Facilitating students to “learn from anywhere”

During the last 18 months, students have been given a taste of how digital learning can benefit them individually, and now there’s no putting the remote learning genie back into the bottle: How universities embrace and develop digital learning remains to be seen, but the evidence clearly points to a hybrid learning landscape being the way forward. Whilst many learning experiences benefit from being a social activity, we’ve also known for years that ‘presenteeism’ just for the sake of it isn’t effective either. Many lectures and course materials that provide knowledge don’t have to be a campus activity, but crucially the peer-to-peer development of ideas and active learning benefit from small group in person activities.
Across the HE Sector Student responses demonstrate that remote learning or a blended approach did not have a negative impact on the acquisition of skills, and in fact it enhanced multiple key skills in independent learning, time management and self-efficacy. Results highlighted that institutions may need to alter and adapt to ever changing teaching methods in HE, perhaps embedding blended or remote teaching modes. Advance HE 2021 [student] Engagement Survey
·
Across the HE Sector A 2021 study of Irish students reported that their preferences were: Lectures Online: 69%. Time on Campus: 76% wanted 1 - 3 days per week. Future Assessment Models: 81% Continuous and Open Book Enhancing Digital Learning and Teaching; Irish Universities Association
·
Across the HE Sector 36% of students in a global study responded that flexible course options will be a deciding factor in where they enrol. 2021 Connected Student Report, Salesforce.org
·

Rooted in the past?

Which aspects of our lives haven’t been radically impacted by digital transformations and become almost unrecognisable from just a generation ago? The many ways we engage with entertainment, banking, travel, medical care and more have all been positively transformed by technology and, for the most part, our cultural acceptance of them has been enthusiastic because of the benefits realised, and the convenience of smartphone accessibility to them. There have been many technological advances on university campuses; audio visual systems, IT networks, VLE’s with digital submission of assignments/essays, wireless collaborative technologies, smart buildings designed to save energy to meet sustainability targets, electric vehicles, etc. But the requirement to be in-class to receive tuition has stayed the same since, well, forever. Was there a suspicion that moving to online education, a trend that had been building at snail’s pace for years, equated to a lowering of prices or a lowering of academic rigour? Whatever the reasons for not embracing and developing digital pedagogies, the catalyst of Covid will fast-track the transformation of education, with higher education and the role of universities and their physical campuses becoming unrecognisable from their current appearance by the end of this decade. Since the Covid pandemic closed campuses in early 2020, 100% of students of been accessing learning digitally. For some, the emergency remote learning they experienced was traumatic because nobody was prepared for it. But for others; commuter students and students with learning differences, for example, not having to be in class was a release, a way forward, and learning outcomes improved.

Hybrid is here and happening

Covid19 has highlighted the need for universities to be agile. For many, this requires the repositioning of learning spaces and developing new skills to ensure an equity for learners irrespective of their location when learning. When the delegates representing 69 universities at the November 2021 LTSMG* conference were asked the question, “Do you see a trend to less formal lecture spaces and more collaborative spaces?” The responses were a unanimous 100% for Yes. Changes have already happened, and whilst there is a momentum gathering, there is also resistance to hybrid. There are individuals, faculty, and whole universities who want to go back to how it was before; 100% in class face-2-face. But learning has left the campus, and hybrid, that students increasingly want, must evolve quickly so that both the reality and the perception during emergency remote teaching of remote participation being a compromised experience, is quickly banished to the past. Now we must determine the hybrid learning spaces we want to create for today’s students who want to be on campus when necessary, but connect remotely at other times. Our answer is perhaps no different from other learning spaces, except for lecture halls. New hybrid learning spaces must be engaging, inclusive, easy for an academic to use, and scalable. What will be different, is the technology that will enable these new spaces to provide remote students with a more compelling reason to connect in real time to their on campus peers. Technology that can provide a real sense of belonging, encourage participation, and which provides the foundations for delivering an equity of learning irrespective of physical or remote location.

The role of technology [supporting a digital-first strategy]

Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and many other ‘unified communication’ platforms [Webex, GoToMeeting, etc.] that support connected meetings have been around for years as mature and robust solutions. As the high-cost telephony charges associated with traditional video conference platforms were replaced by these low-cost internet technologies, it was our own preferences and the culture within our businesses that held back mass adoption and maintained their promise to be ‘the next big thing’ without actually becoming ‘the next big thing’…..until it took a pandemic to change our attitudes and evolve our culture so that these technologies that already existed gained mass adoption for work, learning and social connections. Time and time again, bad experiences resulting from the introduction of educational technology were usually because equipment had been purchased first, and then an attempt was made to find a problem for the technology to then solve. In other words, just putting in technology isn’t going to help. We must identify the areas where curriculums can be developed and evolved so that the pedagogies to deliver them can be effective in technology-rich hybrid environments. Hybrid learning supported by technology won’t be the panacea to our pandemic, but it has the potential to come into its own as solutions for remote learning will inevitable increase, and as we identify opportunities that deliver positive actions to tackle climate change. As curriculums are developed and evolve, we have to identify where opportunities to successfully map curriculums to hybrid and remote learning that offer the greatest potential for improving student outcomes, and then introduce the right technological solutions that fully enable these. Perhaps universities and other institutions that have maintained their on-campus-at-all-costs strategies to justify the perception of the high student fees that are levied in the UK? Amongst today’s many compelling realities for universities developing digital-first strategies are: The participation of international students on UK campuses is likely to be significantly reduced for many years An opportunity to fully capitalise on the growth of life-long learning To develop and provide the training required by industry and corporates In this era of student fees and the reality of a commercial cost or contract in return for learning, the student is the customer and, in every business, the customer is king. There is a wide perception that ‘tuition fees’ only cover the cost of tuition, even though the reality is that universities have many indirect costs for providing their learning that fees contribute towards. The provision of higher education must economically ‘wash it’s own face’ but that doesn’t mean that it has to be only ‘face-2-face.’

Just a cast of history repeating?

When future historians look back at today, Covid19 will be recognised as the game changer that created an opportunity for a positive transformational change in higher education, as well as many other areas of our lives. The short-term responses, often referred to as ‘emergency remote teaching’, must remain short-term only, and institutions must create enduring digital platforms that also create a sense of belonging, otherwise they will die. Online-only providers like Coursera, who currently partner with many campus institutions, will thrive even more if universities remain engaged with their nostalgia for the past and do not act quickly on the absolute need to dramatically change. And how long will it be before an Amazon, Google, Microsoft or Apple determines that the engagement tools it can build make it perfectly placed to create degree-awarding online learning communities with a sense of belonging that it can deliver globally and bankrupt campus providers? Not everything can be learnt online. As things stand, we will still need institutions to create doctors, dentists, engineers, etc., And lets not forget that it was only the on-campus learned skills of medical researchers that gave us Covid vaccines, and thankfully so quickly. The pressures on academics and students created by the demands of Covid still remain, and the opportunities to create new digital engagements must be capitalised on, with investments in staff development as important as the new learning spaces and technology required.

Facilitating students to “learn

from anywhere”

During the last 18 months, students have been given a taste of how digital learning can benefit them individually, and now there’s no putting the remote learning genie back into the bottle: How universities embrace and develop digital learning remains to be seen, but the evidence clearly points to a hybrid learning landscape being the way forward. Whilst many learning experiences benefit from being a social activity, we’ve also known for years that ‘presenteeism’ just for the sake of it isn’t effective either. Many lectures and course materials that provide knowledge don’t have to be a campus activity, but crucially the peer-to-peer development of ideas and active learning benefit from small group in person activities.
Across the HE Sector Student responses demonstrate that remote learning or a blended approach did not have a negative impact on the acquisition of skills, and in fact it enhanced multiple key skills in independent learning, time management and self-efficacy. Results highlighted that institutions may need to alter and adapt to ever changing teaching methods in HE, perhaps embedding blended or remote teaching modes. Advance HE 2021 [student] Engagement Survey
·
Across the HE Sector A 2021 study of Irish students reported that their preferences were: Lectures Online: 69%. Time on Campus: 76% wanted 1 - 3 days per week. Future Assessment Models: 81% Continuous and Open Book Enhancing Digital Learning and Teaching; Irish Universities Association
·
Across the HE Sector 36% of students in a global study responded that flexible course options will be a deciding factor in where they enrol. 2021 Connected Student Report, Salesforce.org
·

Rooted in the past?

Which aspects of our lives haven’t been radically impacted by digital transformations and become almost unrecognisable from just a generation ago? The many ways we engage with entertainment, banking, travel, medical care and more have all been positively transformed by technology and, for the most part, our cultural acceptance of them has been enthusiastic because of the benefits realised, and the convenience of smartphone accessibility to them. There have been many technological advances on university campuses; audio visual systems, IT networks, VLE’s with digital submission of assignments/essays, wireless collaborative technologies, smart buildings designed to save energy to meet sustainability targets, electric vehicles, etc. But the requirement to be in-class to receive tuition has stayed the same since, well, forever. Was there a suspicion that moving to online education, a trend that had been building at snail’s pace for years, equated to a lowering of prices or a lowering of academic rigour? Whatever the reasons for not embracing and developing digital pedagogies, the catalyst of Covid will fast-track the transformation of education, with higher education and the role of universities and their physical campuses becoming unrecognisable from their current appearance by the end of this decade. Since the Covid pandemic closed campuses in early 2020, 100% of students of been accessing learning digitally. For some, the emergency remote learning they experienced was traumatic because nobody was prepared for it. But for others; commuter students and students with learning differences, for example, not having to be in class was a release, a way forward, and learning outcomes improved.

