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Blended, flexible learning – what it means, for you

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We are aware that an interview with Dan George and April McMahon published recently may have caused some confusion and potential concern about what your future studies will look like. We approached student media as way to raise some wider awareness of our move to blended and flexible learning and to encourage students to be part of our ongoing discussions. We hope you find the answers to any questions this has raised in the information below and have also signposted how you can get in touch with us to feedback further.

Please be assured that blended learning is not online teaching, but about augmenting in-person lectures, seminars, labs, Q&As and discussions, and workshops with high quality online materials for self-study. This is very different to the emergency move to online learning that you have experienced during the pandemic. 

Please also be assured that our shift to blended learning is not driven by financial motivations. Indeed, we have spent additional money and recruited more staff to support our future blended learning approach.

Professor Dan George, who is leading our work on Flexible Learning, has been holding open meetings over the past months for staff and students to hear as many views as possible and ensure future approaches are co-created by staff and students. The feedback has been strongly that students want a mixture of in person, face to face learning and discussion and online options. The exact mix of in-person, on-campus and online sessions will depend very much on what works for each subject of study.

You may not have been able to attend one of these sessions, but we will be holding further open Q&A meetings with Dan George and Professor Steve Pettifer, deputy programme director for Flexible Learning, on 9 July (12-1pm) and 15 July (12-1pm) where you can ask any questions you might have.  

Steve has also produced a short video explaining more about what blended learning looks like, in practice.

So, what does this longer-term shift to blended learning mean for students this coming academic year?

While Flexible Learning is part of the University’s long-term strategy, it is important to note that there may still be some government restrictions in place for the next semester. We are therefore currently planning for both a socially distanced and a non-socially distanced timetable, and have also offered students a wholly remote study option for semester one of the next academic year, where their programme allows, as we are aware there may be restrictions on travel. You will have received more specific detail from your programme team in April and May, outlining whether you have a remote study option for the next semester, and what the ‘mix’ of delivery will look like for your course (as this will vary between programmes).

Generally speaking, when you return to campus for the next academic year, your studies will be a mixture of predominantly in-person on-campus activities, lectures and classes, and new recorded video content and other materials from your lecturers. Some of your activity will be “synchronous”, where you learn live with your lecturer / peers and can interact as appropriate – helping you get support and feel part of a community. At other times it will be “asynchronous”, where you access materials like presentations, video content, online discussion boards or collaborative documents in your own time (within a framework provided by your programme).

This blended approach will help you study in a way that works for you, and allow the University to respond as quickly as possible to the planned government roadmap stages and any changes in restrictions over the coming months. 

Working in partnership with you to define how we embed blended learning, in the future

We are only at the start of this journey, and we want to work together with you so that anything we put in place for the future adds value to your studies. We know that Flexible Learning needs to work in different ways for different subjects of study, so we are currently in the process of organising workshops for staff and students which will take place over the summer and into autumn, to help shape our future approach. We are also working with 26 Student Partner Interns to support us on this project, to make sure that your views are fed in. We’ll be sharing further details about these workshops on our student news channel soon, and we hope many of you will get involved.

If you wish to contact Dan, Steve and the Flexible Learning programme team in the meantime, you can get in touch via: avp-bl@manchester.ac.uk