In my previous post, I predicted that over the next 10 years, fully online learning will grow to about 20-25% of all course enrolments, and hybrid learning, in the sense of an integration of campus-based teaching and digital learning, will grow to about 70-80% of all course enrolments.
If by a miracle my prediction turns out to be correct, what then are the policy implications?
The actual figures in the future will be driven by several somewhat independent but related forces:
- the changing nature of work, requiring more emphasis on high-level intellectual skills development, such as critical thinking, multiple modes of communication, and digital literacy embedded within a subject discipline, which in turn will require changes in curriculum and teaching methods
- student demand for more flexibility in delivery of programs and for more lifelong learning
- the effectiveness of institutional plans and strategies for supporting e-learning
- the willingness and readiness of faculty and instructors to not only embrace hybrid and online learning, but also to change their teaching methods to enable effective teaching in these modes.
1. Everyone needs a plan
Institutions will need both to respond to changes externally and to promote changes internally. This will mean developing plans and strategies to support hybrid and online learning, especially to ensure high quality courses, but also to encourage innovation and new course designs and teaching methods. This is discussed in detail in a previous recent post: What should we be doing about online learning when social distancing ends?
2. An increase in instructional support staff
There will be an increased demand for instructional designers, media producers (web, video, graphics designers) and software developers (for educational apps, blog and wiki support) to help faculty and instructors to move more effectively into digital learning.
I predict that this will result in over the next five years an increase of around 10-15% in such positions, but if you look particularly at the hybrid learning curve, there is no way this can be scaled up in proportion to the likely demand, because these positions come out of the teaching budget, and unless there is a huge influx of money from outside the institution (unlikely over the next five years) then these positions will come at the expense of faculty positions, and that will put a cap on the instructional support numbers for sure.
3. More and better instructor development and training
I have argued for many years that the current model of faculty development and training is broken. No more than 10 per cent of faculty per annum receive any form of faculty development per annum. However, a move to 70-80% hybrid learning, and 30% online, means that almost all post-secondary instructors will need to know how to teach well digitally. The implications then are obvious but significant:
- there should be an annual training plan for every instructor, whether tenured or contract
- we need to build more qualifications in teaching for a digital age, in the form of short courses for micro-credentials that can build into certificates and master’s degrees, and relate such qualifications to tenure and promotion
- we need to build more on-demand resources for instructors, in the form of ‘how to’ videos and web sites
- heavy use of OER both for on-demand resources and online courses in digital teaching and learning, to avoid duplication and to rapidly increase resources.
4. Better communication with government
The biggest danger is that right-wing governments in particular will see the emergency remote learning response to Covid-19 as a justification for using online learning to cut costs. It needs to be emphasised that while online and hybrid learning will become essential in developing the knowledge and skills that students will need in a digital age, this still requires the use of highly knowledgeable and skilled instructors. Teaching high-level skills such as critical thinking and good communication is still going to be relatively labour-intensive.
Secondly, institutions are facing a huge human resource issue: a radical retraining of its main workforce. This is going to be difficult if not impossible without some external intervention and support from government. Whether such support is likely will depend on how the federal government in particular sees the need for heavy investment in critical skills to get the country out of a deep recession. Will investment in the training of post-secondary instructors be high on such an agenda?
Nevertheless, the stakes are high. A well trained instructor workforce will be essential to develop the skills and knowledge for an effective digital age economy. At the same time such training will better prepare institutions for emergency responses in the future.
As I said, my predictions may be wrong in details such as timing and accurate percentages, but for me the general direction over the next 10 years is clear. There is a mix of ‘should’ and ‘shall’ in the predictions: what I want to happen and what I think will happen. I am probably too optimistic on the ‘should’ and too pessimistic on the ‘will’.
Yes, the institutional response to Covid-19 and the emergency remote learning initiatives will give a short boost to online and hybrid learning but more important are the long term pressures of changing demographics, changing demands in the workforce, and the need for a major overhaul of training and development for instructors.
So that’s it folks – now you know why I struggled to cover this in five minutes in the Gasta. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the future of hybrid and online learning post-Covid-19.