Hybrid is here and happening

Covid19 has highlighted the need for universities to be agile. For many, this requires the repositioning of learning spaces and developing new skills to ensure an equity for learners irrespective of their location when learning. When the delegates representing 69 universities at the November 2021 LTSMG* conference were asked the question, “Do you see a trend to less formal lecture spaces and more collaborative spaces?” The responses were a unanimous 100% for Yes. Changes have already happened, and whilst there is a momentum gathering, there is also resistance to hybrid. There are individuals, faculty, and whole universities who want to go back to how it was before; 100% in class face-2-face. But learning has left the campus, and hybrid, that students increasingly want, must evolve quickly so that both the reality and the perception during emergency remote teaching of remote participation being a compromised experience, is quickly banished to the past. Now we must determine the hybrid learning spaces we want to create for today’s students who want to be on campus when necessary, but connect remotely at other times. Our answer is perhaps no different from other learning spaces, except for lecture halls. New hybrid learning spaces must be engaging, inclusive, easy for an academic to use, and scalable. What will be different, is the technology that will enable these new spaces to provide remote students with a more compelling reason to connect in real time to their on campus peers. Technology that can provide a real sense of belonging, encourage participation, and which provides the foundations for delivering an equity of learning irrespective of physical or remote location.

The role of technology

[supporting a digital-first strategy]

Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and many other ‘unified communication’ platforms [Webex, GoToMeeting, etc.] that support connected meetings have been around for years as mature and robust solutions. As the high-cost telephony charges associated with traditional video conference platforms were replaced by these low- cost internet technologies, it was our own preferences and the culture within our businesses that held back mass adoption and maintained their promise to be ‘the next big thing’ without actually becoming ‘the next big thing’…..until it took a pandemic to change our attitudes and evolve our culture so that these technologies that already existed gained mass adoption for work, learning and social connections. Time and time again, bad experiences resulting from the introduction of educational technology were usually because equipment had been purchased first, and then an attempt was made to find a problem for the technology to then solve. In other words, just putting in technology isn’t going to help. We must identify the areas where curriculums can be developed and evolved so that the pedagogies to deliver them can be effective in technology-rich hybrid environments. Hybrid learning supported by technology won’t be the panacea to our pandemic, but it has the potential to come into its own as solutions for remote learning will inevitable increase, and as we identify opportunities that deliver positive actions to tackle climate change. As curriculums are developed and evolve, we have to identify where opportunities to successfully map curriculums to hybrid and remote learning that offer the greatest potential for improving student outcomes, and then introduce the right technological solutions that fully enable these. Perhaps universities and other institutions that have maintained their on-campus-at-all-costs strategies to justify the perception of the high student fees that are levied in the UK? Amongst today’s many compelling realities for universities developing digital-first strategies are: The participation of international students on UK campuses is likely to be significantly reduced for many years An opportunity to fully capitalise on the growth of life-long learning To develop and provide the training required by industry and corporates In this era of student fees and the reality of a commercial cost or contract in return for learning, the student is the customer and, in every business, the customer is king. There is a wide perception that ‘tuition fees’ only cover the cost of tuition, even though the reality is that universities have many indirect costs for providing their learning that fees contribute towards. The provision of higher education must economically ‘wash it’s own face’ but that doesn’t mean that it has to be only ‘face-2-face.’

Just a cast of history

repeating?

When future historians look back at today, Covid19 will be recognised as the game changer that created an opportunity for a positive transformational change in higher education, as well as many other areas of our lives. The short-term responses, often referred to as ‘emergency remote teaching’, must remain short-term only, and institutions must create enduring digital platforms that also create a sense of belonging, otherwise they will die. Online-only providers like Coursera, who currently partner with many campus institutions, will thrive even more if universities remain engaged with their nostalgia for the past and do not act quickly on the absolute need to dramatically change. And how long will it be before an Amazon, Google, Microsoft or Apple determines that the engagement tools it can build make it perfectly placed to create degree-awarding online learning communities with a sense of belonging that it can deliver globally and bankrupt campus providers? Not everything can be learnt online. As things stand, we will still need institutions to create doctors, dentists, engineers, etc., And lets not forget that it was only the on-campus learned skills of medical researchers that gave us Covid vaccines, and thankfully so quickly. The pressures on academics and students created by the demands of Covid still remain, and the opportunities to create new digital engagements must be capitalised on, with investments in staff development as important as the new learning spaces and technology required.
LEARN FROM ANYWHERE