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Implementing hybrid learning for the long-term: what do education institutions need to consider?

Manju Kygonahally, Vice President, Communications, Media, Education & Technology, Cognizant

While students have now returned to school in the UK, the pandemic has given education institutions a taste of what remote learning can offer. It has also significantly accelerated the sector’s move toward a hybrid approach. The majority of education institutions are now eager to further expand on this model and plan to continue embracing the approach even after the pandemic.

Hybrid learning, or blended learning, is the combination of face-to-face and online learning. For students, it breaks the “one size fits all” model by letting them learn anytime and anywhere and for teachers it offers more flexible delivery options, dependent on the content, subject and the capabilities of the students. One of the main benefits of hybrid learning is that it can help teachers focus on the students and their comprehension, instead of being distracted by the delivery method.

The implementation of technology is vital for the remote aspect of the hybrid model. Specifically, cloud, AI, machine learning and data analysis can all help to enable students to access their education portals from remote devices or to complete assessments securely from the comfort of their own homes, for example, with AI-supported remote proctoring. Machine learning and data analysis can also be used to enable a form of personalised learning that can be used to give each student an individualised educational experience.

However, as with any new trend, there are essential considerations and risks that education institutions need to take into account when implementing hybrid learning approaches in the long-term.

Breaking down barriers

Not only is hybrid learning more flexible for students and teachers, but it will also benefit some very specific groups of people for whom purely in-person learning is a struggle. For example, hybrid learning will help students who have to take on part-time work to help fund their education, allowing them to learn on their own time when needed, or support students with more ad hoc commitments such as family obligations they need to work around.

The remote aspect of hybrid learning will perhaps even more importantly help to break down geographical barriers. It means education institutions can now reach students all around the globe so students in remote corners of the world can have access to the same education to those in populated cities. They might be students taking part in overseas placements, or they might be students who permanently live in these other areas of the world and until now haven’t had access to quality education resources.

Adopting digital approaches isn’t without risk

Despite its worldwide benefits, there are some challenges when it comes to the adoption of hybrid learning, although, perhaps unsurprisingly, these revolve more around the teachers than the digital-native students.

This is because most teachers have had little experience of remote teaching until recently. This means many have struggled with maintaining student engagement, whereby methods used to encourage engagement in the classroom aren’t necessarily effective over video. Collaboration in a hybrid learning setting can also be challenging without the right tools, especially if issues such as unreliable internet connectivity come into play.

Another major obstacle to consider is that the education sector has seen its fair share of new cybersecurity challenges and threats throughout the pandemic, all thanks to its move to remote learning.

The consequences of falling victim to a cyber-attack can be devastating and vary depending on the type of institution. For example, attacks can cause severe reputational damage for universities, while schools are likely to be more concerned with ensuring the safety of minors.

Remote learners who access the school network through personal, unsecured or unpatched devices, and who more often than not have not received proper security training, are easy prey for cyber attackers. Teachers, students and institutions therefore need to be equipped with the right technology tools to ensure they can partake in hybrid learning successfully and securely.

Embracing technology

Key technologies such as the cloud facilitate online collaboration that can help keep remote learners engaged. Cloud-based applications and tools can help teachers deliver online lessons, share educational resources that can be accessed anywhere, and allow for seamless communication. Other strategies for improving remote engagement could include incorporating blended teaching with learning analytics. This would help instructors better understand learner engagement with online materials and identify the needs and timing for learning support.

On the other hand, technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality (VR) have the capability to transform how we deliver educational experience. For example, in the medical field, VR has been adopted to help progress remote learning and teaching.

When looking to assessment processes, incorporating AI technology and machine learning into remote examinations can help assessors survey students across all screens, by detecting when students move off-screen or even alerting the assessor when a web browser is being opened.

The hybrid learning era is upon us, and the experience of being forced to operate remotely during recent lockdowns is enormously beneficial. Technology should no longer be a hindrance to either teaching or learning, and in fact can benefit both, while allowing more students to learn in a greater variety of ways, and as flexibly as required. As long as institutions approach this sensibly and securely, there is no reason why our education systems cannot thrive with hybrid approaches.

Manju Kygonahally, Vice President, Communications, Media, Education & Technology, Cognizant at Cognizant

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