New learning models in higher education – pedagogical trends

Pedagogy is riding in the slipstream of technological capability and changing lifestyles. But can institutions and teachers keep up with the evolution of their trade?

New learning models. It sounds like something out of the handbook of a particularly oppressive 20th-century dictator. Happily then, we have MOOCs, which sound like something from 20th-century children’s TV, and ‘flipped’ and ‘blended’ learning, each of which sounds like something you might do to an egg. BYOD? That’ll be a bit extra, sir.

We’ll dive into what all of these ‘new learning models’ are later. First, a broader look at the edtech-driven evolution of pedagogy. Technology has reached a point – only just, mind – where it is possible to do a great deal of the things that were previously the stuff of sci-fi: multi-person video calling is a stock feature on many phones; voice control technology is ubiquitous; humanlike vocal cadence modelling is emerging; multiple editor project work can span continents in real time. The (vastly overemployed) term of the moment is ‘disruption’ and for the victors, the spoils are rich. So who will disrupt higher education? And how? Or, more importantly, why?

Things marked for improvement that are conceivably fixed by new learning models might include: teaching quality, cost efficiency (either for student or provider) and accessibility for the disadvantaged and disabled. Democratisation, the watchword of the early web, continues to be an appealing concept.

And all of this must be balanced with caution for security and privacy. Who knows what piracy, which did for the halcyon days of the popular music industry by removing its ability to sell CDs for £15 a pop, will do for educators who are selling courses at £9,250 a year?


Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programmes have been gaining popularity in the workplace since companies such as Intel encouraged their use among employees as early as 2009.

Pete Hannah, head of channel UK and Ireland at Zyxel says: “It’s estimated that 86% of 12 to 15-year-olds in the UK regularly use mobile phones.” Yet adoption by educators has been slow. One concern is security, with an increasing number of operating systems (and versions thereof) creating a larger potential attack surface for hackers twinned with an explosion of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, often single-purpose widgets that run forked versions of a basic operating systems.

Simon Wilson, chief technology officer UK and Ireland at HPE Aruba, says: “Wifi coverage must protect internal assets, block malware, support guest access, and isolate sensitive traffic from the rest of the networks.”

It also means privacy leaks are a bigger worry, particularly in a post-GDPR Europe. Matthew Green, client director for higher education at Insight UK, says: “On average, UK universities hold data on 15,000 to 18,000 students, many of whom use their own devices to connect to the university network. This significantly raises the risk of connecting an infected device to the network. In some cases, it might be best to provide licensed software that students can install on their devices.”

The appeal of BYOD is twofold: students are more likely to engage if they can use the devices they opt to use for social and entertainment purposes for education; and it has the potential to bring sizeable cost benefits to providers, which can save on requisition, installation and support. It also benefits disabled students, who can use existing ‘baked-in’ accessibility tools on their devices. Nicole Reid, higher education specialist at Texthelp, says: “The ‘stigma’ of specialised tools is disappearing as students use their own devices to get support on a much wider and consistent level. It’s no longer ‘assistive’ – it’s just ‘technology’ – and that’s really important for student adoption.”

However, the prices of top-spec mobile devices are unlikely to create a level playing field for access to features to students. And the costs of network and security improvement to go truly BYOD can represent an unjustifiable one-off cost to providers.

Ronny Dewaele, director of technology centre at Barco, says: “Schools and universities should be able to provide a more engaging environment without big investments – they must think less about hardware and more about software.”

Brunel University has adopted the BYOD model for exams. Prof Mariann Rand-Weaver, vice-provost (education), says: “Teaching is increasingly interactive and the use of mobiles for quizzes and in-class tests is allowing interaction even in large classes.”

Educators should be able to provide a more engaging environment without big investments – they must think less about hardware and more about software – Ronny Dewaele, Barco


“We had people claiming that we were delivering a course which would help our enemies build a bomb.” For Miri Barak, associate professor at the department of education at Technion, Israel’s renowned science and technology university, and pioneer of the world’s first Arabic language massive open online course (MOOC), the region’s fractious geo-politics proved more difficult than any technical challenges. “Most of our students were from countries Israel didn’t have diplomatic relations with; we were teaching people we couldn’t even meet,” he says.

Despite its teething problems, Technion’s MOOC in nanotechnology, which was jointly developed by Barak and Prof Hossam Haick, a leading nanotechnologist, has attracted over 60,000 students from over 16 countries since its launch in 2014. It is emblematic of the potential of the format: free, online education that crosses cultural, linguistic and political borders.

The predictions of early entrepreneurs such as Sebastian Thrun, founder of the MOOC Udacity, who boasted that within 50 years the number of universities would implode to just 10 worldwide, have proved premature. Both providers of MOOCs and those of online programme managers (OPMs) – whereby respected universities, like Berklee or Oxford, make some courses available online – are facing up to the challenges of the format as it matures. Issues like course completion, accreditation and the need to make education pay, are persistent and unlikely to be resolved any time soon.

But as Nigel Smith, MD of courses and learning at FutureLearn, a major MOOCs provider, notes: “The MOOC is far from dead. It is already evolving. The vast majority of our learners still learn for free, but we also cater to those who need more specific qualifications.” 

MOOCs allow busy professionals to learn “at their own convenience in digestible chunks on their smartphone, desktop or tablet,” Smith says.

