Hybrid Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Settings
How hybrid learning is enhancing the potential for college campuses to serve lifelong learners better than ever before.
Higher education has adapted to a new phase of educating that impacts how students learn, where they learn, what they need to learn, and where they go for learning. Students entering higher education are in the process of figuring out how they individually engage, interact, and acquire knowledge. This discovery process, alongside the increased desire for flexibility, has shifted students’ away from standardized education methods to more diverse methods that include opportunity for both in-person and virtual learning. Higher education campuses have the unique opportunity to embrace this new era of teaching and learning by creating flexible and multidisciplinary learning places for students in all phases of their learning journey, regardless of physical location.
As educational planners and designers who create places for learning, we believe that rich, in-person experiences are still important. However, we also acknowledge the complexity of learning and working, and that in-person engagement is not the sole method for the transfer of knowledge. While the term ‘hybrid’ may be overused, it is one way of acknowledging the flexible style of working and learning that has developed over the last few years and is increasingly sought after by students. People are looking for choice and variety in their learning and working experiences, seeking the ability to decide where they’re learning, how they’re learning, and when they’re learning. Higher ed institution leaders recognize that they may need different environmental conditions and circumstances to best support their students’ learning. That may be in a classroom environment, small group collaboration, or utilizing individual spaces where students feel most comfortable learning what they need for that day.
While the physical campus has faced new challenges because of the pandemic, the trend is still largely for students to be on campus in combination with a desire for other learning options. Being on campus, especially for undergraduate students, has a multitude of benefits from building relationships with fellow students to building pride for their institution. Many students, however, would appreciate the ability to have asynchronous or virtual learning in the comfort of their dorm room or apartment, even if they live on campus. To enhance the changing learning landscape, we have worked with higher education institutions to create new resident and learning spaces that reflect the student experience of next generation learners. On a recent campus residential master plan for Calvin University, GMB’s team recommended modifying break rooms, renovating group study and social spaces, adding space for content creation and consumption, and creating new privacy spaces (intended for hybrid learning, private wellness calls, podcasting, etc.) to meet these evolving needs.
When colleges and universities listen to their students’ lived experience and respond with updated facilities, programming, and curriculum that better serves them, they can see significant positive shifts in enrollment and student experience. For example, modifying classrooms with high-flex podiums and video cameras set up for virtual learning is a great step toward engaging nontraditional students. These hybrid and distance learning options can reach students where they are and have proven to be a more inclusive education experience for students with special needs, physical handicaps, or full-time work schedules. One of our university partners discovered that with a shift to hybrid learning, balancing both virtual and in-person learning opportunities, their enrollment numbers for students with special needs had increased dramatically and they were able to better serve this student group’s learning needs. Their enrollment now exceeds their pre-pandemic number as a hybrid learning institution that gives students a choice and variety in how they learn.
The future higher education student experience is inherently hybrid; a blending of virtual and in-person learning, resident and commuter, and cross-disciplinary collaboration. This is an exciting time to explore what works well in this new landscape and to ideate on what the future of learning will involve.
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David Wilkins leads GMB's Higher Education practice. His strengths lie in long-range planning, identifying institutional drivers, then connecting those to a practical plan for campus development. He is passionate about how spaces can inspire people and embody a school's mission in a tactical way.
Thom is a project lead and architect with GMB. He sees architecture as a journey to discover a client’s needs and goals resulting in an environment that exceeds their expectations.
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