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Online or In-person. Why not both?

March 26, 2015

When you register for a course, you often have a choice: in-person or online. But at Peirce College, you don’t have to pick one or the other. All students will soon get access to both formats in the same course.

Peirce, a college in Philadelphia that caters specifically to adult learners, plans to allow its students to switch back and forth between attending class in person or online, based on which is more convenient for them on a given week. The flexible delivery model will be offered in certain programs this fall and it will be extended to the college’s entire curriculum by September of 2016. The initiative is part of the college’s 2015-2018 strategic plan.
Last year the college ran a pilot program to see how students would respond to the new flexibility, and the results were promising, said Stephanie Donovan, assistant professor and faculty chair for health programs.

Students who took courses in Session 3 with the new delivery model had much better attendance than students who had participated in Session 3 the year before, Ms. Donovan said. Absenteeism fell from 10.2 percent to 1.4 percent.
Peirce has many students who describe themselves as “very compliant, goody-two shoes” types, Ms. Donovan said. For students like this, missing class can be a source of anxiety. Students indicated that the new system would allow them to miss class for illnesses, child care, or other commitments without having to feel guilty, because they could complete their coursework online instead, Ms. Donovan said.

Some students might plan to take their classes in person, but use the online component to review information if they didn’t understand something. Others might plan to take most of their classes online, but make a trip to campus if they’re struggling with a concept and want to discuss it further with a professor.

Peirce College has already worked to make its programs easily accessible – all courses are offered online and in person — but students were looking for even more flexibility, said James J. Mergiotti, the college’s president and chief executive. The college “wanted to take it to the next level,” he said.

And the new model shouldn’t create much extra work for professors — they all already teach their courses in both formats, said Rita J. Toliver-Roberts, vice president for academic advancement.

Peirce students lead busy lives, so it’s the mission of the college to make higher education fit easily into them. A delivery method that gives students options does the trick. “It’s just a perfect fit in terms of what we’re trying to accomplish,” Mr. Mergiotti said.

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