Digital transformation accelerates but gaps remain in digital skills support

Tony Maguire, Regional Director for Australia and New Zealand at D2L

D2L, a global learning and professional development technology leader, has published new research which reveals that while three quarters (75.15%) of respondents agree digital learning enhances the quality of higher education, there remains an urgent need to increase resources, support and digital upskilling for teachers and academics across Australian and New Zealand.

According to the survey of 503 higher education respondents across universities, TAFEs and RTOs in A/NZ, as digital transformation initiatives were accelerated in response to the pandemic, the number of higher education institutions offering more than 50% of their courses fully online increased significantly from 35.98% pre-pandemic to 57.06% this year.

However, 47.48% identified a lack of support and training in the use of digital tools to deliver education as the biggest challenge in transitioning learning online in the wake of COVID-19.

Lack of content for blended delivery was second at 39.84%, while a lack of commitment from managers to embrace the shift to online learning was reported by 37.02%.

69.78% said the training was not available to introduce and support faculty and staff to use new technologies at all, despite progress in overarching digital transformation strategies.

In fact, the research found that the continued gap in digital skills and competencies among academics and teachers was the most common obstacle impeding overarching digital transformation strategies as it was cited by 26.02% of respondents.

The academic skills gap was cited more often than even the historic challenges of cost (25.20%) and lack of resources and/or infrastructure (22.54%).

“Higher education sectors faced a host of challenges due to the pandemic, and institutions were required to adapt teaching and learning arrangements extremely quickly.”

“Lockdowns forced online-only learning – at times almost overnight – which inhibited student experience and satisfaction, and border closures kept international students disconnected from domestic institutions,” said Tony Maguire, Regional Director A/NZ at D2L.

Educators need to adopt the new reality

“Digital transformation accelerated across the sector, predominately motivated by the desire to enhance student experience (39.34%) and improve course quality (34.63%).”

“But the investment into new tools for teaching and learning has rarely been supported with adequate training and digital upskilling for A/NZ educators.”

Teachers and academics have spent their entire careers teaching face-to-face and need to be confident in not only the capabilities of the tools provided to them but their ability to use those technologies to create efficiencies that maximize outcomes for students and themselves.

However, the data reveals only 34.79% say improving digital skills within the academic community is a top priority for their organizations over the next two years.

“Teachers and academics are the cornerstones to a future-proofed digital economy and digital training is vital to help educators acquire the digital skills, competencies, confidence and resiliency needed to engage and nurture student learning in a new environment.”

“Our partnerships with higher education institutions have revealed that this training should be delivered via the same learning management system (LMS) used to educate students.”

“It both creates an authentic way for teachers to learn the platform, and enables them to understand the nuances of digital learning from the perspective of their students.”

Additional key findings from the research

The drivers for digital transformation strategies are enhancing the student experience (39.34%), improving course quality (34.63%) and increasing student enrollments (29.71%).

76.44% started planning digital transformation strategies during or before 2018, 40.37% had commenced implementing in that time period and 59.63% started during or after 2019.

28.63% strongly agree and 46.52% somewhat agree that technological developments enhance the quality of higher education, while only 7.95% somewhat or strongly disagree.

23.66% strongly agree and 47.51% somewhat agree that blended learning offers educational benefits above and beyond solely face-to-face, while 8.95% disagree.

Only 38.83% of respondents said there has been an increase in the level of digital skills within academic and learner communities following the transition online and only 37.63% reported the institution had introduced new content to deliver a more engaging experience.

With higher education adopting an increasingly-pivotal role in upskilling Australian and New Zealand workers, 50.50% of respondents indicated an increase in enrolled adult learners over the past five years, with 21.07% stating numbers are mostly unchanged.

Looking ahead, 53.6% anticipate an increase in their adult learning cohort over the next decade while 21.67% expect figures to remain about the same. Findings are part of a global survey of 4,830 higher education respondents conducted by Censuswide and commissioned by D2L.