Home » Education Technology » How universities can fit into a hybrid learning future

Renee Patton

Global Director of Education, Cisco Systems

The university campus as we know it is evolving to offer students a more flexible hybrid education experience.

When the global pandemic struck in early 2020, 1.5 billion students around the world were affected by school, college and university closures, practically overnight. So it goes without saying that COVID-19 has had a massive, disruptive effect on young people’s education, unlike anything we’ve encountered before.

Now vaccines are providing a route back to normality, many universities seem keen to get back to business as usual. But that would be a strategic error. Instead, they should see this moment as a golden opportunity to reassess and then transform their way of working. That means embracing hybrid learning.

Hybrid learning is not — emphatically not — about moving all teaching online, because we know that there are students who prefer face-to-face learning and social interactions on campus. But it is about higher education institutions re-imagining themselves for the future, retaining those elements of their traditional model that work well and bringing in online learning where it makes sense to do so.

Hybrid learning offers security, flexibility and choice

This hybrid experience — which the university can scale up and down as required — offers students flexibility and choice and the chance to take advantage of a degree level education without always having to be physically present on campus. Instead, they can attend lectures from their accommodation, their homes, from the coffee shop down the street, or even from the other side of the world.

Of course, to make remote study possible and desirable, superior technology has to be in place that will deliver a 10x better experience — and a 10x safer experience. Cybersecurity should never be thought of as ‘bolt on’ in any circumstances, which is why every single product we develop has security built into it. Remote technology also needs to be integrated with learning management systems to make it easy for academic staff to schedule courses.

It’s no good arguing that students will find it hard to accept changes such as these because, over the last year, young people have shown how well they can adapt to new realities.

Switching to a hybrid learning model won’t just benefit students. It will benefit universities too and become part of their brand moving forward. Rather than needing, say, 100 classrooms housing 30 students each and 15 large lecture theatres, the campus of the future could feature a range of smaller learning spaces and fewer lecture theatres.

Data captured by camera technology — all anonymised to safeguard privacy — could measure traffic patterns to optimise the use of study spaces. So if 10 students are using a conference room that for health and safety reasons is only meant for five people, sensor tech can send an alert to highlight the availability and location of a bigger room, and even book it for them. It can then tell cleaning crews to clean the room that has just been vacated.

Students must be recognised as customers driving change

The truth is that educational establishments have always viewed IT has something of an afterthought, but the pandemic has outlined the crucial role it plays. And make no mistake: further innovations are coming that will dramatically impact university operations, from artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality and even real-time translation between people on video calls who speak different languages.

It’s no good arguing that students will find it hard to accept changes such as these because, over the last year, young people have shown how well they can adapt to new realities. In fact, as empowered customers (and don’t forget, students are customers), they will be the ones insisting on the revolutionary change that technology can bring.

So now colleges and universities have two choices. They can either view IT as a tool for crisis management, or they can view it as a strategic priority and invest in it accordingly. If they want to survive and thrive by giving their students the best experiences, it’s imperative they choose the latter option.

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