When this year’s crisis hit, educational institutions had to pivot to digital forms of learning at short notice. For many, this was a rapid departure from the norm – hybrid or blended, learning which combines online and face-to-face may have been a long-term strategy but plans wouldn’t necessarily have been in place to enable a switch to fully online. Now is the time for leadership teams to assess how equipped their institutions are to manage this year’s upheaval and, looking ahead, how well their learning and technology strategies prepare them to meet future educational needs.
From firefighting to fireproofing – top tips
Inevitably, there was an element of firefighting in handling the immediate crisis. Teachers drew heavily on IT teams and instructional designers to get them up-and-running, providing students with digital content and virtual sessions. While technical teams will continue to play a central role in technology integration, meeting future student needs through a flexible, engaging hybrid learning model will require leadership and strategic planning. Firefighting has its place, but now is the time for fireproofing.
Leaders will need:
1. A long-term vision
It is essential to establish clear expectations of what hybrid learning success will look like, uniting everyone – teaching and administrative staff as well as students – around the same vision. Institutions anticipating a prolonged period of online learning should aim to provide great learning experiences, enabling students to achieve defined learning outcomes. To move away from a mindset of simply ‘keeping the lights on’, a vision of a successful hybrid learning model must be embedded into the organisation’s culture.
2. Strong leadership
Leaders set the tone and establish the conditions for a desired culture to develop. Achieving a shift in the way learning is delivered requires top-down investment in the strategy and the people delivering it. A trusted team must be in place, empowered with the authority and agility for rapid decision-making and support for if – and when – mistakes happen.
3. Strategic planning
The strategy should clearly establish how the vision will be achieved. Hybrid learning is more than just making content available online and delivering tutoring via conferencing tools. As institutions progress plans for the start of the new academic year, it will be more important than ever to be able to provide effective hybrid learning to fee-paying students. Resources must be in place to deliver a fully asynchronous learning experience in which students work towards their established learning outcomes, with the flexibility to access learning anytime and anywhere. In this way, institutions can reach all students, regardless of geography and personal circumstances, including those learners who must juggle work and family commitments. A learning platform that supports personalisation allows students to learn at their own pace and remain engaged. A hybrid learning model is entirely different from classroom-based teaching, so staff will require a huge amount of support and proper investment in training and professional development.
4. Clear communication
Effective communication is always essential, not just at times of crisis. By communicating the need to adapt, the reasons for it and the plan to make it happen, leaders can unite teams behind a vision so that they can feel comfortable in the present and have faith in the long-term.
Working with appropriate technology partners, institutions can access modern learning platforms to enable truly engaging hybrid learning. The right partner provides more than just technology: they support implementation and training and provide instructional design advice to help deliver against the institution’s strategic vision for online learning. A strong partnership begins at the start of the transformation journey, with solution and delivery designed around the roadmap.
The modern learning platform, which can function as a hub for all learning experiences including classroom-based, blended/hybrid instruction, fully online, competency-based learning and educators’ own professional development, provides a single port of call. Simple access for teachers and students and platform scalability to accommodate an increased activity, together with organised tutor training on platform tools and ongoing support from technical teams, can help alleviate concerns as tutors head towards a ‘new normal’.
During these challenging times, the priority for education has been to ‘keep the lights on’ and maintain continuity of learning. Institutions stepped up to ensure that was the case in every way possible. Going forward, lessons will be learnt from the never-before-seen circumstances of this year to deliver hybrid learning models that incorporate the best of everything that both online and classroom-based study have to offer.