Increasing Access to Study Abroad Via a Blended-Learning Experience Model

Slotkin, M. H., Durie, C. J., & Eisenberg, J. R. (2012). The benefits of short-term study abroad as a blended learning experience. Journal of International Education in Business, 5(2), 163–173. 

With the 2013 Open Doors report finding that 76.4% of U.S. study abroad participants are White, there is much discussion in the education abroad field about how to increase access to study abroad for underrepresented groups (Institute of International Education, 2013).  Particularly given that the demographics of higher education participation are changing to include increased numbers of Black, African American, Hispanic,  Latinos, and non-traditional students, institutions like ASU are trying to determine how best to help their study abroad participation rates reflect their institutional enrollment makeup.  The article written by Slotkin, Durie, and Eisenberg details an emerging model that may hold promise for helping other institutions offer study abroad opportunities to these and other traditionally underrepresented groups.

Slotkin et al. describe a short-term study abroad program began in 2011 through the Florida Institute of Technology’s College of Business (FTCoB).  The FTCoB program included a short trip abroad to Madrid Spain in conjunction with an online learning component, thus constructing the blended-learning experience for this short-term study abroad program.  The reasons for the implementation of such a model are primarily because of the unique makeup of the FTCoB student population whereby:

  • 60% of the FTCoB students are enrolled in online programs
  • 39.4% of students enrolled in the offsite campuses identify themselves as minority students
  • 34.8% of online undergraduate students identify themselves as minority students
  • Online students are typically mid-career, full-time professionals pursuing a degree part-time
  • Offsite campus students are predominantly active military personnel, military veterans, or employees of U.S. government contractors and typically adult learner, part-time students

Because of the high level of minority and less-traditional students comprising the FTCoB’s student population, creation of the blended-learning study abroad experience was essential in ensuring its viability and being able to serve the disparate needs of these minority groups.

This article did not carry out a research study per se; instead it utilized a brief literature review to form the basis of the benefits likely to be derived for distance-learning students participating on a study abroad experience and then offered perspectives and discussion based on the experiences of the FTCoB program.  The review of the literature explored studies such as Donnely-Smith (2009) which made comparisons between distance learning and short-term study abroad, “mirroring previous debates held on the efficacy and rigor of online education, academics and administrators question if students can receive the same benefits in a short-term as opposed to mid or long-term programs” (Slotkin et al., 2012, p. 165.)   It appears that the debates about online learning bare similarities to those which are being launched at short-term study abroad programs at the moment.  Slotkin et al. continue by presenting literature (Donnelly-Smith, 2009, Mills, Deviney, Ball, 2010) which suggest that short-term programs can actually be ideal in that they afford students a more structured learning environment and that having an abroad experience to then translate into future career skills is particularly important for business students.  In terms of access, Slotkin et al. also cite literature that suggests short-term programs afford students, who have other obligations such as family or work and who represent minority or low-income populations, the opportunity to participate in an abroad experience that, “provide[s] them with the cultural and academic skills they will need to compete in a global workforce” (Mills, Deviney, Ball, 2010).

In terms of its strengths and areas for improvement, the article is very well organized, providing the reader first with an essential background into the unique demographics and structure of the Florida Institute of Technology and then presenting the authors’ hypothesis based on relevant literature.  The article ends with a succinct outline of the makeup of the program and a recapitulation of the main benefits the authors believe the blended-learning study abroad program afforded students.  Its contribution to the field is strong because, as previously stated, increasing the number of minority and less-traditional students in study abroad is a current topic of interest for the field at large, as evidenced by international education organizations such as the Diversity Network, and the numerous conference sessions at NAFSA: Association of International Educators and the Forum on Education Abroad dedicated to the topic.  However, as the article freely admits, research on the intersection of education abroad and online learning is in its infancy, and so there is much room for growth.  In the case of this particular article, the FTCoB program is relatively new and therefore its numbers too small to form generalizations for the field, however Slotkin and Eisenberg’s arguments are grounded in logical assertions based on the literature and hold promise for future research to be done in this area.

The perceived benefits that Slotkin et al. outline include:

  • Enhanced viability: the ability to pull from the online and offsite campus student populations meant a better chance for the study abroad program to meet its necessary enrollment numbers to be able to offer the program in the first place.
  • Enhanced diversity:  “Of the remote students who constituted the FTCoB study abroad, more than 70 percent identified themselves as African-American or Latino, in stark contrast to the predominantly white and international mix hailing from the main campus” (p. 168).
  • Enhanced experience for distance-learning students: whereas the online students typically only had interaction with university faculty via phone and e-mail, the study abroad program gave them a chance to interact with FTCoB professors, foreign professors, and their peers with many remarking “that they missed the process of contemporaneous discussion with their peers and professors” (p.169).
  • Enhanced relationship with the main campus: by affording online students the ability to have face-to-face interaction with campus constituents, Slotkin and Eisenberg propose that the FTCoB study abroad program may lead to increases in alumni participation and giving rates by this student population.  This is grounded in the claim they cite from Black et al. (2006), “campus visitation may increase the distance education student’s sense of inclusion into the university community at large.”

When I think about Slotkin, Durie, and Eisenberg’s article in relation to my experiences in working with short-term programs at ASU, I am excited at the possibility of further developing the blended-learning model to increase access for these underrepresented populations.  ASU currently does run a few short-term programs that include an online pre-trip module so I will plan to run some statistics to see if these programs have a higher participation rate of students from the ASU Online community or other marginalized populations than do our non blended-learning programs. With 9,612 students enrolled in the ASU Online program (Keeler, 2013), this seems like a sizable population from which to draw upon for study abroad participation and I have noticed an increasing number of online students apply to programs which I coordinate.  I think the possibility for more targeted marketing, advising, and resources for this population is great.

In terms of further study that might effectively build on this area of research, I think that it would be important to examine the needs of distance-learning students and non-traditional students in preparing for an study abroad program.  As I have slowly begun to see an increase in participation on study abroad programs from these two groups, I have noted that they involve different processes in preparing them for the experience.  One example is as basic as course the course registration process for online students.  Currently, there is not an automated process for allowing these students to register for study abroad courses as there is for our regular campus students and there is a lot of troubleshooting that goes on.  Similarly, when working with non-traditional students, they have specific advising needs in light of their family and professional situations that I feel would warrant specialized advising and pre-departure orientation sessions.  It would be very beneficial to learn what other specific needs these populations might have when pursuing a study abroad program.

Donnelly-Smith, L. (2009), “Global learning through short-term study abroad”, Peer Review, Vol. 11 No. 4, pp. 12-15.

Institute of International Education. (2013). “Profile of U.S. Study Abroad Students, 2001/02-2011/12.” Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. Retrieved from

Keeler, S. (2013). Record number of students choose ASU. Retrieved June 13, 2014, Retrieved from

Mills, L., Deviney, D. and Ball, B. (2010), “Short-term study abroad programs: a diversity of options”, The Journal of Human Resource and Adult Learning, Vol. 6 No. 2, pp. 1-13.

Slotkin, M. H., Durie, C. J., & Eisenberg, J. R. (2012). The benefits of short-term study abroad as a blended learning experience. Journal of International Education in Business5(2), 163–173.

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