Tag Archives: Blended Learning

Higher Education and the Coronavirus: Never Waste a Good Crisis

Higher education is about to experience a sharp shock caused by the coronavirus crisis.  The buoyant market for international students is likely to contract significantly as uncertainties around travel continue. Local markets will be under pressure as universities struggle to open and students baulk at the experience (and cost) of online learning. This week has brought us new insights into how universities might fare.

Tale of Two Cities

Some universities, including Harvard, have decided to offer online only in the new academic year. In Harvard’s case this will be for the same tuition fee as the campus experience – about $50k.  The expectation is that the brand power of these institutions is so strong that students will still enrol. Furthermore, their premium brands will help them to monetise their newly online offerings in international markets and they will likely also compete more aggressively in their home markets. This pivot in the business model, coupled with their endowments, should enable elite and higher end universities to weather the storm.

Elite universities will use their brand power to adapt and the weakest universities will struggle for survival.

Other universities are at significant risk of insolvency. The BBC reported this week that 13 of the least prestigious universities in the UK are potentially in trouble, facing lower student income and high costs.  Without major restructurings and bailouts, there may be casualties.

Third Way

What if you’re a mainstream university, not at either of these extremes?

Most students aspire to the “life” and “live” experience of the campus above a laptop

Mainstream universities wanting to secure enrolments at scale will have to find safe ways to offer a campus experience for their existing core business. I would do three things:

1. Go blended: transform the core offering to lectures online and tutorials face-to-face

Most lectures will have to be delivered online, to avoid mass spreading of the virus via auditoria.  Unfortunately this will likely lower the attractiveness of the overall learning experience and also increase the risk of drop-outs. The best way to remedy those disadvantages is to concurrently increase the use of (preferably) face-to-face tutorials individually and in small groups.  A higher intensity of interaction with faculty can improve learning outcomes and boost student engagement.  This will be quite demanding on faculty, who will need to become expert in online teaching and commit more time to tutoring.

2. Find new markets: use digital and local relationships for new sources of income

I would in the first instance probably prioritise two areas if a competitive advantage can be found. 

Firstly, open up the new digital offering outside the campus – both as a degree and in modular and snackable programs.  Is there something distinguishing about the content/courses you offer (London & finance, Milan & fashion, Bordeaux & wine) that you can take global now you are digital?  Is there something in the user experience of your digital learning offering that sets you apart (for example GetSmarter deploys real tutors to assess assignments)?  Is there a price point that makes you competitive to new segments?

Secondly, given that digital offerings will be abundant and everybody is going global, why not go back to the roots of the establishment of your institution and go local.  There are major upcoming skills gaps in healthcare, teaching, technology and so on.  Why not partner with local industries, and local health and education authorities to better support employment needs of the local market.  It will be much harder for digital universities on the other side of the world to win that competition.

3. Fix the finances

Regrettably it seems inevitable that the cost of running some universities will need to be reduced and become more flexible. A large part of the cost base is staff and buildings. Painful. This should be considered together with the change in operating model needed to deliver blended courses described above.  In addition, it might be necessary to raise additional financing, through government loans and grants, bank loans, and alumni gifting, to bridge the overall transformation.

Never waste a good crisis

The triggering event of the coronavirus is a painful crisis.  It’s also an opportunity for us to re-design education for increased access, higher learning outcomes, improved employability locally and better affordability.  Let’s not waste the crisis.

Teachers value blended learning

In 2018, we carried out our SLIF survey (Sanoma Learning Impact Framework) for the fourth time. In total 7594 teachers answered the online survey, which was carried out in all our markets: Belgium, Finland, The Netherlands, Poland, and Sweden. The main purpose of SLIF is to investigate the impact of published materials on learning. This time we focused on blended learning materials.

We are happy to observe that digital materials are gaining ground in learning. The most important benefit of digital according to teachers is engagement. 68% of the survey respondents felt that digital materials are more engaging for their pupils/students than printed materials. This is easy to believe: for example Bingel with its visually appealing avatar characters which the pupils can adapt with pingping they earn from doing exercises has proved to be very engaging and motivating.

Ultimately we want to offer learning materials that lead to improved learning outcomes. When we asked which factors have the highest influence on learning outcomes, engagement was mentioned as the most important factor, followed by variation in learning activities, individual coaching, and timely feedback to pupils.

It is worth noting that the second most important factor, variation in learning activities, was also considered as something which is better achieved in the blended model. 64% of respondents thought that digital learning materials are better for providing variation than print materials. Again, this is easy to understand. Digital learning materials include video, audio, animations, interactive exercises, instant feedback, and other features obviously missing from printed materials.

