Is it time to rethink curriculum and learning design?

Sarah Knight
Sarah Knight

The rapid transition to online learning in 2020 has been evaluated, lessons learned, and improvements made. The landscape has changed since then - is it time to pivot and adapt again, taking blended learning to the next level?

Man working at a laptop at home

The shift to online learning during the pandemic highlighted both the potential of digital delivery and the need for flexibility, with a blended approach eventually becoming commonplace.

Higher education (HE) has certainly reached a significant juncture, facing obstacles such as new technologies, the drive for in-person teaching, economic challenges, and the changing expectations and demographics of students. Blended learning, when refined, has the potential to address some of these challenges by widening participation, enhancing student outcomes, and modernising the teaching and learning experience.

With all this change in mind, the sector’s approach to curriculum and learning design might benefit from a fresh perspective.

Last year, our beyond blended report uncovered increasingly important issues to consider:

  • The new skills and resources needed when integrating times and spaces for learning, especially live
  • The different preferences, needs and choices expected by learners and teachers
  • How learners manage asynchronous time (self-efficacy, time, and task management)
  • How digital technologies redefine relationships with space and time
  • The impact of artificial intelligence (AI), both in curriculum production and in student production of learning outcomes

Who would benefit from a redesign?

For staff, reimagining curriculum and learning design could mean more streamlined and efficient teaching processes, with the ability to reach students in varied circumstances. It could also provide opportunities for professional development as they adapt to new teaching and assessment methods (given the time and space to do so).

For the university, rethinking curriculum and learning design could enhance its reputation as a forward-thinking institution, attract a wider range of students, and contribute to the goal of providing high-quality, accessible, and inclusive education.

For students, more nuanced blended learning has the potential to boost student satisfaction, outcomes, retention, accessibility, participation and engagement, to name but a few potential benefits.

Now or never

Our research features in a new report from Policy Connect which follows an inquiry by the Higher Education Commission: Digitally enhanced blended learning: leveraging the benefits of technology in Higher Education.

The report from Policy Connect calls upon senior leaders and academics in every institution to champion the cause of blended learning and associated teaching practice, making it a personal and institutional priority.

It also outlines that government can play an equally crucial role, facilitating a supportive ecosystem that enables our universities to effectively adopt and scale blended learning, as well as engage in innovative practice to drive progress in this area.

It urges government to address the financial, practical and operational challenges that institutions face, thereby helping to ensure that the UK HE sector is leading the technology transformation to enhance both student engagement and the student experience.

We are here to help with a new guide

All learning is blended. The challenge lies in making informed choices about different blends that best respond to student preferences and needs. A beyond blended approach considers what is being blended, the choices available, and the pedagogic value of those choices, so we can talk to students about the value to them of engaging in certain ways.

There’s a lot to consider. That’s why, building on the last two decades of supporting universities with technology and curriculum design, we have created the beyond blended guide. Written with sector experts, our new guide to curriculum and learning design aims to support universities to take blended learning to the next level, helping to create new and up-to-date curriculums that reflect the multifaceted technological world we live in.

The guide contains downloadable resources and supports organisations to explore a fresh perspective on blended learning, putting the focus back on pedagogy. There’s also advice for senior leaders and practical resources for academics to rethink and enhance their practice to meet the changing landscape of higher education.

As well as curriculum space, it’s equally important to explore the institutional space, considering strategic aspects such as platform procurement considerations, what kinds of physical spaces are needed, and what kinds of flexibility should be offered. These wider organisational aspects are critical as HE adopts more strategic approaches to digital transformation

Let us know what you think

As the sector focuses on rethinking current blended learning approaches, we are dedicated to supporting universities along the way.

So, as well as creating the guide, we want your feedback. Please fill out this form to let us know how you are using the beyond blended resources at your institution, or if you would be interested in piloting these resources with support from Jisc.

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About the author

Sarah Knight
Sarah Knight
Head of learning and teaching transformation

I am head of learning and teaching transformation in higher education and research. My team and I support universities with their digital transformation agenda. This includes the supporting the use of the framework for digital transformation in higher education and the development of a maturity model for digital transformation. Other activities in my portfolio include projects exploring future trends for assessment and feedback, researching international students' digital experiences and supporting staff with designing learning for beyond blended.