Teachers at professional education institutions in a challenging situation – the transition from conventional teaching to distance learning

A nationwide ban was imposed in Switzerland on face-to-face teaching at tertiary level in spring 2020 and autumn/winter 2020/2021. We evaluated the opportunities and risks of this transition and the necessary shift towards digitalisation in a study last year.

A female student studies online.
Adobe Stock/Vadim Pastuh

Based on this study, we are currently conducting another study on experiences during the second phase of distance learning. This study looks at whether and how teachers’ were able to draw on their initial experiences with digital forms of teaching from the first phase during the second phase of distance learning and what they incorporated into the post-coronavirus teaching setting. The knowledge obtained about the opportunities and risks of digital forms of teaching will support teachers in reforming their teaching to make it fit for the future and optimally preparing students for the digitalised world of work.

We focus on two key aspects in this study. Firstly, we are examining how teachers have incorporated the experiences of digital teaching from the first phase of remote learning into the second phase during autumn/winter 2020/21. Secondly, we are assessing the impact of the experience of remote teaching and distance learning on ‘normal’ teaching in the post-coronavirus period. In the first study, the majority of teachers indicated that they intended to increasingly supplement ‘normal’ teaching with digital technologies and other innovative forms of learning (e.g., blended learning) in the future. We are now looking at how teachers adapted their teaching after the end of distance learning and what impact this is having on (different) students.

The study therefore focuses on the following questions:

1. How did teachers incorporate the experiences of digital teaching and learning gained during the first phase of distance learning into the second phase?

  • Which forms of digital learning and teaching were newly introduced, which were reused and which were completely abandoned? For which reasons? (strategies)
  • What were the reasons for (successful) adaptation in the second phase?

2. What impact will the experience with distance learning have on teaching in the post-coronavirus period? What effect will this have on students?

  • To what extent have teachers incorporated the (digital) skills and experience of distance learning acquired into their conventional teaching?
  • Which teachers reformed their teaching after the end of distance learning and in what ways?
  • Which teachers have undertaken further training and how?
  • Which opportunities and risks are presented for the various students and types of learning?

3. Will the mandatory transition to distance learning increase digitisation at professional education institutions long-term?

The results of our study will be used to develop tailored educational programmes to improve the digital skills of teachers long-term. However, we will also look at the progressive increase in digitisation at professional education institutions. Insights into teachers’ experience of distance learning can help schools to develop their programmes. The study therefore also aims to address the need for further development and to identify best practices for teaching at professional education institutions.


In the first study, we conducted an online survey of teachers at professional education institutions. 187 teachers from around 20 professional education institutions in German-speaking Switzerland took part in the survey in autumn 2020.

In the second study, we are currently conducting semi-structured interviews with teachers from various professional education institutions and disciplines to extend the findings obtained in the first study.

This mixed qualitative/quantitative approach enables us to identify challenges and potential in the transformation processes in teaching caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Furthermore, it allows us to define specific recommendations on teaching at professional education institutions.


The complete transition to distance learning was caused by a crisis and may only happen in exceptional cases in the future. The descriptive evaluation of the first study showed that teachers generally deemed the teaching experience to have been positive and saw the transition as an opportunity to learn how to use new digital tools. However, there were also clear disadvantages to distance learning compared with face-to-face teaching. Teachers at professional education institutions found the lack of (personal) contact as well as insufficient opportunity to supervise and support students, to use adequate teaching methods and to carry out assessments particularly challenging. The teachers also gave a critical assessment of the learning success of students.

More information on the first study’s evaluations can be found here (in German).

The results of the second study will be published in 2022.

Transfer into practice