One in four (25%) UK universities do not yet plan to fully implement blended learning methods across their institutions, despite increasing student demand for flexible learning structures.
The pandemic and its subsequent lockdowns have broadened the conversation surrounding the advantages, disadvantages and overall feasibility of blended learning – which mixes on-campus classroom learning with other lessons delivered online.
These new figures come from a Freedom of Information (FoI) request submitted by cloud computing company Citrix to approximately 150 UK higher education (HE) providers, which drew around 61 responses. Participants were asked to divulge their plans for the future of education delivery, as well as to discuss student expectations of teaching, and projections for technology investments that support blended learning.
Sixty-nine percent of the universities that responded are actively planning to rollout blended learning in the next year – a significant majority (90%) of whom say they already have the necessary tools and technology in place to support this effectively.
Most respondents claimed to have already deployed the technology required to provide a more flexible learning model, which might explain why almost half (43%) of the institutions surveyed say they have not currently allocated any sort of budget to support blended learning structures. However, this doesn’t mean that UK universities aren’t eager to improve; 8% (five respondents), for example, have set aside between £1-5m, with more than one in 10 (11%) planning to invest between £100,000-499,000 on blended learning technologies.
On the findings, Mark Sweeney, regional vice-president UKI at Citrix, commented: “With new COVID-19 variants and uptake in vaccines among younger people, universities are braced for an uncertain future in terms of whether students will be present in lecture halls, at home, or a mixture of both this academic year.
“While most appear to have already rolled out some forms of technology to enable blended learning, some may be relying on more tactical deployments acquired for ad-hoc use – for the likes of ‘snow days’ – to deliver learning continuity. Many are therefore still investing further in this area in order to strategically deliver the best possible learning experience, wherever the students are based.”
“With record numbers of students accepting university places this year, it is important that universities prepare their technology effectively to set them up for success this year” – Mark Sweeney, Citrix
Of those that had access to the data (46 universities), 82% said they are seeing a demand for blended learning, while less than one in five (18%) said they are not.
The fact that blended learning offers increased scale and accessibility is a real boon for the HE sector, supporting the enrolment and participation of more international students by giving them the chance to study online. Almost half (48%) of the universities analysed have considered blended learning as an opportunity to reach more students around the globe, while just 11% have not considered this at all.
“Whatever the application of technology,” added Sweeney, “it is critical that universities ensure all students have access to a level playing field when it comes to learning, with technology set to play a clear role to enable students to learn, work and collaborate – either in-person or remotely. With record numbers of students accepting university places this year, it is important that universities prepare their technology effectively to set them up for success this year – whatever disruption may lie ahead.”