The OfS review of blended learning, which has been shaped by students’ concerns, draws on a range of data and intelligence.
Following the recent publication of revised conditions of registration relating to the quality of courses which come into force on 1 May 2022, the Office for Students (OfS) has announced a review of blended learning in higher education. In scoping the review, we have made good use of the information we already hold to focus on those areas that warrant closest attention. The review will report on those approaches to blended learning which represent high quality teaching and learning, as well as those that are likely to fall short of OfS regulatory requirements.
The last two years have seen significant changes in the way universities and colleges have been delivering their courses. The shift to online delivery during the pandemic that has been documented in the media and elsewhere is causing many universities and colleges to radically rethink their long-term approaches to learning and teaching.
With the removal of public health restrictions on face-to-face teaching, now is the time to focus on the quality of blended learning so that the lessons of the last two years are learned. As the independent regulator of higher education in England, we want to ensure that wherever blended learning is delivered it meets the requirements of our new conditions of registration and students’ expectations of a high quality experience.
An evidence-informed approach
How did the review take shape? The first thing to say is that its development has been informed by the data and information we already collect as we carry out our regulatory functions. This includes the routine data returns that come to us through the year, responses to consultations, providers’ reportable events, public enquiries and notifications from students and other stakeholders. All these sources of regulatory intelligence inform our approach and our view of likely patterns of regulatory risk.
The data and information we considered clearly demonstrated to us the importance students place on the quality of their provider’s approach to blended learning. Whilst students’ views on and experiences of blended learning differ widely, no one will be surprised to hear that many students, and their parents and carers, have expressed significant concerns about the quality of blended learning they had received.
These concerns have been reflected in the enquiries and notifications the OfS has received over an extended period. We have conducted a thematic analysis of those which related to quality of courses and raise questions about whether providers are delivering courses as promised. In addition, we reviewed a large sample of free-text responses to the new ‘coronavirus’ questions in the National Student Survey 2020 (NSS 2020).1 This enabled us to better understand the major concerns of students: difficulties contacting academic staff; a lack of engaging online teaching; providers’ over-reliance on online delivery; and a lack of access to physical and digital resources. We have also engaged with our student panel. Their reflections informed our appreciation of the issues, as well as shaping our understanding of the components we might expect to see in high quality blended learning.
Themes and method
From our analysis, we established two key areas of focus for the review:
- effective delivery of a high quality academic experience through a blended approach to teaching and learning
- resources to support a high quality blended learning experience.
These themes map neatly onto revised condition B1 (which requires providers to ensure that students receive a high-quality academic experience) and B2 (which requires that students receive resources, support and effective engagement). They reflect the concerns students have raised. We have engaged with other stakeholders, including employer groups, to ensure the review takes account of a broader spectrum of perspectives on what might constitute high quality blended learning. We are now working with our review panel to construct the review method and expect that fieldwork will commence in the coming weeks.
The providers that are participating in the review were chosen to take account of regional geography and to reflect a range of provider size and subject specialisms to ensure diversity.
I am grateful to everyone who has agreed to work with us on the review, and to Professor Susan Orr, who is leading it.
The review will enable us to translate the signals we’ve seen in our regulatory intelligence into a clear account of the practices that would be likely to satisfy our regulatory requirements. It will identify a range of case studies, illustrating how different providers in different contexts are delivering blended learning, and set out which of these examples are likely to be compliant with our requirements, as well as those which may fall short. This will support all providers to ensure that any blended learning delivers the high quality students rightfully expect.
The review will report in summer 2022.
1The questions we considered for this qualitative analysis were:
- Q5 - I am content with the delivery of learning and teaching of my course during the covid-19 pandemic.
- Q6 - I have been able to access the learning resources I need (lecture notes, course materials, journals, Virtual Learning Environment) for my course during the covid-19 pandemic.