Is Blended Learning Here to Stay?

Will the coronavirus crisis result in the permanent inclusion of blended learning into university educational delivery modelsWe explore the debate below.  

Blended learning may well be the future of higher education, and it’s clear that the coronavirus crisis has played a part in this evolution.  

The widespread adoption and investment in online learning due to the crisis has sparked greater interest in online learning and the flexibility and accessibility it offers.  

As the crisis continues in 2021, higher education institutions are examining the advantages and disadvantages of both online and in-person teaching methods and examining how educational delivery may evolve in coming years. 

This may result in a rise in blended learning, which combines online learning and in-person teaching to create a hybrid educational delivery model. 

The University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia describes it like so: “Blended learning is most suited to UNSW’s strengths and needs, in terms of approaches to technology use in education. Blended learning is a flexible approach to the design, development, and delivery of learning and teaching. It’s a hybrid of online learning and traditional face-to-face learning, the one enhancing the other.” 

As proponents of this educational model, UNSW point to a range of benefits of blended learning, providing students with flexibility over when and how they learn and how they access materials, activities, and assessments. 

It also provides flexibility to educators over course designdeliveryand evaluation, while offering the efficiencies and conveniences of fully online courses along with all the advantages of face-to-face contact. 

Many argue that communication and collaboration are improved when online learning is incorporated into the educational delivery model, with students given more channels to communicate with teachers and collaborative tools and prompts built into online learning platforms.  

However, others argue that blended learning has a strong reliance on technology, as students and teachers need access to the right technology and tools and the technological literacy to make the most of these platforms.  

While many institutions have now invested in technology and online learning infrastructure due to the coronavirus crisis, they may not have the budget or workforce to maintain it and meet high quality standards.  

In a recent QS report, 47% of surveyed higher education professionals revealed that they were conducting teaching mostly online with some face-to-face, while 42% were conducting all teaching online.  

Many institutions rapidly invested in online learning at the start of the crisis and are now rethinking the tools they use or the way they use them.  

This strategic process will be crucial in the coming months as institutions hone their online learning offering and explore how they could incorporate it into their face-to-face teaching as campuses reopen.  

It’s also important for institutions to consider how they can take a creative approach to their online learning, not simply recreating their on-campus teaching methods and materials. How can your institution use online learning to build on the in-person experience and provide additional value through online tools and platforms 

Universities also need to examine whether their blended learning offering has been developed with universal design in mind to ensure its accessible for all students.  

For example, online learning materials may favor audio recordings, rather than visual learning aids, which could complicate the learning process for hearing-impaired students.  

Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can also experience barriers to effective blended learning, which is detailed in a report by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education. 

“The most significant finding of this report however, is the way in which the design of university spaces (both physical and digital) can affect a student with ASD’s ability to engage in higher education. Whilst digital platforms which are overly complex, visually stimulating, and illogically structured can present significant challenges to participation, it is the built environment which is often overlooked as a potential barrier for students with ASD.” 

“Episodes of sensory overload and forced social interaction are only heightened by not having suitable quiet zones for these students to escape to, and creative design elements can lead to difficulties navigating for those students with ASD who have trouble following ‘illogical’ signage or pathways.” 

Institutions must consider how they will deliver a high-quality blended learning experience that is accessible to all as the educational delivery model evolves and adapts to the shifting coronavirus crisis.  

To discover more insights about how higher education institutions are addressing the crisis, please download a free copy of the QS report, Hope for the Future: How Universities are Identifying Emerging Opportunities in 2021 

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