By Dr Joachim Timlon, Assistant Professor in Strategy and International Business
Department of Strategy and International Business, University of Birmingham
Hybrid learning (also known as blended learning) is now fast becoming an essential part of the learning strategy at many British universities. Hybrid learning is a method of teaching that integrates digital technology with traditional instructor-led face-to-face classroom activities. How can this kind of learning strategy prepare students (and managers-to-be) for a new world of work post-COVID?
In the post-pandemic future of work, nine out of ten organisations will be combining remote and on-site working according to a new McKinsey survey of 100 executives across industries and geographies. These organisations are preparing for hybrid working. Globally, universities are becoming increasingly digital, indicating a binary shift from being supported by traditional analogue to new information and communication technologies based on computing. Applying a hybrid learning strategy is being seen increasingly as common practice, here at the University of Birmingham is no exception, offering flexible learning – a mix of campus based and distance learning, which enables students to tailor their programme to suit their personal or professional needs.
Some educators may perceive online teaching to be more demanding than face-to-face teaching, and it may well be, but at the same time it opens-up several opportunities to reconsider the ways in which we teach, facilitate learning, and engage with students irrespective of where they are. Dynamic interactions are created, for instance, in virtual breakout rooms, allowing students to meet in smaller groups used for collaboration and discussions, the tutor to enter and exit each room, swap students around and appoint spokespersons to give feedback. Engagement is accomplished, for instance, when a tutor shows an animated video, useful for getting across a theory, at the same time as through voice recognition writing on a white board that also allows students to scribble on it simultaneously. Learning then changes from traditional classroom knowledge transfer from tutor to student to a knowledge co-creation process with both tutors and students actively engaged.
Although remote working from home during the pandemic has proven value and viability by offering more flexibility in how and where to work in the future, the biggest challenge is the lack of social interaction with colleagues, according to Employee Technology Survey 2020. However, strong socialization is also possible online, for instance, by creating a dynamic community of learning in class. These are only some illustrative examples of developing students’ ability to effectively and ethically interpret information, discover meaning and communicate ideas in a digitally connected world. Based on academic research and experience in adult training, these kinds of digital influence skills have been identified as new essential skills that today’s workforce will need to learn as digital and AI technologies are transforming the world of work, a transformation that COVID-19 crisis has accelerated.
As Covid-19 adapts workplaces towards hybrid workplaces, a hybrid learning strategy at a digital university provides a valuable training ground to prepare students for this new world of work. However, most organisations have only begun to think through and articulate the specifics of a hybrid model. This opens-up for a dialogue between business and academia about how to provide valuable training not only for a highly educated, well-paid minority of the workforce but also for all roles that aren’t essential to perform on-site: to jointly define fundamental skills in a labor market that is more automated, digital, and dynamic.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Birmingham.