Many UK universities have adopted a mix of online and on-campus education as the government eased social distancing restrictions. While most still hope things will ‘get back to normal’ as soon as it is safe, the wider industry is also asking itself a thought-provoking question: Even if we can get back to normal, should we?
Having navigated the difficulty and seismic impacts of a global pandemic, including levels of disruption that will have consequences unknown for the education of an entire generation; we also had the opportunity to positively reflect and re-imagine what we, and future learners, really expect from a university education.
Pivot towards accessibility and the career needs of the lifelong learner
The dramatic shift from a campus model to large-scale e-learning, as a model for delivering the core academic experience, has been a challenge across the board and an incredible testament to the dynamism that the institutes of Higher education (HEI) have come under pressure. After going through a very difficult 18 months, it appears that a digitally-driven approach to education is opening new doors for academics and students around the world, offering greater choice and deeper engagement, especially with motivations of more diverse learners. The products, pathways and qualifications offered by universities are more in demand than ever, and after COVID, the opportunity to radically transform access through digital is also more tangible than ever.
After going through a very difficult 18 months, it appears that a digitally-driven approach to education is opening new doors for academics and students around the world, with more choices and deeper engagement, especially with motivations of more diverse learners.
According to recent research, educators believe that online learning has increased student engagement and independence. Learners report optimism for increasingly digitized education in the long term – FutureLearn’s The future of learning a report found that 50% of UK adults believe that online learning can offer similar benefits to formal education; and the Office for Student’s Digital Teaching and Learning Review published earlier this year provides assurance that permanent change has taken place.
The momentum behind blended learning styles is playing out in core and supplemental areas, for example. The flexibility, customization and scale of digital learning can be used for core modules and additional extracurricular areas such as ‘how to learn’ more effectively, career decision making, and job-ready skills. employment – the latter being more urgent than ever given the economic context of unemployment and a shortage of required skills.
Millions of students and professionals have seen their career paths disrupted and we need to do more to help them connect with the tools they need to succeed in a rapidly changing, digitally-driven job market. During the pandemic, for example, FutureLearn saw an almost 200% increase in the number of new female learners and, at the same time, an almost 350% increase in enrollment in technology and coding courses. We also saw a wider range of organizations, from City & Guilds to The big problem, moving into the online learning space to bring these essential tools to learners who have experienced the most disruption.
The rise of alternative and digitized educational pathways
The industry as a whole has certainly been forced to consider the once overlooked opportunities of digital strategies that can encourage learning in a way that is much more suited to the learner of tomorrow and the changing economy. Universities have generally been quicker to embrace digital solutions into their existing teaching models, adapting existing degree base portfolios to provide the flexibility, accessibility, and career-focused content learners need. FutureLearn has seen partners from around the world – from the University of Kent in the UK to Monash and Deakin University in Australia and the University of Michigan in the US – adapt quickly to create products such as micro-certificates, on-demand courses, and always-on, competency-based subscription learning models such as FutureLearn ExpertTrack, which has been specially designed for the younger generation of career-changing learners.
We are also seeing many more industry players entering the world of higher education and adult education than ever before – the Dyson Institute is just one example; and at FutureLearn, companies like Xero, Salesforce and Tableau are partnering with institutes like Coventry University to create learning opportunities that have a direct impact on employability.
In the near future, we can expect to see ever more inventive and alternative digital offerings. This can only be an advantage in helping to expand the reach and access to HEI products. These innovative online products can act as a catalyst: by providing on-demand services that adapt to the realities of people’s post-pandemic lives, it is hoped that education can be more flexible and fit for everyone’s lives. days.
Given the unprecedented rate of technological change we see every day, it is widely predicted that people will have multiple careers in their lifetimes, needing to recycle and retrain on a regular basis. the The future of learning The report, for example, found that 21% of UK working-age adults don’t expect to work in the same industry by 2030, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing nearly one in ten to rethink entirely his career path.
Current students and those already employed can expect to need refresher courses and learning interventions to prepare them for success in the job market of the future.
There is therefore a growing need for opportunities and mechanisms to increase the skills of graduates, both during and after studies. Current students and those already employed may expect to need reinforcement courses and learning interventions to prepare them for success in the job market of the future.
A new wave of employability-focused HE qualifications
At the same time, we are seeing a return to more employment-oriented learning models; away from the diploma as a gateway product. Industry-based skills are on the rise; here in the UK we are seeing a resurgence in the popularity of apprenticeships due to the fact that apprentices can both learn and earn on the job. They are particularly popular among employers because they allow them to recruit a larger number of diverse people from a wider range of backgrounds, with different skills and approaches to the world.
OU’s apprenticeship programs play a crucial role in helping employers face the challenges of the pandemic and plan for the future while helping to fill skills gaps in key areas, including digital, management, leadership, social work, policing and health care. OU’s teaching model is a blended model, with world-class online teaching combined with specialist face-to-face tutor support.
The flexibility to combine quality digital learning with practical on-the-job experience is at the heart of this progressive opportunity. Many OU apprentices can study close to home and obtain the qualification in a flexible way, through quality and supported distance learning.
The movement continues to accelerate. Building on higher learning and degree programs, the UK government Skills for Jobs The white paper published in January of this year announces another alternative to the traditional university degree in England: Higher Technical Qualifications. These are designed to be one or two year programs aimed at filling skill shortages in specific occupations just below the degree level.
However, the need to tackle a lag in productivity growth and focus more on the employer should not mean that skills have to adapt to a linear straightjacket. Learning is not just for the years after leaving school. It is possible to allow learners to create their own personalized selection of educational products, choosing and choosing modules that flexibly combine their skill requirements and interests, mixing the professional and academic approach. to create a portfolio of practical and theoretical learning. OU’s certificates, diplomas and open degrees illustrate how this can be done and provide a model for other HEIs to follow.
Digital education products provide a lifelong continuous learning pathway, adding learning ‘nudges’ and accessible and flexible paths for retraining and recycling, helping learners break free from the domination of a diploma acquired at a young age
Overall, in 2021, HEIs focus less on the critical years between 18 and 22 and the campus experience, and more on the future of learning. Digital education products provide a lifelong continuous learning pathway, adding learning ‘nudges’ and accessible and flexible paths for retraining and recycling, helping learners break free from the domination of a diploma acquired at a young age. Higher education institutions see change and understand the role they can play in it, knowing that at any age and at any stage of their career, learners have ongoing needs and desires to continue to learn.
The disappearance of a lifelong job and the acceleration of industrial progress are putting more and more pressure on the individual to continue to acquire skills in areas of employment that are growing and in demand. This is where HEIs have an essential role to play, by supporting modular offers in an accessible digital environment. Their experience in how to provide distance education online during the pandemic, and the needs and anxieties of their own students as they face a tough job market after COVID-19, have shown them firsthand the need for this approach, with many education leaders. now re-imagining the university for 2021.
We have learned what is possible through our rushed dive into the digital world for overnight delivery due to the pandemic. While it might have been painful, the way we learn and teach now must surely spark our imaginations and creativity on how we can function better in the future.
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