D2L, a global learning technology leader, has announced the results of a survey of more than 500 higher education professionals in the UK. 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.

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.

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,” said Stewart Watts, Vice President, EMEA, D2L. “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.”