Put down the hoverboard blueprints. Step away from the hologram of lecturers as you sit in a giant rig. The vision for the future of online learning and teaching is not something out of a futuristic sci-fi film – it’s all about convenience, flexibility and accessibility.
“Anytime, anywhere” teaching and learning is reshaping how we think about the university campus. Rather than seeing physical spaces in opposition to online tools and platforms, universities need to present a connected campus that extends across both spaces seamlessly.
At LearningMate, we’re at the forefront of these advancements in educational technology, and we’re already supporting our clients to transform their content and platforms for better learning experiences.
Here are some of the factors we’ve identified that can help universities prepare for what lies ahead:
1. Student recruitment
Whether it’s international or home students, blending the physical and digital recruitment experience is a necessity.
For example, do home students really need to travel the length of the country to find out about a university, when student recruitment technology can save them (and their parents) time and money on hotels and transport in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis? There are opportunities here, and institutions should consider how virtual open days can be used to their advantage.
Some examples of virtually recruiting students may include showcasing interactive simulations, an in-depth demonstration of campus facilities, or a student recruitment software tool that keeps students updated as they go through the admissions process. It’s all about being creative. Check out how Abertay University created a detailed replica of their campus using the video game Minecraft to allow potential students to ‘visit’ during the Covid-19 pandemic.
360-degree virtual campus tours posted onto a university’s YouTube channel have been around for years – but prospective students also want the opportunity to ask the questions that matter to them.
Interactive sessions with panels comprising teaching staff, student ambassadors, and student support colleagues can replace this online, and offer much higher value than pre-recorded presentations. Smaller break-out sessions to discuss the range of support on offer, learning outcomes and what a typical week may look like can help a student to understand if a university is the right fit for them.
Just as students value the contact time in a face-to-face environment, the first priority for technology in the future will be to bridge the gap between digital and human connections.
2. High quality teaching and learning
“Universities will soon realise that students have fluid expectations. We are competing for user experience with places like Amazon – that’s the expected standard. If we are saying, ‘our systems are a little bit less worse than they were three years ago’, that’s a long way from saying, ‘I want this to be as seamless as my experience with Amazon’.”
Just as expectations have grown in retail over the years, students want to see adaptability and choice when it comes to their own learning activities. Over the next decade, it’s anticipated that personalisation will be a critical factor in facilitating a meaningful online experience that will not just attract, but retain and engage students.
It isn’t too much of a reach to envision how these principles can be applied to teaching and learning in the future:
- Sessions and lectures on-demand over shorter teaching blocks for more intensive learning or to meet the needs of a changing student population.
- Multi-modal delivery in video, audio and kinaesthetic formats to support a range of learning styles and accessibility.
- Fully online courses that can be accessed anytime, anywhere, in multiple languages.
- Voice search and control across the Virtual Learning Environment and course materials.
- On-demand study support using AI to signpost to easy-to-answer questions and referrals for in-depth support.
When design is student-led, these opportunities take the online experience beyond ‘transmit and receive’ and into true interactive and blended learning. Returning to the shopping analogy, consumers expect to receive the service they want at the point of need – anytime, anywhere, in an accessible and convenient way.
3. Anytime, anywhere learning
As Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality (VR) are racing ahead in the technology and gaming industries, they could also become a familiar fixture in the world of higher education.
These technologies aren’t unfamiliar to university departments. There is already a wealth of research and expertise that lies within partnerships with leading organisations – which has resulted in impressive growth in engineering and computer science subjects, including a 400% jump in acceptances to AI courses.
For example, Brighton and Sussex Medical School became the first medical school in the UK to extend its provision of anatomy and surgical teaching by using secure, live streamed footage of cadaveric donors being dissected.
The University of Nottingham created a virtual teaching island, called Nottopia, for mini-lectures and seminars to learn about using VR in product and technology design. This allowed students to learn about simulation and VR from within VR in an alternative format to the conventional face-to-face lectures of years past.
To meet the future vision, universities need to anticipate the needs of students by embedding these methods and technologies in online learning and teaching, making it easier to engage with learning content wherever and whenever they access it.
Partnership is key
It’s clear that the nature of hybrid teaching and learning requires a greater depth of transformation than converting physical materials into digital ones.
This can’t be achieved overnight, but there are some quick-win opportunities available. Higher Education budgets are finite, and staff have already undertaken a huge learning curve as a result of the pandemic.
Universities have the opportunity to harness the expertise of partners who can prepare, deliver and support them in the difficult task of translating offline resources into online courses. Breaking down learning into small outcome-focused elements can support better impact and personalisation of learning.
To secure the future, digital transformation needs to be more than a mission statement.
Find out how we’re already supporting universities in their preparation for the road ahead, and get in touch, on our website https://uk.learningmate.com/.