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Higher education: an evolving transformation!

November 11, 2021

Unprecedented educational context and resilience 

Once upon a time, there were universities! Phygital learning, uber-education, such is the current situation of higher education. 

A pandemic has almost radically changed our lifestyles, our social relations, our ways of working and learning. It has forced us to react urgently to save the present and perhaps the future.  

Education was hit hard by the crisis, leading to dysfunctional higher education. Among other things, it was necessary to rethink the design of courses to adapt them to distance learning and to revise teaching methods and modalities, resulting in the need for “active engagement” of all educational actors in order to achieve “pedagogical improvement”. 

Current trends: higher education that rhymes with digital transformation 

As of March 2020, the use of distance or hybrid learning has become a reality that no one has been able to escape.  

Although the pandemic has accelerated the massification of distance learning, a digital transformation has nonetheless been underway for years with the advances of artificial intelligence and robotization in various areas of life. As a result, the needs of the labor market are changing to become more digital and there is an aggressive return to education to acquire new skills. Thenceforth, who’d better respond to this evolution than the academic community?  

Higher education remains the lever of this digital transformation, a tsunami that enriches and diversifies education, training and learning opportunities, despite the risk of a digital divide.  

Laval University: an example of a pioneering university?  

Laval University offers a variety of programs (microprograms, nanoprograms, custom programs, non-credit modules) resulting in metamorphosed courses, accommodated to the needs of students and their expectations, and aligned to the digital transformation.  

Distance learning (Université Laval, 2018)

Indeed, Laval University aspires to innovative pedagogies centered on the learner, on his or her development to strengthen his or her fulfillment in the digital era. In this context, Sophie D’Amours, President of Laval University, calls for a rethinking of pedagogical practices in order to make them more inclusive, so that they best meet the requirements of society and the job market: “We must cross our visions on the competencies to be prioritized for the future, the ways in which the economy, education, research, and the needs of society rhyme”.   

One of the criteria for pedagogical innovation lies in the clarity of the “visions” and in their encompassing aspect, as Paquelin emphasizes: “The vision cannot be reduced to a simple adoption of a current, of a standard; it must propose a course which takes the form of a strategic plan that will act as a guide […]. This vision can be co-constructed by a group of actors and cannot be reduced to what might appear to be an injunction such as increasing student success”. 

The stakes are therefore high for all the educational actors called upon to dialogue and cooperate. 

Presence in the distance: ad hoc flexibility  

Classrooms are increasingly shifting between physical and virtual locations. Several teaching modalities are offered to students in North American universities.  

Among this multitude of modalities, we are particularly interested in the co-modal course design model, which offers flexible learning and seems to be the most suitable formula for the pandemic context, as Professor Naffi states: while demanding – as it requires additional work in designing and developing different learning pathways, supporting students, and facilitating their learning – it stands out for flexibility in time and space, immediacy, as well as the adaptability of personalized, inclusive, equitable, and more human learning.  

It is important to note that one does not improvise a distance coursewhich requires knowledge of learning theories and the various concepts underlying distance education.  

This teaching also pushes us to question the hidden curriculum which, according to Paquelin, allows us to better understand how students learn. Similarly, it would be urgent to know what learning is targeted, what evaluation methods are put in place, and what pedagogical methods are adopted. A pedagogical design indeed presupposes a coherence – or an alliance – between these three entities.  

The future: A more humane design coupled with a learning culture  

The advent of the pandemic acted as a catalyst to trigger the digital transformation that marked a crucial turning point in the history of education while having a major impact on our understanding of the world around us, in the sense that it stimulated us to question ourselves, to see the “invisible”, to analyze in order to better understand before acting.  

Our lives are similar to an ecosystem where studies, work and personal life are interrelated. The university is within this ecosystem and must evolve with any changes that occur in society.  

It is therefore necessary to conceive a more human and personalized pedagogical design. LXD (Learning experience design) is a good example. Centered on the learner, it offers activities that become engaging, meaningful, and interactive learning experiences, which accentuates the learner’s responsibility.  

There is also a need to develop a learning culture in order to create a learning dynamic where the student, aware of his or her learning, trains to be “competent” and “autonomous.”