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How Can Higher Ed Shift to a Post-Pandemic Digital Future?

Higher education (HE) institutions are at a digital crossroads, reviewing the online solutions they put in place because of COVID-19 and considering their future technology strategies. While decisions made at the start of the pandemic were understandably focused on digitising the virtual campus, decision makers are now looking for ways to optimise their investments for the future.

The choices they make are likely to impact resourcing, training and development, solutions implementation and administration. Maintaining any increased level of online learning will make demands on the skills and time of teaching staff. It may be necessary to recruit, train and maybe even outsource aspects of online course creation and maintenance.

Whatever choices institutions make, transitioning from the current to the new will take time.

Learning & Teaching During COVID-19

The pandemic closed teaching institutions and brought a halt to much of the tuition that ordinarily took place face-to-face.

Across education, there was a significant acceleration in the uptake of digital forms of learning. In order to maintain learning continuity, HE institutions had to make important technology and resourcing decisions, and they had to make them quickly.

The result of these choices was that students were able to attend lectures virtually and interact with their tutors and peers through online tools. However, this was education on an “emergency footing” with technology solutions and remote tutoring models implemented at speed and often on a temporary basis.

Looking Towards HE’s Digital Future

Now, HE institutions are transitioning from temporary online tutoring and learning to what will be the future of education. It’s during this time that institutions can reflect on the approaches they took and the outcomes they achieved to establish expectations and objectives for the years to come.

Many will assess how best to deliver a blend of classroom-based and online tuition, possibly with some fully online courses.

Technology will be central to enabling this future. It can bridge the divide between classroom-based tuition and personal study. Yet getting there requires a mindset shift away from a patchwork of solutions to a fully integrated hub. Rather than the physical and digital being two distinct learning spaces, HE institutions need to move towards a single cohesive learning environment that supports in-person and remote forms of learning.

Whatever their digital strategy may be, each HE institution also faces the challenge of maintaining quality tuition and learning during a transition phase from the current to the new.

How Can HE Institutions Get There?

All institutions are in the same transition period. They’re reassessing decisions taken at the start of, and throughout, the pandemic and deciding how the outcomes they delivered fit with their own particular digital future. To get started, institutions should consider three fundamentals.

1.     Revisiting the Vision

Updated strategies and new plans for the future of learning are likely to include the increased use of technology to support blended learning approaches. Well-set blended learning journeys make the best of in-person contact and digital capabilities by optimising, rather than simply digitising, online learning management.

The modern, innovative learning platform should bring together tutoring, learning and administration in a way that maximises tutor-student interaction, learning engagement and student retention.

2.     Identifying the Gaps

It’s likely that examining the vision will reveal gaps that need to be plugged. These may exist in a range of areas including technology, resourcing and skills.

Illustrating this point, last year D2L conducted research with HE institutions to understand how far along they are in implementing education technology and gauge the drivers and challenges of such a strategy. In the UK, respondents’ priorities for the next two years were:

    • enhancing online provision (52%)
    • improving the digital skills of academics (51%)
    • modernising, investing, and improving online infrastructure (42%)

In South Africa, almost 60% of those surveyed said improving digital skills is one of their main priorities in the 24 months following the survey.

3.     Establishing Expertise

Once HE institutions have an understanding of the vision and the gaps that must be plugged, they can develop a strategy, including determining the support and expertise they’ll need to achieve their plans. By partnering with expert providers, they can secure planning input and help with setting objectives as well as making technology, and other, critical choices.

Support Through the Transition

Capacity can be an issue through any change programme. Staff are already fully allocated to delivering and facilitating learning, which means that finding resources with the right skill sets to deliver incremental changes can be a big ask.

HE institutions can draw on the support and expertise of their technology partners. Rightly, there is now an expectation that vendors support client institutions beyond just platform availability and innovation. Long-term, partnership-driven relationships are built when suppliers listen and respond to the needs of clients and pivot to provide the right support in a post-pandemic world.

D2L’s professional services support can help assure learning continuity while institutions transition:

  • A learning administration manager can optimise platform configuration and management and plug resource and skills gaps by picking up Brightspace administration.
  • A technical account manager can provide guidance on technical projects, platform updates and enhancements.
  • Data solutions consulting can help with an effective data strategy to optimise the learning experience, the building and sharing of data sets, visualisations, reports and more.
  • If tutors and course creators need design help to curate compelling content, a team of designers and developers can help translate content into compelling and engaging courses and create consistent learning experiences.

Next Steps

HE is on a digitisation journey. It’s navigated the first stage by migrating face-to-face tutoring and learning online during the pandemic. It’s now at the second stage, making technology, resourcing and skills decisions to transition from basic online to optimised learning in the digital age. Looking ahead, digital transformation is the end goal with a single, cohesive learning environment that seamlessly supports engaging, personalised learning across classroom-based, online and blended environments. There is scope in this future for competency-based education models, fully online programmes and behavioural analytics that make an increased use of data.

D2L was founded with a mission—to improve the way that people learn. Two decades on, D2L works with schools, colleges and institutions around the world to take learning delivery to the next level and unlock learner potential. To mark 2022 D2L has a new look, underscoring our longstanding commitment to transform the way the world learns with a deeper focus on personalised learning, strategic partnership, growth and human potential.

D2L is well-placed to partner with HE institutions as they manage their current learning environments, implement their digital strategies and plan for a digital future. The priority may be taking the pressure off teaching and administrative staff, backfilling content design or administrative responsibilities, or helping to optimise the learning experience. Whatever your digital priorities may be, for more information on how D2L can help support and extend your team, take a look at D2L’s professional services or get in touch to discuss.

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