Ruth Puhr, our Head of Teaching and Learning Development, has been instrumental in establishing an innovative, immersive remote learning offer that now extends to every academic program in our portfolio. So who better to explain the crucial differences between ‘next generation’ Les Roches remote study and a more traditional online course?
Online learning has been around almost as long as the internet itself. And before that it was possible to study for an academic qualification by post – what used to be known as a ‘correspondence course’.
Distance learning remains a very successful and popular way of delivering education. But it should not be confused with the remote learning methodology developed by Les Roches over the past year.
When the pandemic hit, and we had to suspend the face-to-face teaching that’s always been at the heart of our academic approach, we knew that a traditional online learning model was not going to be an adequate replacement.
Why? Because for all its strengths, online learning can leave students feeling isolated, with interactions often limited to asynchronous text-based discussion boards. You write something in your region and some time later a fellow student or faculty member responds from their time zone. There’s very little direct contact with this model.
That’s not the Les Roches way. We pride ourselves on offering a hands-on, highly personalized education; and this wasn’t about to change just because we were switching to remote learning. We needed to develop something much more interactive, which would keep students engaged with their teachers and with each other, even though they were often far apart geographically.
Our approach would take the best elements of online learning – like the production of high quality content – and add to them, rather than completely reinventing the wheel.
We also listened intently to our students, so we could devise something that met their needs and worked for them, instead of just imposing our idea of what’s good. We had constant feedback loops with the students, through town halls and surveys. The result is that our remote learning is anchored in classes which can be attended live in person, or in playback on demand. This is something you simply don’t get with online learning; and it’s at the heart of our approach.
HyFlex makes the difference
We were the first Swiss institution to get up and running with HyFlex, a method which has made all the difference for us. The wonderful thing about HyFlex is how it can be shaped for three different groups of learners simultaneously: those in class, those joining on live stream and those who watch on-demand. They can all continue their learning journey together.
Even more importantly, we can introduce opportunities for those three groups to interact with each other. For example, during live classes the lecturer can send the people in the room into a virtual breakout area with the online students, so they can all work together.
Making the most of new interactive tools
To build on the interactivity of the actual classes, we’ve also introduced a menu of online tools for the faculty to use as they wish. Some of my favorites include Mural, which enables collaborative working, brainstorming and project building. Students can go into this space and build ideas, move them around and interact with each other – it’s almost like a physical experience as you move your avatar around!
Another good example is Padlet, which acts like a social media wall where students can share videos and images that follow up on what they’ve learned in a particular class. Then we have the concept of gamified learning, using the Genial.ly platform. Here the students can test their learning like in a video game, where their knowledge helps them move up levels in the game.
Education as a shared experience
For me, one of the most interesting things from our work over the past year is the confirmation that learning at its best will continue to be a social activity. The kind that happens with other people: with experts, with fellow learners, with guides and facilitators. So for us it’s been about finding the best ways to facilitate learning experiences that are essentially social experiences – these are what will take us forward, even when the pandemic is over and life returns to something close to normal.
It would have been so easy for us just to say ‘we’re switching to a ready-made online model’; but we said no to that, and then we innovated to allow our learning to be this interactive, social model which we knew our students wanted it to be.
The results speak for themselves! When the 2021 QS World University Rankings were published recently, it was gratifying indeed to see that our academic performance score had risen by 6% year-on-year. That’s an impressive performance in any year, but even more so in one as challenging as the year we just lived through.
It is testament to the dedication of our faculty, students and technical team that we could deliver enhanced education while simultaneously creating and embedding a comprehensive and ground-breaking remote learning model. And it underscores our reputation as a school where innovation and ‘defining new codes’ are philosophies to be cherished and nurtured.