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Have students learned to love blended provision?

Jisc's head of learning and teaching transformation Sarah Knight introduces a new survey of student digital experiences
This article is more than 1 year old

Sarah Knight is Head of Data and Digital Capability at Jisc. 

Investment is needed in skills development, student partnerships and digital communities to unlock the full benefits of blended learning

That’s the key finding from a new survey of more than 33,000 higher education students.

Jisc’s latest digital experience insights survey shows that students see the value of blended learning – mixing in-person learning with online resources and interactive platforms. The survey found that 45 per cent of respondents preferred a blended approach, 42 per cent wanted mainly face-to-face, and 13 per cent would like mainly online learning.

The pandemic has shifted attitudes

One of the outcomes of the pandemic is that students have a better understanding of the power digital technology has in transforming their learning journey. Students have experienced the advantages it offers; the ability to balance work, study and care commitments; reduce accommodation and travel costs; the ability to study at a time, place and pace convenient to them.

But challenges in dealing with digital poverty remain: more than one in 10 students struggle to access a suitable device to engage with digital learning and 51 per cent struggle with poor wifi connections. But we believe the advantages blended learning provides mean digital will continue to grow in importance.

However, it’s not just students driving change – the whole university community has experienced new ways of working and engaging. These opportunities require supportive, strategic investment from senior leaders to form a forward-looking collegiate vision, drive innovation, build robust infrastructures and nurture new cultures and digital competencies.

Seize opportunities

As our survey demonstrates, this shift in attitudes towards digital learning creates an opportunity for higher education leaders and it’s one they should seize. Jisc is urging universities to consider a series of positive actions to improve the student experience, rethink course design, and increase the digital skills of staff and students:

Invest in developing digital technologies within the curriculum

Greater investment to support academic development will help universities deliver quality blended learning and digital enhancement that equips students for the workplace. Strategic investment in people and infrastructure will support learning and assessment opportunities. Staff need time and space to innovate and require professional development opportunities to reimagine and redesign courses that seamlessly integrate digital and face-to-face learning.

Staff feel inspired and motivated if their good practice is shared, recognised, and rewarded. Building inspirational communities of practice that promote work will positively impact students’ learning.

Foster new digital student communities

The digital experience survey found that 59 per cent of students felt part of “a community of staff and learners”, showing clearly that digital technology can help build networks. We believe universities should encourage students to build and join communities beyond their main learning cohort. This could mitigate feelings of isolation or nervousness about engaging online.

Where learning must be entirely or predominantly online, universities should also promote online academic communities around particular courses to support students’ learning.

Prioritise building digital capabilities and confidence

Higher education leaders clearly have a role to play in continuing to develop the digital capabilities of staff and students.

From a student and graduate perspective, and to support UK plc, industry and businesses need a workforce with digital skills who can thrive in the modern workplace.

Students with fully realised abilities and knowledge will have an edge in a competitive jobs market. This requires universities to continue to provide development opportunities and training for both staff and students.

Involve students as curriculum co-creators

As recommended in the 2021 Gravity Assist report by Michael Barber, we believe students should be at the forefront of all initiatives designed to enhance their experience and be actively involved in shaping the future digital learning environment.

Universities should ensure that students are considered partners in co-creating their learning experience. It’s key that this involves the whole organisation to make sure decisions consider academic course design, assessment, wider student support, and reflect the needs of all students and subjects.

Working together to create the digital future

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to these challenges: working with students to improve course and assessment design, digital platforms, and equity of access is a priority for all higher education institutions. We want to work with universities and sector bodies like Universities UK, to develop a sector-wide evidence base that demonstrates the value of digital technology in education.

This evidence can inform the most appropriate and effective blends of face-to-face and online learning, teaching and assessment. We look forward to supporting our members as they take these steps and reimagine the way students learn, and be better aligned with the demands of our digital world.

To find out more about the views of students on their digital experiences, read the report on the findings from this year’s survey.

3 responses to “Have students learned to love blended provision?

  1. This is all good advice. I would add that the challenge the sector now faces is to develop – and, more importantly, be able to deliver – dynamic blends. An individual student’s needs, preferences and expectations can change over time and from situation to situation, and for a multitude of reasons. Meeting this dynamic set of expectations is going to be a real challenge but it feels like the future towards which we should be working.

    1. Thanks Kathy for such a thought-provoking comment which makes a lot of sense. There is a temptation to view learners as static entities with immutable preferences which smacks of the ‘learning styles’ approach. It seems obvious that some students’ preferences and expectations are going to evolve as they encounter new technologies and challenges in the course of their studies.

  2. Yet another article from Wonkhe from an industry insider saying that it is good to send students hundreds of miles away to University and then tell them the best way to experience University life is to binge watch lectures alone in their bedrooms. Shameful. The only reason it is ‘popular’ with students is because it corrupts many 18-21 year olds into thinking that not having to ‘go to the fag of getting out of bed to go to a physical lecture’ is in their best interests. It has nothing at all to do with spurious claims from the self interested HE clique that it is better for their education and overall experience. The only people it is better for is Lecturers who want to WFH and avoid engagement with actual physical students and University managers who see this as the biggest cost saving and revenue enhancing opportunity they could have ever dreamed of. You would do well to read Matthew Goodwin’s recent article in the Sunday Times where he lays bare the tawdry reality of online teaching at Universities.

    Extract from article: –

    “In my experience, the moment universities began to double
    down on remote learning was the moment the heart and soul of
    university life was ripped out. Attendance plummeted, the
    intellectual climate cooled and opportunities for face-to-face
    interaction dwindled. In the race to maximise revenue, our
    universities lost sight of student welfare”

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