The evolution of education: how higher education responded to the pandemic and the lessons learnt

23 March 2020. The first UK lockdown. A day that changed the country, and most certainly the higher education sector, forever. 

In a matter of weeks, universities transitioned to online teaching and learning at a speed no one would have thought possible. There’s no doubt that universities, and the sector as a whole, responded by making significant shifts in their teaching approaches with some introducing technology they’d never used before. 

The digitally advanced are benefitting from their investment

In the last 20 months, the practice of teaching and learning has seen a rapid period of transformation in many institutions. It’s become evident that those with prior investment in digital technologies are emerging more agile and resilient compared to those who previously focused on on-campus teaching and learning.  

“Teaching in higher education has been shaken to the core over the last 18 months. The pandemic has seen some brilliant and some catastrophic attempts to support students and their learning during the temporary shift to remote teaching.

“It is, however, a moment for us all to reflect and imagine what we would like teaching and learning in higher education to look like in the future.”                        Jisc and Emerge Education (June 2021 ) Foreword by Ian Dunn, Provost at Coventry University and Gideon Shimshon, Associate principal digital learning and director of QM Online at Queen Mary University of London. Technology enabled teaching and learning at scale: A roadmap to 2030.  Retrieved from URL.

So how can universities effectively support such a pivotal change? And what lessons have they learnt in the past 20 months that will help them shape their teaching and learning approaches for the future?

LearningMate’s lessons learned

Earlier this year, education technology experts, LearningMate held several panel discussions with influential leaders and specialists in online teaching and learning. The panel members are predominantly American experts but the challenges for online teaching and learning extend globally.

 The discussions, which focused on how institutions are moving from emergency response to a sustainable future-grounded approach, revealed several key themes:

  1. Using future-grounded design to meet the global demands of the future
  2. Upskilling staff with the confidence and capability to create authentic learning
  3. Building personalised learning 

Let’s take a look at these key themes in a little more detail.

1. Using future-grounded design to meet the global demands of the future: Think towards the future, don’t look back

As the saying goes, ‘you can’t turn back the hands of time.’ Although the global pandemic threw higher education and teaching and learning into a tailspin, there’s no denying that it’s opened new opportunities and possibilities. 

It’s given higher education the opportunity to look at new and innovative ways of creating better teaching and learning experiences and looking at what can be done now that wasn’t an option before. 

To quote Einstein, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” 

Panel member Teri Herron, Director of Customized Education at National Education Partners, wholeheartedly agrees: “For the past year we have all had a sense of urgency and desperation with online learning. If you are going to invest the time, invest in the future. What do you want something to look like? What do you want to build on in the future?”

Teri goes on to explain that setting the foundations now, working agile, and having a future-grounded approach to designing online teaching and learning is the key to success. 

“By planning with a future-grounded design mindset, you design learning that allows for all options – in-person, hybrid, online, facilitated, or unfacilitated – to expand exponentially.

LearningMate. (April 2021) Transforming Teaching & Learning: Lessons Learned During the Pandemic. Retrieved from URL.

2. Upskilling staff with the confidence and capability to create authentic learning: The confidence and capability to create outstanding learning 

Another theme that has come up time and time again in the discussion of future online learning and teaching, is the skills required by staff to use future-grounded design with the tools available to them. 

The knowledge and skills required to deliver high-quality online courses are noticeably different from those needed to teach in a face-to-face setting. Direct translation of face-to-face course material to online teaching and learning just doesn’t work. It often leads to a lower-quality learning experience and lower student engagement. 

The sudden shift to online teaching and learning meant that some staff were using digital technology for the first time ever. And a study of online delivery conducted by Pearson suggests that teachers who design and deliver online teaching, require additional upskilling in their teaching approach. 

Gennadii Miroshnikov, Technology Manager at London Business School said:On the one hand, tutors have to adapt their teaching approach while maintaining comparable learning standards. Tutors are expected to continuously learn how to use new technology and new platforms and be able to understand and evaluate their benefits and constraints. The hybrid learning environment demands better coordination so that the tutor can pay attention to and accommodate the needs of both student cohorts: on-campus and remote.

“We need to think about providing regular and on-demand training to tutors, creating knowledge-sharing opportunities as well as using technical support or coordinators for complex sessions (or even encouraging students to take a role of technical support and troubleshooting, enabling more student ownership of the learning environment).”

Miroshnikov, Gennadii. WONKHE. (August 2021). How to make hybrid learning work in higher education. Retrieved from URL. 

The key here for universities is to invest in extra training for your staff should they need it. 

Here at LearningMate, we use our 20 years of experience to identify where people need extra help and provide training and support in designing, developing, and transforming content for a multimodal approach.

3. Building personalised learning: Give it the personal touch

Today’s students will graduate into a dramatically different and ever-changing environment. To prepare the class of the future for such change, we need to radically transform the way they learn. And it isn’t just about giving them the latest technology. 

Personalised learning, supported by technology, will help students develop strong social-emotional and advanced cognitive skills – such as adaptive and creative problem solving, creativity, digital literacy, and ethical decision-making – needed to prepare them for work and life.

Panel member, Mike Kolodziej, Director of Educational Program Development PD & Short Burst Learning at the University of Phoenix said: “People learn best by doing the thing that you’re trying to teach them. Technology is just a tool. The right way to design learning is to understand what that person needs to do to become an expert in that field.”

LearningMate. (April 2021) Transforming Teaching & Learning: Lessons Learned During the Pandemic. Retrieved from URL.

The key to success is building personalised learning and fostering a culture where students collaborate and take ownership over their learning. 

Utilise the data available to you. Data is arguably one of the most powerful tools in modern education. The technology we use and the power of the data it provides means staff can truly personalise online teaching and learning for individual students. 

How can we help?

With two decades of experience, use our expertise and unique software to design, develop and digitally transform your courses and create online examinations and assessments too. We can work with you to re-configure and reuse content across multiple delivery platforms, centrally manage learning data, and align curriculum to your ever-changing workforce needs. 

Some of the things we can help with: 

  • Curriculum design and course development
  • Content development
  • Rapid transformation
  • Technology infrastructure
  • Digital learning and infrastructure
  • Digital content and curriculum
  • Data analytics
  • Learning process optimisation

UK universities have a real opportunity to reframe and transform the way they provide learning and support. LearningMate is here to help them create sustainable tech for the future. 

For an informal chat about how we might be able to provide a solution or support you in your journey to future-proofing your teaching and learning approach, contact us at

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