According to recent studies, all higher education will have an online educational experience in some form during their academic career (Sener, 2012). An online course is defined as one in which 80% of the course content is delivered online while a blended course blends online (30% to 79%) with face-to-face delivery (Allen et al., 2016). In Fall 2014, of the 5.8 million distance education students, 2.58 million were taking all of their courses at distance, while 2.97 million were taking some, but not all courses at a distance (Allen et al., 2016). Most students will take at least one online course per year with online courses comprising 20% of a student’s total credit hours (Sener, 2012). A survey among 2800 college and university administrators reported that online course offerings are critical to a majority (63%) of institutions’ long-term strategies (Allen et al., 2016). In this same survey, 71% of academic leaders felt online education was similar or superior to traditional face-to-face instruction. Continuing to develop successful online courses for this growing market is a challenge.
Higher education has focused on student memorization of core content and the recall of facts, but the value of education is in knowing how to use the content and the relationship among the facts (Sener, 2012). Furthermore, the mastery of core concepts and memorization of facts is not enough to succeed in the workforce (Andrews and Higson, 2008; Robles, 2012). Several sources define technical skills and knowledge as hard skills, whereas interpersonal skills, character traits, attitudes, behaviors, and people skills are soft skills. The list of some soft skills that employers are looking for include communication (writing and public speaking), listening, time management, collaboration and team work, leadership, etiquette, and problem solving (Andrews and Higson, 2008; Crosbie, 2005; Heckman and Kautz, 2012; Robles, 2012). Industry employment need surveys have identified a demand and preference for graduates possessing well-developed soft skills (Crawford et al., 2011; Hart Research Associates, 2015; Ricker, 2014). The challenge is to add exercises and activities to current classes that develop both hard and soft skills. Teaching methods focusing on the development of soft skills should be inclusive of technical knowledge and skills to maximize instructional effectiveness and perceived value of learning objectives (Hattie et al., 1996).
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