Higher education can deliver, but must consider these key areas to succeed.
GUEST COLUMN | by Gauthier Van Malderen
From the earliest days of the pandemic, universities around the world moved online. While some of the most prestigious among them, like Harvard and MIT, already offered MOOCs and online courses, they weren’t prepared for the impact of moving fully remote. Universities still retained a strong focus on in-person learning, such as access to physical libraries and opportunities to integrate with campus life. They found themselves needing to fulfill the students’ same high expectations for the standard of teaching, but are yet to master the delivery of a true hybrid learning experience.
The current boom in edtech fueled by the pandemic offers the unique opportunity to establish a purpose-built hybrid learning system that delivers high quality teaching and improves access for students everywhere.
‘The current boom in edtech … offers the unique opportunity to establish a purpose-built hybrid learning system that delivers high quality teaching and improves access for students everywhere.’
There are three key hurdles higher education faces in order to deliver true hybrid learning.
Replicating the Social Experience of Attending University
University is a social experience, it is a unique opportunity to meet people, connect, socialize, pick up new hobbies and discover yourself. A big component of most courses are group projects and seminars where students develop valuable teamwork skills that translate into the workplace. Many students form informal study groups to debate, share ideas and gather new perspectives.
However, when classes moved online, one of the main obstacles universities were faced with was to try and replicate the collaborative learning environment offered at university. Both Zoom and Microsoft incorporated new functionality to support students but these existing platforms were retrofitted to the need, leaving an opportunity to build a bespoke solution that directly connects in-classroom learning with extra-curricular study.
Most courses enable students to access pre-recorded lectures online for their convenience. Students could also connect with lecturers through email, hubs or online-source learning platforms like Moodle.
However, online lectures alone cannot replicate a live learning environment.
For example, for STEM courses like medicine and engineering more needed to be done to deliver practical in-person teaching and lab sessions online. McKinsey recently reported that through tools like VR, AI and digital simulations, edtech can help create a world in which students and educators alike can interact in a bid to mimic the real-world application of skills. Arizona State University was able to create an entirely online biology course with the help of VR technology and enable access to a state-of-the-art virtual lab. Students are able to conduct experiments and observe molecules just like being in a physical lab.
As professors teach through a range of methods, universities need a broad range of technologies to enable an engaging learning experience.
Building a Foundation for Life
Lastly, in order for a hybrid learning model to thrive, universities must enable students to get the skills and knowledge needed for life after university. These include the tools necessary to navigate the workplace and a network that they can lean on in their future careers.
One of the perks of degree programs at top universities is that they include additional features alongside traditional learning, such as placement years or exchange programs. A challenge that most universities were faced with during the pandemic, was how to replicate this experience online. Columbia University was able to create such a world through the use of technology in their internship program – which enables students to intern for companies around the U.S., while offering access to workshops and a “one-on-one career counseling”. There is clearly an opportunity for universities to invest in technologies that energize their business connections and alumni network and establish themselves as leaders in online courses.
In the scramble to move teaching online, universities needed to retrofit existing solutions primarily designed for businesses. As they transition beyond the pandemic, by putting the needs and user experience of both students and educators at the forefront, there is the opportunity to build a true hybrid learning environment.
‘…by putting the needs and user experience of both students and educators at the forefront, there is the opportunity to build a true hybrid learning environment.’
The responsibility for driving this change lies not only with edtech companies, but also in the attitude of academia in adopting this new way of teaching and learning —accepting that online degrees and universities are a legitimate way of delivering and acquiring knowledge, rather than a temporary method to fill the gap before returning to in-person practices. The pandemic has helped prove that hybrid learning can work, but we need to show it can function alongside in-person teaching.
Gauthier Van Malderen is the co-founder and CEO of Perlego, an online library of academic resources and tools. Gauthier is a serial entrepreneur who previously founded and sold two companies including Iconic Matter, a youth-oriented marketing agency in Belgium, Switzerland and Morocco, which was sold to a major European media group. Connect through LinkedIn.