The pandemic has posed significant challenges to Higher Education, altering teaching methods became a necessity to deliver learning during lockdown. Learning moved online in all levels of education, including universities. Uncertainty even after restrictions were eased led to evaluations of teaching methods to ensure students were getting the best education available to them. [1]

Insights on online learning:

  • The majority of students enjoy online learning as it saves them time. According to a Jisc Survey (2020), they prefer having the ability to review content and learn at their own pace.[2]
  • Jisc further found that lecturer confidence in delivering content through digital learning increased from 49% in March 2020 to 74% in September

What is blended learning?

Blended learning is a mixture of traditional learning techniques delivered online and in-person activities designed to expand on the lessons. Students have some control over time, place, path or pace of the material delivered so can review material at any point in the course. In-person teaching works to set up a basic time-frame of when students have to complete certain tasks by. This provides a space for more workshop-led teaching and applying the lecture-based theory to in-person activities.

Flexible learning at the University of Manchester

‘Flexible learning will explore how flexibility over pace, place, time, mode and qualification can support learners’ individual choices. We want to ensure teaching across the University of Manchester is accessible, inclusive and international by developing a strategic approach for the future of learning is created with staff and students.’

Flexible learning is

  • Blended at programme level
  • A form of flipped teaching. Almost all explanatory content is completed through video and the live teaching sessions are there to deepen the learning
  • Better signposted than learning completed in the pandemic so students have more of an idea for when tasks should be completed by.
  • Driven by learning outcomes. Both assessments and feedback should be driven with the learning outcome in mind to ensure the student gets the best learning experience.

Challenges posed by blended learning

  • Attachment to the traditional learning style of universities. Traditional models of learning are ingrained in students and lecturers alike so overcoming their attachment to this is difficult
  • The association of online learning with the pandemic. Blended learning implies that universities are reluctant to return to in-person teaching despite it being safe
  • The perception that blended learning will mean people will get less face to face teaching time. Therefore a worse experience learning at university

Working together


The programme received feedback from both lecturers and students alike to understand if the full transition to blended learning was a possibility. Involving lecturers and students in the transition helps recognise the tools needed for learning and how to get more people to support the blended learning approach.

Creating a Digital Learning Service

To help lecturers create content more digital content, the university set up a digital service to act as a one-stop shop for all guidance on flexible learning. Having the service means lecturers can have guidance in creating new content and learning how to navigate any new tools needed to create the resources.

The Digital Learning Service means the content is created with digital-first in mind and designed for this purpose. With instructional designs, lecturers can create accessible content made for online learning. This streamlines teaching so that more focus can be placed on the in-person workshops to develop theory learned in lectures. Having support throughout the creation of digital learning tools allows the lecturers to continually develop skills needed to make the best resources.

Asking the lecturers what they need to help them create digital resources means the platform is up to date. New digital toolkits can be made at any point based on feedback to support staff in enhancing their blended teaching practices.

Conclusions

  • It’s hard to get academics to support new teaching methods so be open to working with them to create an easier transition to blended learning.
  • Create any content with the digital first in mind so that content can be deployed in many different ways
  • There’s constant support for traditional lecture teaching methods. There will probably never be a better time than now to develop a blended learning programme.
  • Consider renaming blended learning as due to the pandemic this has negative connotations.
  • eLearning services need to grow to meet the demands of blended learning. Consider setting up a one-stop shop to support academics as they will need guidance throughout the transition.
  • It is possible to take a more cautious approach than the University of Manchester. Universities can roll out a blended learning scheme year on year rather than all at once.
  • Blended learning is only possible if universities work togetherwith academics and students.

[1] Times Higher Education, Blended Learning is Here to Stay, (2020)
[2] Jisc, Blended Learning in Higher Education, (2020)
[3]Stephen Pettifer, Professor of Computer Science, Deputy Programme Director for Flexible Learning, The University of Manchester, (2021)

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The pandemic has posed significant challenges to Higher Education, altering teaching methods became a necessity to deliver learning during lockdown. With the majority of students preferring the flexibility of online learning, universities need to create blended learning strategies to ensure students are getting the best learning experience going forward.

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