fostering community among faculty and students.
Offering discussion groups online can help nurture the sense of community that’s started through in-person instruction. Students can participate in discussions when and where it’s convenient for them, continuing to build relationships outside the lecture hall.
Faculty can also help create a sense of community with their students by offering both in-person and online one-on-one or group office hours. Some students may have a job or familial responsibilities outside of school. Having a variety of ways to connect and communicate can provide low-income students with the flexibility to connect with their professors and peers, helping bolster their sense of belonging.
Instructors can offer virtual office hours to help supplement their in-person hours. Students can email their professors with questions or post them on a discussion board at their leisure, and their instructors can in turn leave voice or video messages helping provide answers.
Forging a Brighter Future With Blended Learning
While we’d be hard-pressed to find one overarching universal solution to help lower-income students, a step in the right direction is using existing practices to help make access to higher education a bit easier. Blended learning is just one way in which universities and colleges can help expand and diversify the student body.
Are you eager to learn more about blended learning as a whole? Check out our blog post all about the many facets of blended learning to get a look at the bigger picture of its impact on education.