Addressing needs through personalised learning pathways

“Successful online programs will be the ones that allow students to take charge of their own learning”

Just over a year on from the first UK lockdown, we have collectively learned quite a lot about the resilience of our education system. Like many industries, higher education faced a unique set of challenges throughout the pandemic, particularly as institutions navigated new methods of learning and assessment.

This accelerated digital transformation initiatives across our universities, with lecturers embracing online learning to ensure educational continuity for students. Stewart Watts, vice president EMEA at D2L, explains.

That said, for many international students, lockdowns have shifted the way that they experience university. Some are faced with rising tuition fees and with shelter in place orders in effect for much of the year, they may have been unable to experience the UK culture of which those studying abroad often look forward to.

In fact, many have had little to no contact time on campus and have relied on recorded lectures.

While it is true that universities cannot be expected to replace those cultural experiences, an opportunity exists to enhance the online learning experience and improve learner engagement in this way.

Lecturers have gained some experience over the past year, in some cases using edtech or teaching remotely for the very first time, but it is important that staff have the opportunity to build upon their new digital skills to design more structured online spaces. With more tools at their disposal, educators can now explore how best they can be applied, or even tailored to their courses, especially if they hope to recreate the experiences of in-person teaching.

Future online learning and tools 

As some lecturers now seek to capitalise on their learnings and get international students back on the right path, they will need continuous insight into individual learning pathways.

Not only will this connect those online and offline experiences throughout 2020, but it will ensure that every student’s education is accounted for, whether they continue to learn remotely, or if blended learning is to return in the future. In short, the progress of student learning will need to be measured in more advanced ways.

As an example, real-time data insights offer staff access to live learner data, and early indicators of learner engagement.

With data analytics, lecturers have complete visibility of the entire student life cycle – which tasks have been completed, where particular students have excelled, where others might actually need to improve – giving staff the opportunity to monitor students’ progress and identify those in need of assistance more proactively and support them.

Predictive analytics can also provide lecturers with greater insight into specific learner needs, that is, what works best for each student and how they can learn more effectively.

For instance, some students actually prefer more immersive experiences, such as videos assignments or online quizzing, whilst others might require more collaborative tools to interact with other students and reaffirm their understanding.

In this case, chat forums and online seminars will be beneficial, and lecturers will get a sense of how each student is progressing by their discussions or contribution to the group.

With this extra insight, lecturers can personalise the learning experience for each international student, giving them greater control of their own education.

Greater online provision

With many travel restrictions still in place, online learning is likely here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.

As such, institutions will benefit from improving their online capabilities for distanced learners. For example, consider those research-intensive courses that require practical exams and assignments – how can international students complete these tasks remotely? It is likely that institutions will have to invest in new technologies and provide a further range of options.

Perhaps virtual-reality will provide an opportunity to recreate in-person events and live activities, so students can be walked through a particular scenario.

In summary, some institutions will certainly benefit from looking at ways to expand their online learning capabilities and offer more adaptable course structures for their international student base.

Today, successful online programs will be the ones that allow students to take charge of their own learning journey and give them the freedom to shape their courses.

Importantly, this will enable students to continue valuable conversations with their lecturers and peers through multiple touch points across their entire learning environment.


About the author: Stewart Watts, vice president EMEA at D2L, has years of experience in the edtech space, advising institutions, including higher ed and schools, as well as corporations across EMEA on their learning strategies.