Unlocking the Future of Learning: Pioneering Report on Digital and Blended Education

A pioneering report investigating digital and blended learning in universities and colleges has been published today by four Scottish quality agencies. QAA Scotland, Education Scotland, College Development Network (CDN) and sparqs have jointly collected and analysed information and made recommendations for future development. 

Focusing on first-hand student experience, the report looks at what students want from blended learning and what approaches lead to the best outcomes.

The work has been instigated by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) to help Scotland’s colleges and universities better understand the opportunities and the challenges presented by new technology. It is part of a wider two-year initiative aimed at the future delivery of effective and inclusive digital and blended learning.

The researchers found the majority of learning in Scotland’s tertiary sector is now blended in some way, meaning it is already the norm and will continue to be so in the future.

In sharing their thoughts on blended learning, learners stressed the importance of having a campus base for their studies. One college student interviewed for the report listed free breakfast, free toiletries, book swaps, and free haircuts as part of the cost-of-living crisis support available on their campus. Other students stressed the importance of interaction with fellow learners, lecturers and other staff in creating a sense of belonging.

The report also draws attention to the effects of digital poverty and recognises the efforts being made to address potential inequalities.

According to the report’s findings, the most important consideration for the future of blended learning is achieving the right balance between its different components. Striving for equality of opportunity and creating a feeling of inclusion were also seen as crucial to success.

Karen Watt, Chief Executive of SFC, said:

‘Today’s report provides tertiary education in Scotland with the best understanding so far of what it takes to give students the best possible combination of remote and on-campus learning. It’s a nuanced picture but with a lot of common ground between colleges and universities. I’m very grateful to each of the organisations which brought their experience and expertise to this important piece of work.’

Kathryn O’Loan, Director of QAA Scotland, said:

‘It is clear blended learning is here to stay. The quality of the student and staff experience will be dependent on how effectively we get to grips with designing and managing a blended offer as a sector. I am delighted QAA has played a significant role in this first multi-agency partnership to explore how practices and student experience across Scotland’s colleges and universities have developed in response to the pandemic and identify how we can enhance future provision.’

Jonny Rees, Head of Professional Development at CDN, added:

‘I am delighted that CDN has played a key role in this unique project, which explores how the pandemic shaped current practices in Scotland’s tertiary sector. The college-based research has highlighted innovative approaches and diverse strategies to address various digital challenges across the sector to enhance the learning experience. Whilst there is a lot of work still to do, and a lot of barriers to overcome, the creativity and innovation demonstrate promising progress.’

Following today’s publication, the next steps will include a series of staff development workshops and the production of online resources for staff and students.

The Future of Learning and Teaching: Defining and delivering an effective and inclusive digital/blended offering is now available on the SFC website.

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