Utah Higher Learning Students Moving Online

Utah universities are experiencing massive growth in online and hybrid course enrollment than ever before.

More than 40 percent of Utah Valley University’s roughly 33,000 students are expected to participate in some form of distance learning this year, and the University of Utah expects the number of its online class takers to increase by a factor of ten.

The state’s veteran of online education, Weber State University, has offered online courses for the last 15 years. (In 1997, Google was still just a Stanford research project, Steve Jobs had just returned to Apple and people were using these things.) Even then, WSU enrolled 77 students in online courses. Now, the university expects more than 12,000 to sign up, over 38 percent of the entire student body.

Cory Stokes, director of Teaching and Learning Technologies at the University of Utah, noticed an exponential growth of online enrollment and an emerging trend of hybrid courses. In such a course, students experience social elements in a classroom setting combined with online interaction and discussion.

Brigham Young University will offer 12 new hybrid courses to be included in regular tuition. Unlike many online offerings which allow for massive enrollment, these courses will only have 25 “seats” available. If successful, the university will likely offer more such classes in the future.

At Utah Valley University, staff members hold Hybrid Course Boot Camps where they discuss the best delivery methods for concepts. For some classes, it’s face-to-face interaction. For others, it could be video conferencing. Staff members take into account the way students communicate with each other in today’s digital world and tweak their classes accordingly.

“The secret is not to just embrace it because it’s a trend but to embrace it because it enriches the learning and teaching environment,” said USU vice provost Robert Wagner.