Virtual and blended mobilities represent ways in which physical mobility barriers to taking part in an international learning experience, for example, pandemic restrictions or family commitments, can be overcome in order to provide students with greater access to a range of educational experiences, courses and awards. The terms are commonly found within EU contexts as the Erasmus+ or European Solidarity Corps programmes, and the evolving interest in virtual and blended formats as tools to deliver education experiences, don’t just link to making international opportunities more accessible, but are also about ‘greening’ such EU programmes to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses.
Within a virtual mobility context, a student could have an international learning experience facilitated via an online course which is supported by engagement in virtual tutorial groups or action learning sets, and which also develop both digital and intercultural competencies and communication skills.
Blended mobility combines both physical and online mobility tools to facilitate learning and is underpinned by a distinct pedagogical design. This might be a face-to-face course supported by online or virtual tools, or an online course with additional opportunities for face-to-face interaction and opportunities.
Both formats can be delivered asynchronously and/or synchronously, and may take place over short-term, long-term or intermittent periods of time.
Although the European Parliament’s Virtual Formats versus Physical Mobility report identifies evidence that suggests that physical mobility programmes do provide a wider set of benefits to students who participate, for example, language acquisition, there is also evidence to suggest that virtual or blended formats can still play a role in enhancing cultural awareness, provide inter-cultural challenges, teamwork, collaboration and the development of soft skills. The report gives no mention however, of how digital and 21st century competencies are achieved and how for some students, this will mean the difference between participating in such programmes and not participating.
Under the Erasmus+ programme, ATHENA (Advanced Technology Higher Education Network Alliance) promotes a focus on the skills needed to drive Europe’s digital transformation agenda through innovative, virtual and blended approaches. This is also in the context of promoting more equal access to such opportunities and to support broader student mobility across EU universities.