A framework for delivering blended learning in a post-pandemic University

Jackie Adamson and Diane Sloan


The Higher Education (HE) sector is currently faced with an unprecedented reorganisation of existing pedagogy, with technological platforms playing an increasingly significant role in the adaptation of current and future degree programmes towards a blended approach. As time moves towards the start of the next academic year, uncertainty still prevails amongst internal stakeholders – staff, students and administrators – as well as well as outside stakeholders who are equally unsure of what the future might hold. There is a perceived reliance on technology as a saviour in these times, yet this blog posits that the outcomes of teaching and learning should be discussed more widely embracing the views from all stakeholders and participants, especially the student body before dictating the mode of delivery and this is particularly pertinent in the post pandemic university.  

This discussion is about the pedagogical conversations that are required to transition the university from a pre to a post-pandemic state whilst not losing sight of the Vygotskian ideals which were in existence long before any technological influences. The concepts around Vygotsky’s ideas highlight the importance of culture, environment and social relationships within a purposeful learning environment, engaging with ‘more knowledgeable others’.  In this context, as universities move forward, three key challenges emerge for institutions shifting towards a blended learning approach building upon robust and established pedagogies whilst not losing sight of social learning and organisational knowledge that could be enhanced by technology, not steered by it. 

The first of the three challenges is to evaluate and identify the multiplicity of varying formats in order to adopt those best suited for teaching and learning and discounting disruptive technologies. This requires a recognition and understanding of how the non-disruptive technologies could enhance teaching and learning and navigate the university from a pre to post pandemic state. Many universities are already adapting new approaches to technology enabled learning (TEL) but the chaos and turbulence of COVID-19 has accelerated the pace and rate of change required for future sustainability. 

This  leads on to the second key challenge of developing the skills and competences of the existing academic staff and student body who are now required to serve a predominantly digital world of learning whilst acknowledging the impact of these transitions  already emerging in the workplace. There is some evidence of a skills gap amongst academics – those who are technology enabled and eager to try out new approaches in contrast with ‘late adopters’ who are less keen and need more scaffolding.  Institutional solutions are already appearing in the form of online staff development in the form of technology training using virtual learning platforms, but the success measures as to the suitability of this approach are not in evidence. This is largely due to the emergency need to adapt non-technology dependent programmes for a blended delivery, effective immediately for a generation of students whose learning experiences are embedded in face-to-face, classroom based delivery. 

This then presents the third key challenge which is to establish the best way to reconfigure existing degree programmes, associated learning materials and activities for a blended delivery, which is not an easy option for institutions that are largely founded on synchronous delivery of teaching and learning programmes, building relationships and establishing networks for future-proofing graduate employability. This agenda is further complicated by the subtext of maintaining university ranking, determined by current educational metrics underpinning the NSS, TEF and DLHE.

Whilst responding to these transitions it is imperative to continue to acknowledge the importance of process and structure to maintain a secure environment for both staff and students, acknowledging the voices of the teaching and student unions who are constantly expressing their concerns for staff and student welfare as well as the quality of the educational experience. This response should provide both a strategic and an operational steer for futureproofing teaching and learning within HE.  This should be built upon established pedagogy, utilise appropriate technologies to ensure continued reputation and credibility as an educational process within the Higher Education sector meeting the needs of future employers and students alike.

This could then result in a continued worthwhile experience for students that embraces the Vygotskian ideals of culture and organisation, ensuring that the learning environment, whether it is a physical one or a virtual one will not to diminish the student journey. Underpinned by research based on staff and student experiences, this blog presents a solution of a staff development, training framework supporting the national and international HE professional body in the development and transition from traditional pedagogies towards a TEL inclusive blended learning approach.   

The rationale for the Technology Enabled Learning Training Framework (TELTF) presented below, builds on established pedagogical theory, incorporating practice based research and evaluation, demonstrating its contribution in providing a solution to the current context and guidance moving forward.

Technology Enabled Training Framework (Adamson & Sloan, 2020)

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Dr Jackie Adamson is a Senior Lecturer and Trans National Education (TNE) Director in the Department of Leadership and Human Resources Department where she teaches across undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. Her research and development areas are educational psychology and pedagogy, with a particular emphasis on eLearning and ePortfolios.  She contributes to the innovative degree apprenticeships programmes within Northumbria University and has extensive experience of overseas collaborations with partner institutions.  

Diane Sloan is Professor of Learning and Teaching in the Department of Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Strategy Subject Group where she teaches across undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.  Her research interests include approaches to delivering study and language skills, the use of technology to support learning, student attendance and; and is currently working on supporting academic researcher development and transnational education.

1 comment

  1. While I side with you that we should be more than sceptical regarding the promises of disruptive technologies, I am somewhat perplexed by your statement that the »Vygotskian ideals were in existence long before any technological influences«. On the contrary, I think that he is one of the first scholars who forcefully argued not only for the cultural but also the technical mediation of human activity. Hence, if we turn back to Vygotsky and cultural historical activity theory, I think we have to pay careful attention to the ways in which those digital technologies remediate our educational activity systems, the relations between us, the students but also the objects of activity that motivate our joined efforts. Additionally, we might also have to rethink the way that changes might be broad about in higher education as activity systems apparently often defy even our best desginerly intentions.

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