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.
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.