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Lessons Learned in Higher Education During Covid-19 and Beyond

What lessons have we learned through teaching and learning
during the global pandemic and where do we go from here?

Animation of three honeycomb gradient shapes slowly fading in. The shapes represent the three phases of the report process.


Higher education was impacted by the switch to emergency remote teaching (ERT), a transition necessary to continue instruction while assuring safety for educators and students due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Significantly, educators had to modify their teaching methods while students had to adapt their learning strategies in response to this abrupt change; more specifically, educators and students had to learn how to communicate solely online and use online learning platforms. At UCalgary, these disruptions and shifts caused us to ask, “What lessons have we learned through teaching and learning during the global pandemic and where do we go from here?”

To capture these lessons learned, a team of educators, leaders, and students explored our shared experiences at UCalgary and beyond. Between June 2022 and January 2023, we conducted an environmental scan, exploratory literature review, and campus community conversations to gather and document the pandemic's impact on teaching and learning in higher education.


To capture the lessons learned throughout the pandemic, the team engaged in a three-pronged approach: (a) environmental scan, (b) exploratory literature review, and (c) campus community conversations. We conducted these knowledge-gathering initiatives between June 2022 and January 2023, and they resulted in a multifaceted understanding of how teaching and learning were affected during the pandemic. They provided insights into how these lessons could be integrated into future decision-making at UCalgary and beyond. This initiative was a quality improvement process intended for internal reporting (University of Calgary, 2023).


The findings from each phase of lesson gathering provided unique insight into global, national, and local experiences and perspectives about the impact of the pandemic on higher education. We found three umbrella themes for future consideration: (a) teaching and learning, (b) EDIA and decision-making, and (c) institutional practices, analysis, and infrastructure.

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Teaching and Learning

Flexibility and workload considerations go together. While students have noted an increased expectation for flexibility from their instructors, educators have been asked to do more with increasingly less, which has contributed to increased rates of burnout (Alford et al., 2021). Teaching and learning supports and resources were consistently identified by educators as crucial for helping balance workload and meet expectations for flexibility.

Importance of EDIA in Decision-Making and Planning

Issues of equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility (EDIA) directly affected faculty and students’ experiences throughout the pandemic. There remains a gap between what we knew pre-pandemic and what we need post-pandemic. In addition, it is important to consider questions such as, how has the pandemic affected mental health and wellbeing? How did the pandemic expose and exacerbate longstanding health and wellbeing issues and inequities experienced by members of equity-seeking groups? What strategies, approaches, or frameworks have proven effective in supporting both students’ well-being and faculty well-being and capacity?

Role of Institutional Practices, Analysis, and Infrastructure

With flexibility being important to faculty and students throughout the pandemic, it may be helpful for institutions to embed flexible teaching and learning options into policies, programs, and infrastructural decisions. Critical reflection on our experiences from teaching and learning in higher education during the pandemic could indicate an institution’s readiness for the future.

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Looking Forward

As of May 5, 2023, the World Health Organization declared the end of the Covid-19 global health emergency (World Health Organization, 2023). This declaration moved us closer to a post-pandemic reality that will involve healing, mourning, re-normalizing, and change. What we have learned in this study is that what was considered normal pre-pandemic may not be typical, or achievable, post-pandemic. As we look forward to the potential of a post-pandemic institutional landscape, perhaps we can ponder the following questions:

  • Adaptability
    How can adaptability and resilience to disruptions be fostered in the future by providing sustained policy, infrastructural, technological, and financial support for the teaching and learning community?
  • Flexibility
    How can flexibility be embedded into teaching and learning design and decision-making to support agile, future-focused programs and courses?
  • Wellbeing
    How could institutional support for mental health and well-being be strengthened to address the systemic and structural challenges to wellbeing?
  • Equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility
    How could institutional support for mental health and well-being be strengthened to address the systemic and structural challenges to wellbeing?
  • Planning
    What types of guidelines, frameworks, or processes could be developed regarding blended, online, and remote learning to support faculties and departments as they make decisions about programming and modality of course delivery?

While these questions are not exhaustive, we hope they may be a starting point for conversations about what post-pandemic teaching and learning looks like in diverse places and spaces.