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Blended is preferred learning & teaching model in UK, survey finds

The days of exclusively on-campus experiences may be numbered as blended learning is now the preferred learning and teaching model of many UK students, lecturers and leaders, according to new research.

Blended learning is now the preferred learning and teaching model of many students, lecturers, and leaders. Photo: Pexels

A "sizeable" number said they don’t see any benefits to developing and delivering increased online learning and teaching

Co-created through collaboration with more than 1,000 representatives from UK universities, ‘A new dawn for higher education?’ is the inaugural report from the sector-wide Learning and Teaching Reimagined initiative, led by Jisc, Emerge Education, Universities UK, and Advance HE.

“We need to not just make the best of the situation but build on it”

In a survey, educational leaders were asked what the balance of teaching delivery was or will be at their institution at the following times; pre-lockdown, this academic year 2020/21, next academic year 2021/22 and in 2030.

“Our research indicates that, before March 2020, very little university teaching was online,” the report explained.

“That will change significantly in the academic year 2020/21 with online being the dominant delivery mechanism. Leaders expect the balance of face-to-face and online delivery to balance out from 2021/22 onwards.”

Jisc Learning and teaching reimagined executive leaders survey

According to the survey, almost all lectures are expected to be delivered online in 2020/21, with a blend of online and face-to-face delivery for seminars and tutorials with face-to-face delivery prioritised for workshops, laboratory practical work and studio work.

“Lecturers see this as a key opportunity for UK higher education to re-think learning and teaching practices, especially as their confidence and awareness grows,” the authors of the survey explained.

Some 49% were confident in using digital technology to deliver learning and teaching at the start of lockdown, while three-quarters (74%) were confident at the start of academic year 2020/2021.

However, a “sizeable” number of respondents said they don’t see any benefits to developing and delivering increased online learning and teaching.

Around 37% of lecturers are unclear on plans for delivering learning and teaching this academic year, while the figure rises to 71% for the next academic year, 2021/22.

Lecturers also expressed anxiety about replacing in-person teaching with online delivery methods and felt they are under significant pressure to adapt and deliver whilst feeling time poor.

“Lecturers find it more difficult to build up relationships and rapport with their students online,” explained the authors.

“They’re concerned their interactions have become depersonalised and about muted in-person interactions.”

From the students’ perspective, the survey showed that learners like online learning mainly because “it’s more convenient, saves time, is more flexible and enables review of content”.

However, 77% said physical/social interaction is important to their learning experience and most learners prefer an element of in-person learning and teaching.

“The world has changed, and we’re seeing sector-wide agreement that we need to not just make the best of the situation but build on it,” said Paul Feldman, Jisc CEO.

“Students, lecturers, and leaders are all saying that they wouldn’t want to return to purely in-person teaching, they see what’s happening now as the path to something bigger and better.”

Based on the research, a number of recommendations for universities, sector agencies and government were made to help progress digital transformation in learning and teaching, in preparation for 2021/22.

These ranged from universities accelerating the adoption of blended learning with close involvement of students to ensuring their professional development plans include digital training and peer support mechanisms.

“Embedding this at the heart of university culture will be key to transformation”

Noting the transformation already seen at many institutions Nic Newman, partner at Emerge Education, added that to continue that momentum with long-term strategies, “we must now focus on the student experience. Staff training and digital confidence will have a key role to play”.

“The real challenge will come in scaling up, and this needs to be driven by pedagogy, curricula, and learning design,” pointed out Alison Johns, chief executive at Advance HE.

“Embedding this at the heart of university culture will be key to transformation. Now is the time to help people become fully aware of how digital can support this change.”

There is sector-wide commonality acknowledged Chris Hale, director of policy at Universities UK.

“Many university leaders are facing similar challenges, so it has been hugely beneficial to come together to think about them collectively.

“Those conversations are invaluable in determining how we, as a sector, chart our way forward,” he added.

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