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Adapting to Today’s Learners: Key Insights From Our Webinar

Change is the only constant—a well-known adage and one to which higher education is no exception. Institutions and faculty need to be ready to embrace technology to both enhance outcomes for students and enable student ownership of learning.

Lisa Elliott
Lisa Elliott

Integrated Marketing Manager


During our New Year, New Tools, New Rules webinar, we talked with educators to find out how they’re adapting to meet the needs of today’s learners. Our D2L host was joined by Neil Mosley, director and education consultant at Neil Mosley Consulting, Nawaal Deane, head of online education and course curriculum design at University of Cape Town and Dr Gelareh Roushan-Easton, head of Centre for Fusion Learning Innovation and Excellence at Bournemouth University.

Some of the top takeaways that came out of it centre around:

going beyond traditional teaching methods to better address the unique needs and expectations of modern learners

creating more meaningful learning experiences for everyone to encourage student ownership in the learning process

leveraging technology to support educators in facilitating personalised, engaging, accessible course content and assessments

To hear the full discussion, you can delve into the on-demand recording anytime.

1. Learners’ changing needs and expectations 

Students are increasingly finding themselves under strain. In the UK, one of the most pressing concerns is the cost-of-living challenge, which is leading many people to have to work more alongside studying. As Neil points out, while these realities underscore the need for institutions to be able to offer flexible learning experiences, they also raise expectations around the digital environment.

Nawaal echoes this sentiment. She sees students taking more agency in shaping their learning pathways, leaning into the opportunities that online learning presents to go at their pace and structure education around their lives.

But what works in one area doesn’t always work in another. As Gelareh cautions, the process of going digital can’t be about simply rolling existing content into the learning platform. Design must be well thought-out and intentional. At Bournemouth University, the team developed a pedagogical framework with a number of themes—the first of which was learning design—and tapped into student feedback to inform the approach. They honed in on the tools that D2L Brightspace offers to make educators’ lives easier through the structure of units, assessments and other components.

Building on this, Neil emphasizes the importance of breaking down siloes by making sure that educators have spaces where they can come together with each other and other skilled experts, including learning designers. It’s about helping people learn from each other and preventing them from becoming isolated within their own courses.

2. Accessibility and inclusive design 

Accessibility isn’t a new priority for higher education. What has been evolving over recent years is the breadth. Institutions are developing better understandings of neurodiversity and how it can shape and inform a person’s learning journey, and they’re taking action to better support overall student well-being. This, Gelareh suggests, only adds to the importance of making sure that learning experiences are as smooth and personalised as they can be.

At the University of Cape Town, Nawaal shares how they’ve integrated other tools with the learning platform to make courses as accessible as possible. They have, for example, linked to a tool students can use to compose blogs and introduced automated recording studios that are designed for people with different abilities.

Nawaal also touches on the value of learning from others, so that everyone can benefit from solutions that promote accessibility.   

3. Artificial intelligence (AI) 

AI is capturing people’s attention in many spaces, education included. Discussions around the role of higher education in keeping up with the changes and disruptions brought about by AI are ongoing at the University of Cape Town. They’re watching the landscape, Nawaal says.

When the topic of career readiness comes up, Nawaal poses a provocative question. Are we going to bring students into a world of work that is using AI, or are we going to keep them away from AI because we are purists about it? It might be a hard pill to swallow, but she suggests that students aren’t going to get jobs unless they know how to use and work with AI.

Yet while AI is important, its dynamic nature and the pace at which it changes means educators need to be equipped to move fast, too. At Bournemouth University, work is underway to develop staff and student literacy of generative AI authentic curriculum design, particularly in assessment and feedback, using the tools available in Brightspace.

How webinar attendees are adapting to today’s learners 

After our panellists wrapped up, we asked webinar attendees to take part in a survey.

First, we asked them to identify the most significant challenge educators in the field of higher education are facing today. Of the 19 respondents:

  • 37% said managing students’ changing expectations/improving the student experience
  • 32% said staying up to date with the latest technologies and tools
  • 15% said adapting teaching methods to virtual environments
  • 15% said creating personalised learning journeys  

To explore a little further, we asked how respondents believe student expectations have evolved in recent years. The highest percentage (63%) thought there was an increased emphasis on flexibility. Additionally, 16% cited a preference for engaging and interactive teaching, 11% a desire for personalised learning experiences, and 11% a focus on career readiness.

We also asked for opinions on encouraging student ownership in the learning process. An overwhelming 90% responded that this is very important.  

Find out more

Check out the webinar recording to hear our panellists’ perspectives on adapting to meet the needs of today’s learners. To find out how D2L can help your higher education institution, take a look at our learning management system for colleges and universities. 

Written by:

Lisa Elliott
Lisa Elliott

Integrated Marketing Manager

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Table of Contents
  1. 1. Learners’ changing needs and expectations 
  2. 2. Accessibility and inclusive design 
  3. 3. Artificial intelligence (AI) 
  4. How webinar attendees are adapting to today’s learners 
  5. Find out more