Universities’ online teaching and ‘blended learning’ to be reviewed

Universities need to be ‘explicit’ about which elements of their courses are online only, the Office for Students said.

17 March 2022

The quality of online teaching and “blended learning” at universities is set to be reviewed, over fears that students’ poor experiences of online learning during the pandemic may have undermined the potential of mixing face-to-face lectures with online study.

The Office for Students (OfS) has launched a review to explore how universities are delivering blended learning, which will aim to give students and applicants information on whether the elements of their courses taught online are of a high enough quality.

While most students have returned to in-person teaching, many universities are continuing to deliver parts of their courses online, the OfS said.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said: “With the end of Government coronavirus restrictions, students are back on campus and able to enjoy in-person teaching.”

She added: “There are clear benefits to in-person learning and where students have been promised face-to-face teaching it should be provided.”

Ms Dandridge said the “return to relative normality is important” and that it “remains very important that universities and colleges are clear with their students and their applicants about how courses will be delivered”.

She said universities needed to be “explicit” about which elements of courses remained online and that whether modules were delivered online or face to face, “the quality must be good, and feedback from students taken into account”.

“There are many ways for blended courses to be successfully delivered and it will be important to harness the lessons learned by the shift to online learning during the pandemic,” Ms Dandridge said.

“We are however concerned to ensure that quality is maintained, and through this review we want to gain a deeper understanding of whether – and why – universities and colleges propose to keep certain elements online.”

A report in summer 2022 will give examples of both high-quality blended learning as well as approaches which did not meet OfS regulatory requirements, which will give students and applicants more information about their chosen courses.

The OfS has appointed Professor Susan Orr, pro vice chancellor of learning and teaching at York St John University, to lead the review.

She will work with a panel of expert academic reviewers.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The Government has removed all restrictions on in-person teaching, meaning providers are able to offer the full face-to-face teaching experience that they were offering before the pandemic.

“The Education Secretary has made clear that we want universities to be open and transparent with students by publishing the proportion of in-person teaching students can expect.

“Virtual learning is a fantastic innovation, one that can be used to complement and enhance a student’s learning experience, not detract from it, but it should not be used as a cost-cutting exercise.

“The OfS should ensure that students receive the educational experience that their provider has promised and so we look forward to seeing the outcome of this review.”

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