The remote class of 2020: Universities and blended learning T

echnology often personalises our learning experience in a way that’s been proven to

enhance educational outcomes. In our connected world, access to these tools and online resources is becoming increasingly important, helping students from all demographic and socioeconomic backgrounds prepare for further education, work, and life in the digital economy, gaining the skills that are now demanded by employers. Many sectors are rapidly transitioning online,

and many universities do offer digital learning capabilities as part of their core offer, with recent events accelerating this further. In 2020, daily schooling changed overnight.

Closures have had an impact on nearly 80% of the world’s student population, across 138 countries. In the UK, lecturers moved to distance

teaching, and students accessed entire curriculums remotely. Approximately 1.37 billion students are now learning from home as a result of the lockdown, including more than 2.38 million students studying at UK higher education institutions. Fresher's Week may be fast approaching, but university life is set to look and feel quite different. When the Times Higher Education surveyed

leaders of prominent global universities in 2018, with 200 respondents from 45 countries, only 63% expected established, prestigious universities to be offering full degree courses online by 2030 – and yet today, there is a broad consensus that distant and hybrid learning will be with us for some time. A gear change is now necessary. How has the student learning experience been changed and what does best practice look like for

universities now looking to increase their student cohort without a heavy on campus load?

Remote learning is vital – and here to stay. While the outlook is challenging, courses can be started and completed by remote learning, with many students already familiar using online learning aids. With the right technology, the quality of remote teaching and learning does not decrease. The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) is

one example, with a student and staff community approaching 38,000, it was well underway with its transition, already working with Microsoft to deliver the university’s digital initiatives, including the roll-out of 2,500 Surface devices, when the recent crisis forced closures. Office 365 is already the norm for students and staff at UCLan, with Microsoft Teams also providing a space where students can actively raise questions and seek support. “In a matter of weeks, we had 28,000 students

supported by 3,000 staff using a combination of Teams, OneNote and Microsoft Whiteboard. The ease of the technology and the ability to communicate and collaborate has been a huge benefit for students to be able to continue their studies.” -James Crooks, Director of Learning and Information Services at UCLan. Hybrid learning is proving beneficial and

students should feel confident taking up their places for September. Universities must now consider how to make blended learning part of their marketing at a time when attracting as many new starters as possible is vital. With travel and global volunteering opportunities reduced, possibilities for the ultimate gap year look few. The decision to defer any studies may not be advantageous. Acquiring a degree in this time where hybrid learning is front and centre, could better equip students with the life skills needed for today’s modern workplace. Dispelling the image that learning online is not

the same quality is half the battle, and Microsoft can partner with you every step of the way, helping equip universities, schools and students with powerful learning solutions that offer secure, easy to manage devices that are ready to go. To ensure that both lecturers and students are

set up for success, universities need to consider long-term investments in technology that can provide a stable foundation for continued growth and education. The resultant shift to remote learning has given us a preview of education in the future and the fresh creativity this affords. Technology firms and the education community now have an obligation and an opportunity to work together to bridge the digital divide so that every student has a chance to succeed.

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July/August 2020

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