Blended learning and OfS regulation
Last updated: 17 February 2023
This report sets out our regulatory views following a review of blended learning, which we commissioned in June 2022.1 By 'blended learning' we mean ‘teaching and learning that combines in-person delivery and delivery in a digital environment'.2
We commissioned a panel of academic experts to look at approaches to blended learning in six higher education providers and set out its findings in a report to the OfS. This document follows that report, setting out how the themes identified by the review panel relate to our regulatory requirements.
How to use this report
By drawing out examples of approaches to blended learning from the review and relating them to our regulatory requirements, we indicate the ways in which a university or college should approach blended learning to comply with our requirements. This report considers different approaches to blended learning in the context of the OfS’s requirements relating to providing a high quality academic experience with appropriate resources, support and student engagement (conditions of registration B1 and B2).
Alongside this report we have also published a short online guide for students, parents or interested members of the public. These webpages explain what students can do if they have any concerns about their academic experience.3 Students, parents or members of the public can also use this report to explore in more detail what our requirements might mean for the way a university or college offers blended learning.
We expect universities and colleges to read this report carefully and consider whether they need to change their approach to blended learning so that it complies with our regulatory requirements.
Any university or college should also consider its particular context and determine its own approach. Our report is intended to encourage and enable thoughtful assessment of the ways different approaches to blended learning are likely to interact with relevant regulatory requirements, not to work as a prescriptive checklist of compliant and non-compliant approaches.
This report may be particularly relevant for providers that have recently changed the way they deliver teaching and learning or that plan to do so in future.
Universities and colleges may also wish to consider the separate report authored by the blended learning review panel which has been published alongside this document. The panel’s report contains a number of recommendations for the design and implementation of blended learning. The review panel’s recommendations reflect the views of the independent expert panel. The panel’s recommendations should not be interpreted as OfS regulatory guidance.
Following the publication of this report, we will continue to monitor registered universities and colleges and, where appropriate, intervene to protect the interests of students.4
How providers might comply
We have set out in more detail the themes which emerged from the review. We have summarised here the approaches which would be likely to cause compliance concerns in relation to the two conditions of registration that are particularly relevant: conditions B1 and B2.
Complying with condition B1
We would be likely to have compliance concerns in relation to condition B1, if a provider’s blended learning approach:
- Uses lecture recordings that are no longer up-to-date when re-used, or are not appropriately informed by subject matter developments, research, industrial and professional developments, or developments in teaching and learning.
- Does not facilitate feedback for students that is appropriate to the content of their course, such as where dialogue and immediate feedback is required for course content to be effectively delivered.
- Does not foster collaborative learning among students registered on a course, which may indicate the course is not being effectively delivered.
- Does not consider changing expectations for students’ digital skills in related disciplines or industries, if this means that a course is no longer up-to-date, or that a course does not require students to develop relevant skills, in a manner appropriate to the subject matter and level of the course.
- Does not require students to develop practical skills in a manner appropriate to the subject matter and level of the course.
- Is driven by an arbitrary fixed blend ratio for a course, rather than using the most appropriate delivery method for the subject material. If decisions about the delivery method (for example: online or in-person) are not being made for sound pedagogical reasons, this may indicate that the course is not being effectively delivered.
- Is driven by limitations in the supply of physical learning resources, including physical locations, which may indicate that a course is not coherent or effectively delivered, as decisions are not being made for sound pedagogical reasons.
- Is delivered in a way that results in low attendance and engagement that may mean there is an inappropriate balance between delivery methods or between directed and independent work that indicate that the course is not effectively delivered.
- Is confusing or difficult to manage for students due to insufficient coordination across modules on a course, meaning there is not an appropriate balance between delivery methods, leading to a course not being effectively delivered.
- Contains a volume of recorded online lectures and other digital learning resources that is too high for students to engage with effectively and adversely affects their ability to participate fully in their course. This may indicate that a course is not being effectively delivered.
- Is not communicated effectively to current or prospective students in terms of the pattern of blended delivery, which may suggest that a course is not coherent or being effectively delivered.
Complying with condition B2
We would be likely to have compliance concerns relating to a provider’s blended learning approach in relation to condition B2, if a cohort of students:
- Does not receive adequate access to appropriate physical spaces for students that allow them to access and engage with digital learning. This would be particularly likely if there is evidence that students are not receiving access to physical resources because of pressures on the supply of those resources which the provider could have mitigated.
- Does not receive adequate access to sufficient hardware, specialist software and IT infrastructure, as appropriate, to access digital content.
- Does not receive sufficient support to develop the skills students need for effective digital learning and a high quality academic experience.
- Does not receive, where relevant, well-produced online lectures, instead, for example receiving poorly recorded audio or video which leads to students missing course content or administrative information relating to their course.
- Receives re-used lecture recordings that contain incorrect and confusing administrative information.
- Is not provided with appropriately qualified teaching staff, with sufficient digital skills to effectively deliver their course.
- Does not receive timely and high quality feedback that supports students to engage with their course and understand subject content, as appropriate to the course.
- Does not receive appropriate support to develop skills to engage with in-person teaching and learning, informed by consideration of the cohort’s academic needs.
- Does not receive appropriate support to manage their timetables and overcome the challenges of combining online and in-person delivery and the need to balance on-campus and independent work. This may include a failure to support students to develop skills in knowing how long to spend on tasks or how to prioritise work.
- Does not receive sufficient resources and support that are appropriate to students’ academic needs, (including those which may be linked to students’ protected characteristics), in order to ensure a high quality academic experience.
Although this report focuses on conditions B1 and B2, other regulatory requirements are relevant to how universities and college approach blended learning. Registered providers must also, for example, give due regard to relevant guidance about how to comply with consumer protection law (‘condition C1’).
Universities and colleges should ensure their marketing information is clear and provides sufficiently detailed information about how courses will be delivered.
We would be likely to have compliance concerns in relation to condition C1 if a provider cannot demonstrate that it has had due regard for relevant guidance about how to comply with consumer protection law in developing and publishing information for prospective students about a course, or if there was otherwise evidence that suggested it had not complied with consumer protection law.
- See www.officeforstudents.org.uk/publications/blended-learning-and-ofs-regulation/.
- Sir Michael Barber, ‘Gravity Assist: Propelling higher education towards a brighter future’ (2021), pp 29-30. Available at: www.officeforstudents.org.uk/publications/gravity-assist-propelling-higher-education-towards-a-brighter-future/.
- See www.officeforstudents.org.uk/blended-learning/.
- Our approach to monitoring and intervention is set out in pages 47 to 62 of the regulatory framework: Office for Students, ‘Securing student success: Regulatory framework for higher education in England’ (2018). Available at: www.officeforstudents.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/regulation/the-regulatory-framework-for-higher-education-in-england/.
Describe your experience of using this website