Remote learning is under heavy debate when it comes to higher education. During the Covid-19 pandemic, there was no choice but to learn and teach remotely, but now – universities have that choice again. There are pros and cons to teaching in the lecture hall and teaching online, so what is the future of hybrid teaching in universities?
The current situation regarding hybrid teaching in higher education is uncertain. Every individual within every institution will have a different experience, and factoring in international differences affects this again. Personalised learning is currently important in education, making the individual learner’s experience vital. It’s difficult to blend every learner’s experience to devise an overall solution, but for many lecture halls, it is the only option going forward.
Remodelling the remote experience
The rise of tech-heavy teaching was already underway pre-pandemic. The quality of large group teaching, The rise of tech-heavy teaching was already underway pre-pandemic. The quality of large group teaching, especially with the rising numbers of university lectures, was under inspection regarding student engagement. The concern was this engagement would be spread too thinly over bigger groups, resulting in technological developments to resolve this. Patrick Daly, former Assistant Director for Learning and Teaching Support at Queen’s University Belfast talks about their experience. Patrick stated that before the Covid-19 pandemic, ‘…different technology options were being explored to facilitate and stimulate that multiway engagement between student and lecturer and peer to peer’. It aimed to achieve equal opportunity for all students, regardless if they could be present physically at the lecture or not.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, the advancement in technological learning accelerated to When the pandemic hit in March 2020, the advancement in technological learning accelerated to compromise to international lockdown. Learners restricted to remote learning placed more pressure on virtual teaching, resulting in the implementation of Teams and Zoom meetings, which incidentally slowed down the investment in collaborative learning. As seen in this year’s Global Sentiment Survey, collaborative learning is on a lot of people’s minds in both the L&D and education communities. Donald H Taylor, Chair of the Learning Technologies Conference London and speaker at OEB Global, created this survey to examine what topics people in learning think will be ‘hot’ that year. Collaborative learning was number one in the 2016 Global Sentiment Survey, facing a 5-year decline before rising again last year. It maintained its high position this year, arguably in response to the decline in worldwide collaborative learning during the pandemic.
The goal of organisations to energise more engagement within virtual environments was the logical choice during a pandemic, but it doesn’t come without challenge. Some universities, especially those lacking in funds, struggled to accommodate the sudden changes in teaching. The process of adjusting to virtual teaching varied for each institution, but the vital socialisation desired by many students made the process take longer overall. This brings us to the present hybrid teaching method, where students experience both virtual and physical learning. But who faces more challenges – the learner or the teacher?
The complexity of hybrid flexibility
Combining traditional teaching with virtual can be complicated. It’s essentially blending the familiar with the not-so-familiar because, despite two years under the guidance of remote teaching, it’s still going against decades of in-person learning. Lecturers and professors have to adapt their teaching material to both in-person and online lectures, with students having to adapt their learning style and schedule. Below are some of the key pros and cons surrounding hybrid teaching specifically in higher education:
Of course, these are speculated positives and negatives of hybrid teaching, and they will differ depending on the university, teacher and learners. However, all of them are viable pros and cons of hybrid teaching in higher education – let’s discuss what they mean. First and foremost, the top two coincide with each other – hybrid teaching is great for having a flexible schedule, but this requires organisation on the student’s part. Having a flexible schedule is increasingly desired by students for the freedom it allows, which links to the ‘learn on your own time’ pro. But some university students are still developing their organisational skills, and some have other commitments such as a job, which both make flexibility a challenge rather than a plus.
It’s no mystery that a big con of hybrid teaching is the reduced social interaction. This leads to students missing out on the social aspect of university, as well as less challenge by peers. When working together, students can bring out the best in each other by comparing ideas, sharing tips on studying and challenge each other’s opinions for debate skills, etc. All of this is lost or at least hindered with remote learning, so hybrid teaching has a negative impact on student socialising. On the other hand, remote learning offers the freedom to rewatch lectures in a student’s own time, which means the information is permanently available to them. However, this all heavily reliant on internet connection which isn’t always reliable, as well as requiring students to all have technological devices which aren’t always in the student budget.
Overall, hybrid teaching presents itself to have almost a similar number of positive attributes as it does negative. Going forward, it’s clear that there is not one single method of learning that works for every university around the world. Some universities are heavily focused on scientific subjects which require more hands-on learning approaches such as being in a lab, while some focus on literary subjects which can arguably be taught remotely. Engagement and social interaction remain top priorities for universities and students in 2022, so we can expect to see new practices for hybrid teaching and learning.
Written for OEB 2022 by Chloë Sibley.