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Have universities in the UK and Benelux seen a digital transformation?   

  • 4 Min Read

Have universities in the UK and Benelux seen a digital transformation?   

During the pandemic learning migrated online, but even before this education was undergoing a digital transformation. The rate of adoption of learning management systems and other technologies varied from country to country and institution to institution, and each had its own motivations to transform and challenges to overcome. To better understand the progress, drivers and detractors of the digital transformation of higher education (HE), D2L conducted a survey of more than 4,000 participants in 11 markets.  

Here, we examine results from the Benelux, through the lens of survey responses from more than 350 HE professionals in the region, and the UK, from responses from more than 500. 

When did digital transformations start? 

The majority of institutions in the UK did already have a digital transformation strategy before COVID but, not surprisingly, the pandemic accelerated this, according to 62% of respondents. Along with it, it was necessary for many institutions to increase the digital capabilities of staff and 46% said this had been the case among academic and learner communities.  

Meanwhile, in the Benelux, digital transformations began early. The overall average across surveyed regions was 15% of institutions beginning their planning in 2016, but 30% of those in the Benelux with a digital transformation strategy started at this time.  

Not surprisingly, therefore, a higher proportion of those in the Benelux had plans in place before 2019 and the advent of disruption from the pandemic—84% in fact, compared to 73% across all regions. 

This early start will doubtless have created a good foundation that Benelux institutions were able to build on when in-person tuition was difficult in 2020 and 2021. Indeed, over half (56%) of those who took steps to ensure educational continuity during national lockdowns reported it was easy, compared to the overall average of 49%. 

In the UK, the disruption of a rapid migration online generated practical issues that had to be overcome. Of our respondents, 30% who took steps to ensure educational continuity during lockdown said it is somewhat or very difficult to transition from campus-based learning to online instruction. One of the greatest challenges they encounter is a lack of support and training in the use of digital tools, yet only 41% said training on new technologies is available for faculty and staff.  

This is a skills gap that must be bridged to ease the way towards a future where technology forms an integrated part of the delivery of learning. It would appear that institutions recognised this, as UK respondents suggested priorities for the next two years were enhancing online provision (52%) and improving the digital skills of academics (51%). 

Designing for online 

Despite the catch-up in skills, UK institutions forged ahead in developing and delivering learning solutions to meet the need. New/uplifted content was introduced by 44% who took steps to ensure educational continuity to deliver a more engaging online experience during the pandemic. What’s more, over three-quarters (76%) said they were creating their own content for flipped learning or similar pedagogical practices. In fact, 81% of UK respondents agreed that online technology enhances the quality of higher education. 

Motivating change 

By examining the findings of the survey, we gain an insight into what drives institutions’ digital transformations. In the Benelux, the top three rated factors were improving course quality (36%), enhancing the student experience (35%) and budget (31%).  

It is encouraging that the role technology can play in delivering rich and rewarding learning experiences was recognised in this way. Competitiveness (28%) and increasing enrolments (24%) also rated quite highly, indicating a level of belief in technology adoption as enhancing an institution’s position. A digital transformation strategy equips HE to bridge the EdTech reality gap, by enabling self-directed learning and meeting students’ expectations of course content provided digitally.  

In line with the drivers of change, the Benelux’s desired outcomes of digital transformation strategies were student-focused. Over a third of institutions cited improving student engagement (38%) and measuring and improving learning outcomes (37%).  

Discover how Radboud University rose to the online learning challenge, making full use of the digital tools in D2L Brightspace for high levels of student interaction >> 

Are there challenges to overcome? 

To succeed, there will be obstacles to overcome. UK institutions suggested cost (41%) is a major one, while lack of resources was also mentioned by 29% and student access to the internet and devices by over a quarter (27%).  

In the Benelux, the survey revealed that challenges are evenly distributed. Cost, access, the digital skills gap, a lack of resources, old organisational dynamics, and a lack of leadership all scored between 20 and 28%. This, in itself, is interesting as a more polarised outcome was seen in other regions.  

There will be many legacies from the COVID-19 pandemic; it changed so much about the way we live our lives, including how we learn. Institutions adapted during an incredibly difficult time. Digital transformation plans were accelerated, but they were by no means non-existent before the coronavirus crisis. The experience gained has no doubt fuelled the rollout of institutions’ digital strategies.  

For more on the digital transformation in education, take a look at our range of resources including a summary of results in all regions and an ebook exploring the journey that organisations embarked on in the EMEA region.  

 

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