Rethinking experiential learning for the hybrid workforce

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At Advance HE’s Teaching and Learning Conference 2022, Elisabeth Valiente-Riedl, Jennifer Fletcher and Leela Cejnar shared how agile hybrid, experiential learning programs can be used to develop graduates’ digital resilience.

 

How can we design higher education experiential learning to support the post-pandemic hybrid workforce?

We posed this question at Advance HE’s Teaching and Learning Conference 2022. While Covid-19 restrictions have eased, the increasing importance of the ‘virtual world’ of learning and work, remains. The World Economic Forum (2020) predicts that “50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025, as adoption of technology increases”. We therefore need to carefully review what it means to deliver ‘real world’ experiences when we design experiential learning curricula, to better ‘digitally’ prepare our students for their futures of work.

Our research expands the debate in the literature on employment competencies of graduates and prompted us, and others present during the Advance HE Teaching and Learning Conference 2022, to consider how higher education institutions can more meaningfully support the development of digital literacy skills and digital resilience in students and teachers.

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Our conference paper and discussions surfaced three key lessons we might consider as we work to find a ‘new normal’ in the post-pandemic tertiary classroom.

1. Building on pandemic digital teaching skills

We all experienced the Covid-19 disruption. As educators that curate in-person interdisciplinary learning experiences in collaboration with industry partners, we had to curate ‘virtual’ real world-experiences through 100% remote delivery. We then had to push beyond the binary of on-campus and online, by designing authentic and agile hybrid experiential learning.

We can now continue maximising the use of our now more-agile learning environments and we should collectively encourage our higher education institutions to support us in keeping our digital skills current and relevant. In fact, it would be a massive loss of opportunity if educators were to shelve their newly acquired – and applied – digital flexibility rather than leveraging and extending that for more dynamic and agile interactions with students, industry, the community and beyond. But we acknowledge that this requires training, infrastructure and resources.

2. Extending the skills of the ‘digital natives’ generation

There were many stresses and challenges we faced in trying to adapt our teaching approach during the pandemic, and keeping up with the technology was probably one of the hardest. Yet while our digital competency grew, we found our students had a head-start and were already much more adept at working with technology. This reveals the importance of pushing harder to lift the digital skills of a generation of so-called ‘digital natives’, particularly in emerging areas where even they lack full competency, such as ‘digital collaboration’.

There has been ever-increasing recognition in the literature of the disruption to career paths resulting from digital transformation in the workplace (Di Gregorio et al., 2019). For example, the EU has identified the necessity to improve digital competencies for employability, learning, leisure, consumption, and participation in society, to address critical thinking, reflection, life-long learning, communication, collaboration, and problem solving (Carretero Gomez et al., 2017). There is also an emerging field of practice and scholarship in digital resilience in higher education (e.g. Eri et al., 2021), and the development of employability skills (Kovacs, 2021Rowe & Zegwaaard, 2017Di Gregorio et al., 2019).

3. Replicating ‘virtual’ dimensions of ‘real’ world experiences

Post-pandemic, the physical work-site we aim to connect students to has become increasingly hybrid. There are strong indications that hybrid and remote workplaces are here to stay, the experiential learning curriculum of the future will need to reflect this and also prepare our graduates to thrive in it. In fact, according to an international multi-industry McKinsey survey of executives in the post-pandemic future of work, nine out of ten organisations intend to continue to combine remote and on-site working. “The majority of executives expect that (for all roles that aren’t essential to perform on-site) employees will be on-site between 21 and 80 percent of the time, or one to four days per week.”

This switch to hybridity in workplaces already provides important advantages for experiential learning curricula in tertiary settings. It allows students to connect with domestic and international industries – capitalising on the video conferencing tools for briefings and presentations and a growing range of collaboration and immersion technologies (eg such as electronic whiteboarding and mindmapping, virtual reality and gaming tools).

Our discussions centred around the common recognition that in the university context, there is room to explore what authentic experiential learning looks like in an increasingly virtual world and how students and teachers might continue to build agility and digital resilience, beyond emergency situations such as the pandemic.

Conference attendees agreed it is important that we all not miss the critical opportunity to harness lessons and upskilling from our Covid teaching years. What an appropriate time to reflect on this point as many universities prepare for a full “return to campus” across the globe!

References

Carretero Gomez, S., Vuorikari, R., & Punie, Y. (2017). DigComp 2.1: The digital competence framework for citizens with eight proficiency levels and examples of use. Luxembourg: European Commission, EU Science Hub.   

Di Gregorio, A., Maggioni, I., Mauri, C., & Mazzucchelli, A. (2019). Employability skills for future marketing professionalsEuropean Management Journal, 37(3), 251-258.

Eri, R., Gudimetla, P., Star, S., Rowlands, J., Girgla, A., To, L., Li, F., Sochea, N., & Bindal, U. (2021). Digital resilience in higher education in response to COVID-19 pandemic: Student Perceptions from Asia and AustraliaJournal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 18(5).

Kovacs, I. (2021). Digital Marketing Soft Skills and University Students’ Perceptions of EmployabilityGiLE Journal of Skills Development1(1), 25–36.

Rowe, A. D., & Zegwaard, K. E. (2017). Developing graduate employability skills and attributes: Curriculum enhancement through work-integrated learningAsia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, 18(2), 87–99.

World Economic Forum (2020). These are the top 10 job skills of tomorrow – and how long it takes to learn them.


This article has been kindly repurposed from Advance HE and you can read the original here: Rethinking experiential learning for the hybrid workforce