Edtech will transform the learning experience and student engagement

Stewart Watts

Over the past few years, institutions have gradually implemented edtech as they look to improve teaching quality standards and explore new ways of learning. In fact, this movement was well underway before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. However, it is no surprise that the adoption of new technology has accelerated considerably since the start of 2020; when universities and schools were forced to close their doors.

To better understand how digital transformation (DX) programmes are progressing around the world and how edtech can be a force for good, D2L conducted a survey of more than 4,000 higher education (HE) respondents in 11 international markets including the UK, Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg) and South Africa. It looked especially at the motivations and drivers behind institutions’ DX programmes, and what leaders are now prioritising given their experiences throughout the pandemic.

An international perspective: reassessing DX strategies

At first, the survey revealed positive attitudes toward edtech in all parts of the world. Indeed, the majority of respondents agreed that technological developments enhanced the quality of higher education – 89% in South Africa, 81% in the UK, and 63%  in the Benelux region respectively. Whilst the majority of institutions did have a digital transformation strategy in place prior to the pandemic, there were varying levels of digital maturity and 62% of respondents said these programmes were accelerated in response to extreme conditions posed by national lockdowns. Indeed, 30% of UK respondents said they experienced challenges when transitioning to fully remote learning, as this was likely their first time rolling out such an extensive DX programme.

In order to navigate this environment, and maximise the benefits of edtech, staff need to be far more aware of how to make better use of the digital tools available to them. Whilst 46% of institutions noted an increase in digital skills within academic and learner communities, only 41% reported that their institutions were able to provide the necessary training to introduce faculty and staff to new technologies and support their use, and this likely hindered implementation.  

Post-COVID recovery plans: driving real change

As the pandemic has proven, digital transformation in education is about more than simply implementing technology – it invites a change to organisational and pedagogical approaches. There must be compelling reasons if the uptick in technology use in HE is to be sustained and built upon, and this appears to be the focus for the majority of institutions. Over half (nearly 52%) of respondents said they hope edtech will improve student engagement, while 48% want it to measure and improve learning outcomes. 

According to the survey, enhancing the student experience (51%) and improving course quality (47%) are now reported to be the key drivers of the digital transformation programmes in the UK. It would appear that, whilst the transition online was necessary during the pandemic, longer-term, the aim of digital transformation will be centred around the learning experience and student engagement.

If edtech is to become integrated into the practice of teaching and learning, this digital skills gap must be bridged. As per the UK government’s Outcome Delivery Plan: 2021 to 2022 for the Department of Education, ‘innovation, technology and data’ have been placed front and centre in its recovery plan and indicates that further investment in staff training and development is needed, as well as improving education’s digital infrastructure and connectivity.

Interestingly, survey respondents suggested their priorities for the next two years are enhancing online provision (52%), improving digital skills within the academic community (51%) as well as investing in online infrastructure (42%). Therefore, in the future, we can expect a significant push to upskill staff and students so they can make use of the plethora of new technologies that have become a fundamental part of teaching and learning.

The pandemic has had a huge impact on education – digital transformation plans have been accelerated, and the majority of institutions now consider DX vital for future growth. Institutions will need to invest heavily in their online infrastructure and nurture the right skills from staff if they hope to succeed and improve learning outcomes.  

Stewart Watts is Vice President EMEA at D2L.

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