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UK HE sector warms to digital transformation

Learning News

Research reveals positive attitudes towards EdTech and digital transformation across UK higher education.

A survey by D2L of more than 500 higher education professionals in the UK has shown positive attitudes towards education technology and digital transformation, driven by HE leadership.

  • 49% say digital transformation is driven by leadership
  • 84% state that institutions need to digitally transform to enable future growth
  • 62% report that the pandemic has accelerated existing transformation strategy
  • 76% are creating their own content for blended learning

While the Covid-19 pandemic ushered in a new digital era for education providers, many were already undergoing a digital transformation to meet the changing needs of students and staff. This research examines shifting attitudes towards digital transformation, highlighting some of the most common drivers and motivations, and outlining post-pandemic recovery plans that put the student experience front and centre.

Digital transformation is driven from the top

The research identified that higher education leadership teams are the main catalyst for the digital agenda in the UK. Most respondents report that their leadership drove the digital agenda (49 per cent), followed closely by their staff (48 per cent).

Even though students are not the primary agents behind the shift, they are the main reason that leadership wanted to institute a digital transformation programme. According to the survey, enhancing the student experience (51 per cent) and improving course quality (47 per cent) are the prominent drivers of the digital transformation programme in the UK.

Of those surveyed, 84 per cent state that institutions need to digitally transform to enable future growth. Nearly 52 per cent hope that digital transformation will improve student engagement, while 48 per cent want it to measure and improve learning outcomes, and 46 per cent aim to improve student retention and completion.

Perceptions and use of EdTech among educators

The vast majority of institutions in the UK had a digital transformation strategy prior to the Covid-19 pandemic pushing learning online, but 62 per cent report that the crisis accelerated their implementation. Nearly half (48 per cent) have seen a rise in the introduction of new learning technology to improve the digital learning experience, 46 per cent have seen an increase in the digital skills within academia and learner communities, and 44 per cent have introduced new content to deliver a more engaging online/blended experience during lockdowns.

More than three quarters (76 per cent) are now creating their own content for flipped learning or similar pedagogical methods, such as blended learning, which 7 in 10 respondents (69 per cent) think offers educational benefits as opposed to solely face-to-face teaching.

As with anything, there were practical challenges in shifting online. Thirty per cent of respondents say it is somewhat or very difficult to transition from campus-based learning to online instruction. The greatest difficulty in the transition is a lack of support and training in the use of digital tools to deliver education.

“For higher education, digital transformation must be a holistic exercise that involves more than just implementing digital technologies,” said Stewart Watts, Vice President, EMEA, D2L. “Instead, emphasis should be placed on changing pedagogical and organisational approaches to take advantage of these new technologies. This research shows that, despite some ongoing barriers to entry – namely cost, technological dependence, and lack of resources or infrastructure – many education providers are starting to address the needs of students and faculty and create a more connected learning environment through digital transformation.”

What does the future hold for digital transformation?

Considering the widely documented barriers to adoption beforehand, the top priorities for respondents over the next two years are enhancing online provision (52 per cent), improving digital skills within the academic community (51 per cent) and modernising, investing, and improving universities’ online infrastructure (42 per cent).

Though it is agreed that technology enhances the learning experience, only 41 per cent of respondents say that there is training available at their institution to introduce and support faculty and staff shifting to new technologies.

“This lack of instructional design knowledge makes the creation of a structured online space challenging, especially when planning online courses at short notice,” says Watts. “In the future, a general understanding of online tools and workflows will be of the utmost importance. Staff need to know what tools they have available and how they can best be applied, otherwise it will prove difficult to translate live activities into fully immersive online experiences.”

“As indicated in the UK government’s Outcome Delivery Plan: 2021 to 2022 for the Department of Education (DfE), improving the education sector’s digital infrastructure and connectivity is a high priority, and further investment in staff training and development is needed. The next few years are likely to herald significant changes not just here in the UK, but worldwide. We will see a net positive for the education sector as a whole, as new pedagogical methods are enabled that can greatly benefit universities, staff and, most importantly, the students.”

For further insight into the state of digital transformation across HigherEd (UK) visit: