Trends & Roles Blog Part Two: Trends

Trends in Hybrid Delivery Learning and how they relate to Public Relations

Some may say that the entire concept of online or hybrid-delivery learning is a “trend in and of itself;” however, I personally, believe that online learning is here to stay, and that hybrid learning will continue to grow as more adults face the growing financial demand related to the cost of living, and must work while they obtain their post-secondary education.

According to the NMC Horizon Report 2015 Higher Education Edition, there are six major trends for online learning: (post link here)

  • Increasing use of blended learning
  • Redesigning learning spaces
  • Growing focus on measuring learning
  • Proliferation of open educational resources
  • Advancing cultures of change and innovation
  • Increasing cross institution collaboration

Each and every one of these trends relates to the teaching of Public Relations (PR) and Communications. In this blog posting, we’ll be taking a look the six trends relating to Hybrid Delivery Systems in adult learning and apply them to the area of Public Relations and Strategic Communication.

Short-term Trends (1-2 years) 

1. Increasing use of blended learning 

Many PR practitioners are choosing to further their education while working by opting for the blended learning models offered at popular Universities such as Royal Roads, Syracuse, and McMaster to name a few. These programs offer ease of access, and superior technology for delivery which would be enticing for a PR professional.

Some universities, such as Simon Fraser University in BC are even offering 12-week “crash course” certificate programs for those interested in PR. In short, educational institutions are looking at PR and Communication programs from a business perspective, and catering to “client” needs – sometimes missing the boat on the practical and theoretical teachings one should learn to be a well-rounded practitioner.

Accreditation by the Canadian Public Relations Society can be completed at a distance, with a face-to-face (F2F) oral and written exam at the end of the program. Again, making the process of accreditation as convenient as possible for its members.

2. Redesigning learning spaces
When I took PR at Kwantlen University College in 1997/98 we develop our photos in darkrooms and cut and pasted our newspapers together with Exacto knives on copy-ready paper before driving them to the printer. In this day and age, everyone of these steps is done electronically. My, how times have changed!

In the PR courses I teach, both F2F and online, we are using many new and emerging technologies such as “flipping the classroom” and using techniques to facilitate more active learning. I also assign a group project which my online students put together completely without ever having to meet in person. Many students use “Google Hangouts” to meet and chat about the project and work off one central document in “Google Docs.” Discussion forums where students can collaborate on learning, solve problems, interact, and share experiences – are a key part of the learning.

In my F2F classes, students are encouraged to bring their own devices to class so they can: maximize their experience by recording lectures, log info they are absorbing, read texts online, and access information to share in class.

Mid-term Trends (3-4 years)

3. Growing focus on measuring learning
“A key element of this trend is learning analytics, the application of web analytics, a science used by businesses to analyze commercial activities that leverages big data to identify spending trends and predict consumer behaviour. Education is embarking on a similar pursuit into data science with the aim of learner profiling, a process of gathering and analyzing large amounts of detail about individual student interactions in online learning activities” (2105, NMC Report).

By analyzing these factors, post-secondary institutions can better understand learners and develop programs, such as hybrid learning models, that best suit their “clients” needs. This data may one day help transform the traditional learning environment into a hybrid-delivery model that better meets the needs of learners in a technology-driven society.

Generation X & Y’ers have a need for personalization, whether its their iPhone or their coffee beverage. In the courses I am taking, I have noticed a big push for new “personalized” evaluation methods, other than just testing and receiving a grade. Self-assessment techniques empower students to take learning into their own hands, and help teachers understand the process by which they took to get to a specific point. This allows for a new type of assessment that praises the process, instead of just the result, and assists teachers in guiding students to a new way of processing and thinking.

One trend in online learning is wearable technology. I’m not sure how this will translate to the classroom for the PR field; however, I love the wearable technology that has already been developed to track and measure health and well being. The Fitbit calculates steps and calories burned and logs them in your phone and weight loss app’s so one can truly see how many calories they have burned and understand how the food they consume impacts weight loss. Apple has taken this concept a step further with the Apple watch which tracks heart rate, sleep and steps, among other things.

