Blended learning: the normality post-pandemic

Stewart Watts, vice-president of EMEA at D2L, explores how UK universities can best prepare themselves for ‘blended learning’

As students return to campus for the first time, with social distancing firmly in place, educators will have to reassess face-to-face teaching and adapt their courses. ‘Blended learning’ – a mix of online and offline experiences – will be part of their overall strategy this year.

Naturally, institutions will require far more complex and sophisticated education technology solutions to make this work. It’s crucial these learning initiatives are carefully planned with students in mind, not only to guarantee their safety, but to ensure an engaging educational experience through which they can continue with their higher education.

What is ‘blended learning’? Establishing an effective strategy

Blended learning is a delivery and design method – a mix of traditional teaching and online learning. But for a programme to be successful, there has to be a sense of progression and continuity – and faculty and lecturers must consider the overall process. Courses should be devised very carefully with technology complementing all current learning and teaching objectives, rather than being treated simply as an ‘addition’. This means the overall course structure may be different from programme to programme.

There must also be a seamless, fully integrated experience for students, with lecturers referencing previous content to connect online and offline activities. Whether it’s an online test, an in-person seminar or a prior video lecture, only by tying up all content and activities chronologically will they provide absolute clarity for students getting to grips with the course.

Social distancing: having an adaptable course structure

It’s likely that in some cases, seminars, lectures and other activities will be completed online to ensure the safety of students. Therefore, lecturers may have to regularly adapt their course structure, incorporating more video content and interactive learning materials as the year continues.

Successful courses will have thorough measures in place to safeguard the learning journey. All learning materials should be pooled together online and regularly updated, enabling students to learn from anywhere and at any given time should further changes arise. In this instance, it’s important that lecturers provide engaging online resources in a variety of forms, whether audio, film, interactive quizzes or even class forums. Most importantly, learners should be able to access learning materials ahead of lessons, with seminars providing an opportunity for students to express themselves, either by putting their knowledge into practice or by raising concerns. This approach accounts for each individual student’s needs, which is extremely important right now.

Preparing to use edtech

Prior to the lockdown, many lecturers had received little to no introductory training in the effective use of edtech.

This lack of instructional design knowledge makes the creation of a structured online space somewhat challenging for some.

While they have gained some experience over the past few months, it’s important that staff are adequately trained to use and apply different technologies effectively throughout their programmes.

Moving beyond online pedagogy, having a general understanding of different online tools and workflows will be crucial.

Staff must be educated on the power of online activities, as well as the benefits of blended learning. Most importantly, this should include how to measure the impact of this change and create a more varied learning experience. Otherwise, there’s a risk some students may be left behind or become disengaged, and lecturers may find it difficult to track learning progression for individual students.

It’s vital that teaching staff and faculty continue to communicate with each other, and with their chosen learning provider, to raise any concerns or issues. This will give them time to iron out any issues and ensure the technology is well established within their courses, and able to meet the needs of students and lecturers alike.

As the year progresses, staff will likely have even more confidence with the use of edtech, further exploring its benefits and effectively troubleshooting as required.

You might also like: Blended learning in HE: why we need to emphasise student success – and not just tech


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