The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way students viewed higher education forever, and while the country may be reopened, students don’t necessarily want everything going back to the way it was. In some cases, students hope certain changes resulting from the pandemic will never change.
Hybrid learning is one of the opportunities that presented itself in 2020 that students have learned to embrace. According to Ivy.ai’s Future of Higher Ed Report, 77 percent of recent college graduates said they utilized distance learning at their institution.
Students utilized distance learning in a variety of ways. Some stayed on campus and listened to lectures in their dorms. Others moved temporarily to an Airbnb in the mountains or by the beach. Some students never went on campus and learned at home or returned to live with their parents.
The Future of Higher Ed Report suggests that students don’t want to forego the on-campus experience entirely, but they do expect more flexibility in the future. The problem is that the distance learning experience is sub-optimal. 37 percent of recent graduates said the online learning experience needed improvement.
Given that many professions have adapted to remote work faster than academia, students are observing what they may have lacked while attending their institution, and expecting to get the same accommodation from their institution.
For current higher-ed students, the benefits of learning remotely are self-evident. Students realized the advantages of online programs through extended freedoms to travel while using on-demand learning platforms and the overall flexibility in lifestyle which remote learning offers.
Here are five strategies to help your institution better adapt to the hybrid learning environment.
Live-stream large lecture classes
Even if your institution plans to go back in person completely, professors should be encouraged to offer classes live-stream, especially for large lecture halls. If the pandemic has taught educators anything, it’s that one size doesn’t fit all for students.
Provide students with the ability to attend classes from wherever they are, but avoid putting them in a position to feel like they’re missing something without being physically in the classroom. This not only provides students with the ability to learn on their terms, it’s also better all-around.
Now students that are feeling ill or need to travel for personal reasons no longer have to feel guilty about missing class. They can still hear the lecture from wherever they are, which will make them feel more supported at your institution.
Encourage virtual visits to ancillary offices
Prior to the start of COVID-19, students had to physically visit the IT office, library or health center when a particular need arose. However, the pandemic turned everything on its head and suddenly made all of those departments work remotely.
Now that students know that they can get the support they need wherever they are, they expect things to stay the same. With the Delta variant still in full force, students not only want to get support from the convenience of their own dorm, but they also want to ensure that they can safely social distance whenever possible.
Institutions need to both provide students the information to determine whether it’s safe to enter a building, and if not, give them the infrastructure to get what they need immediately. Given the option, most students would prefer to engage electronically. The days of packed student unions and libraries are over.
Given what students have dealt with the past year and a half, there will be little appetite for any situations deemed inconvenient or may compromise their health.
Provide students with 24/7 support
Students no longer want to wait for business hours to get what they need from institutions. They expect help to be available at any time, whether it’s a weekend, late night or holiday.
This might seem like an impossible task. Belts are tightening across institutions across the country. But at the same time, they are looking for opportunities to be more efficient, doing more with less. Automating certain support responsibilities during off-peak hours can enable this change to happen.
In addition to automation, institutions now have the ability to lean into more data than ever before and glean insights on areas such as when students ask the most questions or what they’re asking about from a seasonality perspective. This level of detail helps institutions stagger remote staff at different times, so they can continue operating efficiently and avoid periods where employees may otherwise be bored.
Keep buildings well-ventilated
Inside the classroom, administrators need to invest in clean building technology so that students are less likely to get sick when they meet in person. The Winter of 2020 had the fewest number of flu cases ever. While mask-wearing contributed to much of that decrease, the additional air filtration and ventilation in buildings also helped in lowering the number of illnesses.
Investing in clean building technology will not only help students feel healthier, but it’s also better for the environment and can help institutions save on electricity. While those factors alone aren’t enough to influence whether or not students want to return to the classroom, it does provide an added benefit when you’re taking action that is already beneficial to their well-being.
Invest in stronger, faster Wi-Fi
Students identified technology issues as one of the biggest obstacles to their success. According to the Future of Higher Ed Report, 27 percent of recent graduates blamed spotty internet on campus while one out of every four students pointed to a lack of technological availability.
Working without resource limits are a key to success. The survey results indicate, for students to fully optimize their desired learning experience, higher-ed systems must be seamless and always available. For example, spotty Wi-Fi causes much more than temporary annoyances. A failure in connectivity deeply impacts the ability for students to thrive academically.
Creating a suitable technological infrastructure that allows students to learn anywhere on campus greatly increases the odds students will succeed in the classrooms.
It’s time for administrators to think of libraries as the main study area for students when they could accomplish the same objective anywhere on campus. Whether that’s a cafeteria, near that scenic fountain, at the gym or even in the bleachers while watching a friend’s soccer game. It’s time to strip away the limits to student learning and ensure that all areas of campus are accessible via Wi-Fi.
Hybrid learning isn’t going away. If anything, it should be a reminder that institutions must embrace digital transformation or be left behind. However, by falling these simple steps, you can better prepare your institution for the evolving expectations of students from the first day they step on your campus.