How to succeed in the age of personalised education

Daniel Hill, HE regional director UK and Ireland; writing for University Business

We are living in a time when everything from our working hours to the recommendations on our Netflix accounts are personalised to suit our needs. In a world where you can buy specially tailored skincare and even 3D printed vitamins to match your nutrition requirements, it’s perhaps no surprise that we demand bespoke services in all aspects of our lives.

Higher education (HE) providers have been working to deliver on the desire for personalisation for some time. The introduction of many one-to-one initiatives, an increase in personal tutoring and the determination to build personalised learning journeys – where students work at their own pace, often independently – have proved popular.

But the pandemic has threatened to set back this progress. The urgent and unexpected need for what were previously face-to-face university courses to be taught online has impacted ‘office hours’, one-to-one contact with tutors – and even the small group work that takes place in a classroom setting. For some, the sheer urgency of the online pivot has meant that teaching has become a one-to-many ‘broadcast style’ communication.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. The savviest universities are now assessing what a post-Covid learning landscape might look like – and are harnessing the best things about online provision and in-person teaching to deliver a better, more personalised experience.

Let’s look at how they’re doing it.

A focus on preparedness

One of the issues during the pandemic was the pedagogical preparedness of university teachers, many of whom previously had little online teaching experience. The good news is that the Covid-19 crisis has brought forth a plethora of advice – much of which has focused on tools and materials that teachers can use to replace their face-to-face classes. In addition, teachers have been offered hundreds of ‘tips and tricks’ to get online fast. However, it’s important to note that most of these have been presented without the contextualising knowledge needed to judge which teaching tactic is likely to work where.

Now that the industry has got past the urgency of the pandemic, there’s a renewed opportunity for more comprehensive training and support for teaching staff – ensuring that they can get the most out of an online environment. There’s a renewed opportunity to assess what’s worked and what hasn’t, and to help teaching staff feel more confident in engaging with students across multiple platforms.

The right tech for the job

It’s unlikely the HE industry will want (or even be able to) put the genie entirely back in the bottle when it comes to online learning. Even though a return to campus is great news for students and teachers, online learning has delivered flexibility and wellbeing benefits – helping students study on their own time, in a place and at a pace that suits them best.

Even though a return to campus is great news for students and teachers, online learning has delivered flexibility and wellbeing benefits – helping students study on their own time, in a place and at a pace that suits them best

However, if students are away from campus, it’s more important than ever to ensure engagement and that students are understanding the material they’re asked to. While it’s tricky to hide in a lecture theatre, where a teacher has purview over their class at all times, in an online world where you can be ‘camera off’, it’s much easier for a lack of engagement to escape detection.

Learning platforms can help here, with capabilities which help educators track learner progress and enable timely interventions if a student is struggling. They can accurately assess and analyse student usage patterns, allowing instructors to examine relationships between student engagement and learning outcomes. They can also be used to identify assignments that cause students difficulty and allow timely intervention.

Prioritising well-being

Of course, personalisation doesn’t just relate to learning gain – but to whole-student engagement.

Mental well-being has never been more important in education, as students recover from one of the most challenging periods in recent history. So, we all need to think beyond the lecture, look at holistic student development, and teach habits for success. Again, tech can help – with supportive tools available to stay connected and check in with students, as well as giving them quick and easy ways to raise issues.

So, there’s no doubt that this will be the age of personalisation in HE. With more tailored learning, students can be encouraged to have greater engagement with the subject, leading ultimately to better outcomes. Teachers can help students to identify how they learn best and set their own goals and targets for progression. And they can create schedules which meet their needs, allowing them to study at the time that best suits them.

For working professionals studying as a form of continued professional development, course material can be tailored to more accurately reflect the knowledge required in their professional life. And personalised pathways to a professional qualification mean that students and employers can have input into a course to ensure its relevance.

Ultimately, while there are numerous routes to ensure personalisation success, we believe that by harnessing the right technology, and with a commitment to training and development, and learning from events like Covid, success is truly on the horizon.

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