4. Proliferation of open educational resources
There are so many sources online relating to PR strategies and best practices, that a motivated learner may even be able to teach themselves how to be a great practitioner without stepping into a classroom. 

Open Education Resources were defined by the Hewlett Foundation in 2002 as “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others” (2105, NMC Horizon Report).

In 2001, MIT made 2,200 courses available online, free-of-charge. Harvard and Carnegie Mellon have done the same. I use some of the Harvard materials on Public Relations and leaderships in my lectures at BCIT. This “open material” is allowed to be used by anyone to facilitate learning.

At BCIT, we use the iTunes University platform to share our lessons in an “open” format. Instructors can choose whether they share with registered PR students, all BCIT students, or allow public access (to anyone). I may choose to record and post my lectures on itunes University this Fall, just to see what type of traction they get!

Long-term trends (4-5 years)

5. Advancing cultures of change and innovation
Universities have played a large part in growing economies due to the new innovations and discoveries taking place within them. These discoveries often impact local communities and sometimes the global landscape. One major example of this is the creation of the social media site Facebook, founded by Mark Zuckerberg and others, while at Harvard University.

Understanding social media, and how to effectively communicate in an online environment has become a requirement for PR practitioners. In the PR field, we can outline and formulate best practices to teach to our students. It is the younger students, directly out of university, that are looked to as leaders in understanding online environments.

The NMC Report states that: “In order to breed innovation and adapt to economic needs, higher education institutions must be structured in ways that allow for flexibility, and spur creativity and entrepreneurial thinking” (2015, NMC Horizon Report).

In order to prepare for the trends in online learning, we must understand and anticipate the long-term trends so we are prepared to offer students the best, most practical, and cutting edge education in the PR field.

6. Increasing cross institution collaboration
Institutions must combine resources to align themselves strategically for innovation in higher education. This also applies in the hybrid-delivery system model.

A great example of this model in the field of PR and Communication is the “Master of Communications Management partnership degree offered by McMaster University and Syracuse University. The degree combines the academic and professional expertise of three academic units (CSMM, DeGroote School of Business and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications) to offer Canada’s only communications management graduate program” (2015, McMaster University).

With this type of cross collaboration, students not only get the best of the particular universities, they are also exposed to a wider school of thought, and to students from around the continent- possibly around the world.

At the post graduate level students need to learn “the best of communications research, strategy, law, ethics and theory combined with core business management courses in strategic planning and finance, marketing, management studies” to be a well rounded leader in the field” (2015, McMaster University).

Application at BCIT
In speaking with Harj Dhaliwal, Dean, BCIT School of Business, he noted that “while many institutions are looking towards expanding online and hybrid learning opportunities, many business students are still looking for traditional face-to-face learning environments that mimic the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work environment.”

For this reason, he noted that BCIT will continue to offer flexible online learning options and night-school classes to business students; however, the focus will remain on the full-time, traditional model for the foreseeable future – as this is what most BCIT students want and need.

I understand this approach and believe that it makes sense for BCIT. I’m also pleased to work for a university that embraces technology and leads the way in change and innovation in the fields of study it offers.

The hybrid and online learning platforms provide a unique and valuable service to students and prospective students and firmly believe that they are here to stay and will continue to advance.

It’s my hope that my learning and enthusiasm will assist my program in facing the challenges of online and hybrid learning head on.


“NMC Horizon Report 2015 Higher Education Edition.” The New Media Consortium. 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 18 Feb. 2015

“McMaster University.” McMaster-Syracuse Master of Communications Management (MCM). Web. 31 Mar. 2015.


About robincookbondy

My name is Robin Cook Bondy and I live in Ladner, BC with my husband and three sons. I am a communications and public relations professional pursuing further education in the area of adult learning.
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