Laureate’s Digital Learning Journey: Thriving in Uncertain Times

How Our Universities Were Able to Respond Immediately and Effectively to the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Eilif Serck-Hanssen,
April 30, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every sector and every business around the world, with higher education experiencing a significant impact. Shortly after the World Health Organization declared the global pandemic, millions of students needed to move away from their campus-based, face-to-face classes and abruptly switch to online learning.

Some have been critical of the speed at which institutions were able to transition, saying the education sector overall lacked a commitment to identify, explore and implement innovative solutions to deliver quality education in a digital format to their students.

While that may be true of some, this has not been the case for Laureate’s institutions. I am truly proud of our network and the ability of our faculty, staff and students to adapt quickly, while also ensuring the quality of learning was not compromised.

Well positioned to transition to fully online, regardless of COVID-19  

Our successful transition to fully online learning was not only because of the pressure of the pandemic and the prompt action and hard work of our teams. We had previously developed a global digital learning strategy that was implemented long before COVID-19, and this strategy has been one of our top business priorities for several years. The investments behind this strategy included scalable technology solutions and training of our faculty and staff in digital content development and online delivery. It also included exposing the majority of our students to blended, hybrid and fully online teaching modalities. These capabilities were leveraged by all our institutions immediately upon the COVID-19 outbreak, and resulted in minimal disruptions to our students as they were able to continue their educational programs in a high-quality online learning environment.

Over the past five years, Laureate has developed the discipline necessary to quickly, efficiently and effectively pivot from face-to-face to digital delivery of courses to ensure continuity of instruction.

In 2014, just 3% of teaching contact hours were delivered to students at our campus-based institutions in a digital format (including fully online, hybrid and blended learning experiences). That same year, we set a five-year goal to increase the proportion of campus-based teaching hours being delivered digitally to 25%. We achieved that goal early, and by the end of 2019, 28% of teaching hours were carried out online.

Laureate institutions have benefited greatly from our holistic digital transformation initiatives, such as the deployment of a common learning management system, that are designed to support the growth and successful integration of online teaching and learning throughout the network. Today, our institutions leverage the power of the Laureate network to develop digital course solutions that can be shared across institutions.

Learning during COVID-19

Through stable technology infrastructure and the delivery of multiple online learning modalities, we have established our expertise in digital teaching and learning. We have collectively developed thousands of online courses, integrating new instructional technologies (e.g. augmented and virtual reality, adaptive learning) while maximizing student learning and the achievement of key competencies.

Today, to meet the demands of COVID-19, our institutions are delivering a blended learning approach, combining the benefits of synchronous and asynchronous learning with a combination of platforms, such as Blackboard Learn and Blackboard Collaborate. Unlike many other universities around the world, Laureate institutions are not relying solely on synchronous learning, which can often pose challenges to students with limited bandwidth. Our previous investments in digital instruction, coupled with our ongoing commitment to quality online learning, allow us to complement synchronous, real-time instruction with the benefits of high-quality, engaging student instruction delivered through asynchronous means.

A Case Study from Universidad del Valle de México (UVM)

Importantly, our institutions have relied on their innovation and adaptability to advance the quality of learning, including the delivery of laboratory and other practical, hands-on courses. For example, UVM in Mexico has changed the delivery of its practical labs and applied courses in order for students to develop the expected skills and competencies associated with those courses. The university has deployed state-of-the-art simulations and laboratory demonstrations, partnering with educational technology providers to ensure students continue to receive high-quality instruction and master key competencies.  

Supporting our faculty and students

In addition to technological innovation, all Laureate institutions have implemented effective practices to ensure an ongoing, high-quality learning experience for students.

At Walden University, faculty and staff immediately recognized the need to modify the delivery of required clinical practicum and residency experiences. Within 48 hours, Walden pivoted to providing digitally enhanced solutions to meet the needs of over 13,000 students. Participation rates and satisfaction ratings have never been higher.

In most of our international institutions, more than 90% of our faculty have been trained in effective digital instructional delivery methods in order to optimize course delivery and teaching.

All institutions are undergoing regular and consistent communication with faculty and students to determine how best to continue to enhance the learning environment, and we are monitoring key indicators across our institutions to ensure high levels of student engagement and satisfaction.

Finally, in instances where large numbers of our students were at risk of not being able to continue their learning online due to limited connectivity, we have stepped in and provided this access. More than 6,000 students in Chile alone have received equipment and connectivity support, as well as thousands of students across other parts of Latin America.

Our future

We will continue to make meaningful investments in innovation and best practices to enhance the quality of learning we offer our students to ensure they are well prepared for the challenges of a future beyond COIVD-19.

From continually improving digital teaching experiences to evaluating the application of emerging technological innovations on student learning, we remain committed to exploring new and effective ways to enhance the teaching and learning process.

Throughout this pandemic, we are reminded that this commitment and significant investment in educational innovation is not only warranted – it is necessary. The role of education is critical to responding to a crisis and helping develop solutions to the world’s greatest challenges. Overcoming the COVID-19 crisis and future crises requires the technical knowledge, expertise and experience of a well-educated workforce. And at Laureate, we take very seriously our responsibility to continue to educate and graduate students who are equipped to lead us through the most complex challenges of our future.