The current pandemic has seen the Higher Education sector grapple with the challenge of balancing traditional methods of delivery with developing confidence in online delivery among large groups of educators. Working with partner universities across the world, Pearson is testing solutions to tackle this. There is no doubt every institution we work with is different, but the challenges they face are not unique, and I’d like to share some of what we’ve learned so far.
A. Academics need more support than you may anticipate to successfully make the shift to online delivery
We would recommend training to include:
- How to overcompensate for the lack of physical proximity
- The promotion of reflection and communication through quality asynchronous discussion
- Clarifying expectations, both inside and outside of the classroom
- Upskilling technical competencies and building confidence
- Understanding accessibility requirements
B. Don’t underestimate the importance of building inclusive online communities at course level
It has been shown that online learner motivation is related to the amount of interaction with their educators and the level of enthusiasm they convey. Having a personalised presence and modelling the kind of community culture they would like students to adopt helps educators to build community.
C. Broaden out your ‘online campus’
Challenges arise when students are studying remotely, potentially on different time zones and need support in real time, be it academic or pastoral. Ideally a realistic alternative should be developed that suits the needs of online students and offers them an equivalence of on-campus support. Universities could consider working with partner universities around the world, to provide a ‘round the clock’ service.
D. Review your marketing and recruitment strategy in light of getting the points above right
Consider what opportunities you can give online students to get more comfortable with the online learning environment before they start. Things like accessing the Virtual Learning Environment before students commit to taking the course, offering virtual open days and webinars to meet the academics and current students and building up case studies and testimonials can make a huge difference to your ability to recruit students to online learning.
Our experience of working in online learning has given us a healthy appreciation of the challenges and pitfalls of delivering in this way, but we have also built a greater awareness of the opportunity this represents for the sector. If universities can continue to find ways to deliver high-quality education flexibly, while maintaining the elements of community and participation which are so critical to the higher education experience, then the sector will find ways to innovate and connect with new learners.