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Hybrid Program Design: What Works for Adult Learners in a Professional Degree Program?

Christine Rowader Stevens, Johnson & Wales University


Working adults planning to pursue higher education programs to advance their careers often face conflicting demands. Colleges and universities are challenged to offer non-traditional programs with more scheduling flexibility, allowing adult learners to manage multiple work, family, and other obligations while attending school (Dana, 2013; DeChambeau, 2011). Using technology, higher education institutions are crafting hybrid designs to provide more flexible courses and programs, retaining the benefits of face-to-face (F2F) engagement while minimizing the retention issues of fully online courses and programs (Caulfield, 2011; Dana, 2013). A hybrid model offers a potential solution to this need for flexible delivery, while providing opportunities for face-to-face communication. Variability in the structure of hybrid courses and programs, especially proportions and scheduling of online versus face-to-face sessions, is extensive (Helms, 2014), such that ideal models are difficult to identify. The art and science of teaching adults, andragogy (Knowles, 1990), can be used as a lens for designing and evaluating higher education programs aimed at adults. This study addressed the following research question: How do adult learners in a professional studies degree program delivered in a hybrid format describe their academic experience? This multiphase qualitative study explored the adult learner experience in a hybrid master’s degree program at a private college in the Northeast. In Phase I, observation of (N=2) classes informed subsequent phases for data collection. Program documentation (N=20) was collected and analyzed in Phase II. Phase III comprised (N=6) depth interviews and (N=3) dyadic interviews with adult learners in the program, followed by (N=11) Phase IV reflective questionnaires with the same sample. As a result of applying a variety of qualitative analysis strategies (Bowen, 2009; Boyatzis, 1998; Krippendorff, 2013), six themes emerged: 1) Choosing a hybrid program, 2) Hybrid design and delivery, 3) Managing work/life/school, 4) Student learning, 5) Online communication, and 6) Relying on technology. These results may inform the design of new hybrid courses and programs, help to improve existing hybrid courses and programs, and identify factors important for program recruitment. Institutions may also benefit from a more thorough understanding of the adult learner experience in hybrid programs.

Subject Area

Adult education|Educational technology|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Stevens, Christine Rowader, "Hybrid Program Design: What Works for Adult Learners in a Professional Degree Program?" (2017). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI10276528.