For the last year, humanized learning has been top of mind at many higher education institutions. As I’ve written previously, it is not a new concept. The teaching and learning literature is brimming with resources, ranging from philosophical treatises to practical guides. Historically and currently, most educators and campus leaders use humanized learning to describe instructional practice, specifically faculty attitudes and behaviors proven to foster engaging and productive classroom interactions. For example, instructors dedicated to humanized learning may integrate the following into their learning environments:
- Faculty social presence within online courses (including welcome videos)
- Increased availability for student questions and support
- Community spaces for peer interaction and social learning
- Ungrading and flexible assessment strategies
- Generous deadline extensions and alternative assignments for students in need
Don’t get me wrong—faculty are essential to humanized learning. However, the focus on instructional practice is limiting and ultimately reduces chances for success. By reducing humanized learning to classroom engagement, institutions are:
- Elevating the faculty-student relationship above others in the higher education ecosystem
- Valuing interpersonal interactions over other types of experiences
- Limiting the context to academic environments when much of the student experience takes place outside the classroom
- Holding faculty entirely responsible for the student experience, which is unreasonable
With these limited definitions in place, it’s easy for campus IT leaders to assume a supporting role in humanized learning—one that is in danger of devolving into a technology checklist. For example:
- Do faculty have access to video recording software to create welcome videos? (Check.)
- Do faculty and students have access to videoconferencing for group and one-to-one engagement? (Check.)
- Are we supplying faculty with media-rich community spaces, discussion forums, and video assignments for flipped, hybrid, and online courses? (Check.)
Regardless of what vendors say, video technologies and collaboration platforms are not silver bullets for humanized learning. Also, consider how instructor-centric this list sounds. Will we truly achieve a learner-centered experience by focusing on instructors and their access to technology?
A Proposed Solution
Rather than focusing on instructor behavior, let’s shift our perspective to consider what students want to experience in their academic and non-academic interactions with their institutions. A more inclusive, learner-centered understanding of humanized learning may look something like this:
- Accessible. Students will have access to essential information, processes, faculty, and staff when and where they need it.
- Security. Student–including their data and privacy—will be protected from internal and external threats.
- Respect. Students will be valued, trusted, and heard by the institution, faculty, and staff.
- Empathy. Students will navigate the institution—including the physical campus, campus systems, and all processes and workflows—knowing that the institution has reduced logistical barriers and excessive cognitive load to the best of its ability.
These principles are consistent with instructor-centric discussions of humanized learning, but broaden the applicability to include other aspects of the student experience, too.
Campus IT and Humanized Learning
Today, technology is more embedded into higher education’s everyday practices than ever. Here are some examples of how IT and humanized learning intersect and how campus IT leaders can contribute to the process.
- Access. COVID-19 highlighted the disparities between students who have access to modern computing devices and broadband and those who do not. Equitable access is a foundational requirement for humanized learning. On most campuses, IT leaders are best suited to evaluate student need and work toward a viable solution.
- Accessibility. Research consistently demonstrates that more students, faculty, and staff use accessibility features like captions, screen readers, dynamic text, and keyboard navigation than institutional statistics around accommodations suggest. Unfortunately, many institutions do not prioritize accessibility in their technology decisions or validate vendors’ claims of accessibility. Campus IT leaders can engage the institution’s technology experts in the decision-making process and apply pressure to the industry to improve.
- Empathetic design. Much of the student experience occurs on campus websites, portals, and other digital platforms. Some institutions downplay web design as superficial aesthetics, but, in reality, it is essential for accessibility, searchability, and readability. An empathetic institution offers well-designed and responsive web content for students and other stakeholders to navigate. Well-trained AI chatbots that reduce search times and connect students with appropriate resources also contribute to empathetic web design.
- Data security. I’ve written previously that campus IT departments must establish security and privacy standards for the learning technologies that faculty integrate into flipped, hybrid, and online classrooms—often with very little oversight. Some campus IT leaders are also engaging faculty in conversations about data retention as a security (and a cloud storage) issue.
- Ethical implementation. We know that technology is not neutral. Learning technologies are increasingly complex, and the analytics they produce are not easy to interpret. Consider the harm students experienced because of questionable faculty and staff practices related to online proctoring technologies, learning management system analytics, and student success software. Campus IT leaders are uniquely qualified to critique and address technology use on campus. They must use their expertise to consider how technology impacts student experience of accessibility, security, respect, and empathy from their institution.