Emerson announces continuation of hybrid learning through Fall 2021


Wilson Chao/Courtesy

Students working in a control room for a visual and media arts course.

By Dana Gerber, News Editor

Emerson will continue its “flex learning” program through the Fall 2021 semester, President M. Lee Pelton announced in a Monday morning email. 

Fall 2021 will mark the third consecutive term students will straddle online and in-person courses after the pandemic first upended college life nearly a year ago. Pelton’s email did not announce any changes to the current model, where students take courses both in the classroom and either synchronous or asynchronous online methods. 

The hybrid plan may shift into fully in-person learning “at the beginning or during the fall term,” depending on the state of the pandemic, Pelton’s email said. As in the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters, an online-only option will also be offered to community members.

Pelton’s email addresses the possibility that COVID-19 vaccines could be widely distributed enough for the U.S. to achieve “herd immunity” by the start of the fall semester. The college opted to plan for flex learning in the event that normal in-person learning remains unfeasible. 

“We believe it is more prudent to plan for One Emerson Flex Learning and convert to full in-person teaching and learning, if conditions permit us to do so, than the reverse, which would lead to disappointment,” Pelton wrote. 

As of Feb. 21, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had reported about 63 million doses administered in the U.S. of one of the two approved vaccines, which is about 19 percent of the population. However, only 18 million people have received both of the doses required to achieve immunity—about 5 percent of the population. 

In the fall, Emerson largely tamped down positive COVID-19 tests, with the semester ending with 60 positive tests and a positivity rate of .12 percent. The spring has proven more volatile with a total of 76 positive in only six weeks of testing and a positivity rate of .32 percent. Unlike the fall, the administration confirmed “community spread” on campus in the spring. 

The hybrid model has garnered mixed reviews from students, with some praising the convenience of Zoom classes and others lamenting the loss of the traditional college experience.

“I have mixed feelings about it,” Jackie Cahill, a first-year marketing and communications major, said in a November interview. “Sometimes it is nice to go on Zoom and not have to go in person every day, especially because of COVID. But I feel as if I’m not meeting as many people, and definitely, we’re not experiencing the full college experience.”

The fall reopenings of the Emerson Los Angeles campus and the Kasteel Well campus—both of which have been shuttered since last March—and the future of study abroad programs will be announced later in the spring semester, the email said.  

A fully online winter session, which saw its debut in December 2020, will also return this year, the email said. 

“I know that all of us remain committed to ensuring the safety of our entire community,” Pelton wrote. “Thank you for your continued patience as we follow the science and adapt our Flex plan as we learn more.”

Alec Klusza contributed reporting.