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Boosting staff capability to deliver your blended learning agenda

The last 14 months have brought unprecedented challenges for staff, students and universities. During the pandemic online learning has been the only option for most students and with little notice, universities quickly adapted to move the majority of teaching, learning, assessment and support online.

81% of UK higher education (HE) students were learning online only between October to December 2020 (Jisc student digital experience insights survey 2020/21) 

The ability to design and deliver effective online learning is a key employability requirement for staff

Academic and professional staff have invested considerable effort to increase the amount and breadth of online learning for students. The digital experience insights survey findings published in March 2021 found that 68% of students rated the overall quality of online and digital learning on their course between October and December 2020 as being either ‘best imaginable’, ‘excellent’ or ‘good’. However far less agreed that it was well designed, engaging and motivating or at the right level and pace. High numbers of students had experienced transactional learning activities like accessing live/recorded lectures, course materials and resources and submitting coursework electronically. Far fewer experienced more transformational, collaborative and engaging activities.

“The design of the module(s) doesn’t appear to have changed. It’s been lifted from face-to-face to online without a deeper level of thinking about what may need to be different.” (HE student)

Impact on student wellbeing of poor curriculum design

The survey also highlighted student wellbeing. Students can be adversely affected by poor curriculum design. Issues such as difficulties accessing lectures and resources, timetabling, large volumes of independent study without timely support resulting in poor concentration levels, fatigue, lack of communication, isolation and loneliness.

Staff need to respond to these issues and are actively seeking support to do so.

Why so much emphasis on blended or hybrid learning?

Throughout 2020, Jisc engaged with over 1,000 sector leaders, staff and students to understand the impact of the pandemic on higher education and to explore changing aspirations of the nature and shape of learning and teaching for the future. In learning and teaching reimagined: a new dawn for higher education, we predicted that the future of learning and teaching for 2021/22 would be blended in a variety of forms and that this would continue well into the 2030s to accommodate demand for additional university places (Hepi, 2020) and future economic and labour market needs (Universities UK (UUK), 2020). Two of the ten recommendations made in the report are that:

  • Universities think radically about the scale and scope of their learning and teaching activities, prioritising blended learning approaches wherever possible
  • Universities accelerate the adoption of blended learning, with close involvement of students in all aspects from design to delivery

Our HE strategy for 2021-24, Powering UK higher education (Jisc, 2021) sets out specific sector challenges in relation to blended learning and the need for universities to:

  • Explore new economic models to deliver high-quality blended learning at scale
  • Embrace blended learning as part of curriculum redesign
  • Expand the digital skills and confidence of students and staff
  • Communicate the benefits of blended learning

The 2021 Educause Horizon report for teaching and learning (Educause, 2021) identifies blended and hybrid course models as key technologies and practices, highlighting both the economic importance to universities and the need to demonstrate value.

“Revenue across institutions will continue to decline as long as the adoption of new learning approaches is not accompanied by compelling evidence of its efficacy. Institutions that can adapt and demonstrate value in educating their students while controlling tuition will grow and thrive.” (Educause, 2021)

Gravity Assist: propelling higher education towards a brighter future (Office for Students (OfS), 2021) identified six components of successful digital teaching and learning, making it clear that teaching and learning for digital delivery should be designed using a ‘pedagogy-first’ approach.

OfS model of the six components of successful digital teaching and learning: plan strategically (outer circle), embed inclusion (second circle), redesign pedagogy, assessment and curriculum (first quarter in central circle), ensure digital access (second quarter in central circle), build digital skills (third quarter in central circle), harness technology effectively (fourth quarter in central circle).
The six components of successful digital teaching and learning (source: Office for Students, 2021)

Ensure your staff have the skills to deliver a ‘brighter future’

Just like other workforces, the roles of university staff and teaching practices are changing. Findings from our teaching and professional services staff digital experience insights survey findings show that staff are more than willing to develop their practices but that they need support from universities to do so. 79% of teaching staff and 88% of professional services staff said they were motivated to use technology in their teaching/role but around a third felt they needed more training to develop their practice (digital experience insights surveys, 2020).

“We need time and support to develop high quality online learning.” (HE teaching staff)

Staff wellbeing has also been affected by the sudden increased demand for blended and online learning – they too need support to build competence and confidence.

Target your specific workforce needs

With so many staff, subjects and specialisms to support, it is difficult for any one organisation to adequately meet all staff needs and ambitions. Two services developed in partnership with the sector to specifically address the need to improve the delivery of blended and online learning are the digital experience insights and the building digital capabilities services:

  • Subscribe to digital experience insights to gather data to help you to better understand what your staff need to deliver effective blended learning and to target finite resources for maximum impact
  • Find out how the discovery tool (part of our building digital capabilities service) can help individuals to reflect on their digital skills development needs and provide organisational-level data to inform your staff development offer. The discovery tool includes a question set on effective online teaching
  • Read our guide on blended learning in higher education

It’s not too late to sign up for 2021 – our surveys for teaching staff and professional service staff end late June/early July and our quick start guide will get you up and running in ten easy steps.

By Clare Killen

Content insights manager, Jisc data analytics

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