Udacity pivoted away from the MOOCs model in 2013. European managing director Brian Hickey says: “MOOCs suffer from low engagement, poor completion rates, and often an inability to effectively prepare students for the contemporary job market.”

Barak remains upbeat: “When we talk about 21st-century skills of collaboration, communication, a global mindset – all these things are achievable with MOOCs. They just have to be used wisely.”

Flipped learning

Flipped learning is the reversal of the standard pedagogical format. Rather than being introduced to a topic in a traditional teaching environment (classroom, lecture theatre), students are given the materials to study in preparation for group discussion with pedagogical leadership.

Rose Luckin, professor of learner-centred design at UCL, believes that technology is key to the value of flipped learning in terms of allowing students to cover topics at their own pace. She says: “Flipped learning technology offers teachers and lecturers the chance to do more than just simply record their lessons and lectures.

“It’s most effective when they move away from just focusing on a knowledge exchange, to having more of a mentor role and offering students real-time interactions instead.”

Debra Garretson is a director of customer accounts for Panopto EMEA, an education software provider. In her experience, 77% of universities they work with use video to flip the classroom. How the content is recorded and how it is accessed by students are paramount. She says: “Think about how you’re going to capture the content, from the view down a microscope, to maths equations being worked out and captured using a visualiser.

“Lastly, consider where students might be viewing the flipped content, so that it can be viewed back on any device to ensure maximum flexibility for your learners.”

Garretson is starting to see academics experiment with different types of flipped content and formats. In particular, Dr Martin Khechara from the University of Wolverhampton has been using something called the ‘augmented flip’ in order to maximise the learning experience for students.

At UCL, the Institute of Education runs a training programme for start-ups called Educate, which is designed to bring together entrepreneurs, academics, researchers and educators to deliver world-class edtech products and services. 

When do we find out what students think of the course, the materials, the teaching? Not so long ago, the answer to these questions was when it is too late – James Hayden, Netex

Blended learning

Blended learning combines computer-based instruction with the benefits of interacting with others – including a tutor – in a face-to-face setting. This hybrid approach allows students to work at their own pace.

At Southampton University, there’s no doubt the approach is working. Students in the anatomy department check out their lecturers’ Twitter feed, and, when prompted, watch videos and screencast lectures on the dedicated YouTube channel or other online resources.

Principal teaching fellow Dr Scott Border says: “When you get that opportunity to be creative and then look at the impact it has – particularly if it works – I think that’s where the rewards come, and that’s what makes it worth doing.”

Proponents have argued that blended learning allows for more personalisation, allowing students to really take control by learning in a pace and style that suits them. Rachael Hartley, senior client account director for Education at Cognizant IT services, says: “This trend means educators can focus on student understanding, rather than the delivery method itself.

As a result, blended learning can enhance the softer skills required for the workforce, developing collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and problem-solving.”

James Hayden, manager at learning technologies supplier Netex, says digital technolgy has offered greater accessibility and choice for students, plus better feedback. “When do we find out what students think of the course, the materials, the teaching? Not so long ago, the answer to these questions was when it is too late,” he says.

Reid also says the shift to online and lifelong learning should be considered earlier in the processs. “We’re seeing wider and wider adoption of models like Universal Design for Learning (UDL) which is redefining how we approach content and course design from the start. It’s helping make course material accessible to the widest range of students.”

At Basingstoke College of Technology the moment of embracing digital learning came in 2015, when a report from FELTAG (Further Education Learning Technology Action Group) recommended that the college incorporate digital skills education into 10% of every course. Before it could start, staff needed training in digital tools. James Leonard, head of UK education for Google, explains: “An ongoing training programme was created to build teachers’ confidence and provide guidance on blended learning in their classes.”

Hartley argues it’s not enough to move what used to be face-to-face content online. She says: “For the full benefits to be realised, the content and course design must be reworked to fit the desired learning outcomes, subject, delivery models and assessment methods.

“Rather than blended learning, we are currently seeing learning that is supplemented with technology, offering some personalisation but without fundamental change to course designs.” 

10 pedagogical trends for 2019

Playful learning

Play provides an important alternative to the increasing focus on memorisation, testing and performance in education.

Learning with robots

Intelligent software assistants and robots can help a learner understand a topic by partnering with them for conversation.

Decolonising learning

As education is increasingly globalised, communities are challenging the assumption that the European tradition offers the most valuable knowledge and the best ways of teaching and learning.

Drone-based learning

Using drones can help learners develop new skills such as interpreting visual information from a landscape, and it enriches the exploration of many physical spaces.

Learning through wonder

A wondrous event such as seeing a brilliant rainbow or majestic waterfall creates an experience that provokes interest and curiosity.

Action learning

Learners work in small groups of diverse people with a facilitator, and each person brings a problem or issue of concern.

Virtual studios

This trend extends to the online environment the creativity, collaboration and social interaction of a physical studio.

Place-based learning

Varied locations can be triggers for learning, for instance using the natural environment or a community setting to inspire learners.

Making thinking visible 

Using visual concepts, mind maps and writing helps teachers see their students’ progress.

Roots of empathy (primary schools)

A baby is brought into the classroom and is seen as a ‘teacher’. The children in the class learn about development and emotions, talk about what the baby is doing, and develop a sense of responsibility.

Source: Open University Innovating Pedagogy report

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