29 Feb 2024

Understanding the art of blending - publication of a new report

Image of SFC report cover

We are pleased to announce the publication of a pioneering report on designing and delivering an effective and inclusive digital/blended learning offering in Scotland’s colleges and universities, the result of a joint ‘Tertiary Enhancement Topic’ project, instigated by the SFC and carried out by QAA Scotland, Education Scotland, CDN and sparqs. The report lays the foundations for providing the most effective and inclusive mix of digital and traditional learning, forming part of the tertiary enhancement response to the recommendations of the SFC’s review of tertiary education and research.

The project has been undertaken across the last two academic years, developed in partnership with students. sparqs encouraged and facilitated engagement with the work through our regular officer and staff networks, NEON and SESN and in November 2022 we produced a briefing note for students’ associations to help them think about the topic and how their institution could contribute.

Focussing on first hand student experience, the report looks at what students want from blended learning and what approaches lead to the best outcomes. It aims 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 now blended in some way, meaning blended learning is already the norm and 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 particular 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.

SFC’s Chief Executive, Karen Watt said:

“Today’s report sets out our best collective understanding of what it takes to give students the optimal combination of remote and on-campus learning in tertiary education. It’s a nuanced picture, with lots of common ground between colleges and universities. We are grateful to the organisations involved for bringing 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 said:

“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 development 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, along with an accompanying summary report.

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