Figure 1 summarizes nicely the teachers’ attitude towards digital learning materials. We can see that only 27% of teachers use only printed materials. Whilst it is significantly more than the amount of teachers using only digital materials (3%), we can see that the majority of teachers are somewhere in between, adopting the blended learning approach: 17% apply half digital / half print approach, and 44% primarily print with some digital components.

Figure 1

Figure 1. Teachers would like to use more digital learning materials

It’s interesting to compare the current state of teachers’ materials with their ideal situation. At the moment 17% of the teachers use half digital / half print materials. However, 38% would prefer to have this combination. The difference in print-only teaching is even more pronounced with 27% of teachers currently teaching with print only, but a mere 1% would like to do so also in the future.  This is firm evidence that demand for digital should grow in the coming years.

“Demand for digital in the blended mix to grow”

Whilst teachers want more digital, as our survey clearly shows, it is worth emphasizing that virtually no-one of our respondents would like to teach with digital-only materials. Currently 3% are doing so, but it is not seen as the optimal state by anybody. What to make of this? Our answer: blended learning models work best.

Santtu Toivonen, Lead Insight Manager, Sanoma Pro

John Martin, CEO, Sanoma Learning

High Five!

We’re currently executing the “High Five” program at Sanoma Learning: working together across the borders of the five national units to build one integrated European company.

We serve about 10m pupils and 1m teachers in some of the World’s best performing education systems (Finland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Poland and Sweden). Our customers especially appreciate “blended learning solutions”: mashing up physical and digital approaches to inspire learning.  High Five is really about organizing ourselves to be able to create and provide impactful blended learning solutions to schools in the most effective way.

We’ve divided the program into three areas:

  • Investing in the future (our approach to digital applications, courses, data and technology)
  • Funding the journey (improving our procurement processes)
  • Enabling the transformation (making sure our support processes are fit for the digital transformation).

kirsi and winfried

Kirsi Harra-Vauhkonen (MD of Sanoma Pro in Finland & CPO Secondary Education) and Winfried Mortelmans (MD of Van In in Belgium & CPO Primary Education) discussing High Five with the team in Helsinki.

The last weeks we’ve been travelling with the team to all of the countries to engage further with our people as we move forward with High Five.  I have experienced this as an inspiring period, bringing a lot of new energy, and I feel we really have a good momentum with High Five!

I’d like to thank the teams for all the excellent work in co-creating and executing High Five so far and to all our people who joined us in the roadshow.  Very much appreciated and well done!

Looking forward >>

high five logo

Five Reasons Why Blended Learning is an Ongoing Success in Finland


This week I joined the education event Dare to Learn in Helsinki with colleagues from Sanoma Pro. With 3000 participants from over 20 countries it was well organised and people were in a positive spirit. Thanks to the organisers for having done a great job!

Finland has a world-class education system with several factors underpinning the success including skilled and respected teachers, high levels of equity and trust in the system and an holistic view to the development of children. Education professionals from around the globe are interested to learn about the Finnish ways.

I think that blended learning is an enabler of excellence in Finnish education and gave a keynote talk on this topic, with the headlines:

1.   Blended learning plays to the natural strengths of the local education system, enabling the excellent teachers, taking advantage of the high quality curricula and materials and putting to work the technology available in schools and homes.

2.   Blended learning models are practical and flexible as schools transform to a more digital future. Our research indicates that teachers are increasingly ready and willing for the digital transformation. We’re also witnessing the emergence of new pedagogies such as phenomenon-based learning, and blended solutions can be very helpful enablers of these new pedagogies.

3.   Blended learning supercharges great teachers (and there are many of them in Finland). A Sanoma Learning solution typically saves a teacher about 8 hours of working time each week – time which can be channelled into individual attention to pupils. And with dashboards and personalised learning pathways, teachers have excellent insights and tools to guide interventions.

4.   Blended learning motivates and engages pupils in their learning endeavours. Our learning impact surveys have indicated that 95% of teachers typically report that integrated learning methods help them to engage pupils with learning. Some like printed books while others prefer online materials. Nowadays boys often lag behind girls in learning. Our analytics indicate that gamified solutions integrated into the approach such as bingel are especially motivating for boys, providing a way to bridge this gap.

5.   Blended learning supports pupils’ achievement and outcomes. Blended learning is a step towards personalized learning, which takes pupils’ personal achievement level and preferences into account. In our surveys, 85% of teachers have reported that such solutions help the pupils to achieve their curriculum goals.

 By applying blended learning methods and techniques, Finland can stay on top of its game in education. Teachers can make the most of their teaching and pupils stay motivated, which helps them to achieve their learning goals.

* Blended learning is mix of various event-based activities, including face-to-face classrooms, e-learning and self-paced learning.