Digital evolution: a new approach to learning and teaching in higher education

Creating a digital learning environment isn’t just about convenience for students, it’s about preparing them for the future, says Renee Patton 

July 4, 2018
Digital evolution

Technology continually disrupts almost every area of our lives, resulting in constant shifts across all segments of our society. This is something we’ve examined at length in our research “Digital Vortex How Digital Disruption Is Redefining Industries”, developed with IMD, and our book on the same subject, where we studied the ways in which many industries are being impacted by new digital technologies.

The education sector is no exception. In fact, the nature of its target audience – mostly (although by no means all) young and highly connected – means that the sector must adapt to accommodate their expectations. Most students have grown up online and will expect the same levels of technology in their learning environments as in their day-to-day lives. 

Today’s students want always-on access to the network and resources, wherever they are on or off campus, for a deeper and more flexible learning experience. Traditional rigid modes of classroom instruction are unlikely to inspire students whose online life outside the classroom is dynamic and evolutionary.

Creating an effective digital learning environment is not just about offering convenience and familiarity to students, however. The consequences for their futures if we don’t keep pace are manifold and damaging.

Lack of opportunity is one major threat, because limited or no access to technology will result in a greater divide between certain categories of student. At the same time, without the technology that many young people take for granted in their everyday lives, student experience will suffer, which could lead to less engagement and lower retention levels.

Crucially, students’ potential future success could be severely compromised by lack of technical proficiency. As a minimum, employers want graduates who are adept at using technology to connect, communicate, and collaborate with workplace technology. This mismatch between potential employer expectations and how schools, colleges, and universities prepare students for the future workforce has been well documented in academic studies, and continues to be an issue.

Yet with the right technology platform, solutions and industry partners, universities are starting to create next-generation learning environments that effectively prepare students for the future by offering access to the tools they need to prepare for the workplace while also providing a fulfilling learning experience.

Digital technology can supply the framework to support new learning approaches that engage students, bolster new revenue streams, cut operational costs and preserve highly valued school and university brands and reputations. For example, the ability to connect with outside experts or even lecturers with other schools and universities – both nationally and internationally – could increase the number of courses offered and attract more students. 

From video-recorded lectures to online access to course materials, students, can “attend” classes anywhere, anytime, via any device.

For both students and teachers, ubiquitous connectivity facilitates greater collaboration, enabling people to develop increasingly connected communities in their chosen fields. Being more available to students can also empower teachers to deliver more innovative, exciting lectures, whether face-to-face or online, while offering more personalised feedback and mentoring.

It’s now easier for students to engage on their own terms – whether online, hybrid, or flipped – and no longer having to travel across campus for every single meeting makes it easier for leaders and faculty members to work together, too.

It goes without saying that the technology infrastructure must be scalable, secure and reliable, while also capable of managing vast numbers of mobile devices, streaming services and new applications for communication and collaboration.

Effective digital transformation isn’t just about technology, though. It requires a willingness to adopt technology in new ways, beyond administrative process. It must be continual and evolutionary in order to enhance teaching and learning, support business processes and improve efficiency. It also necessitates collaborative working; vision and leadership; culture; process and methodology – and the technology itself.

Renee Patton is director of US public sector education at Cisco.

Renee will be speaking at Times Higher Education’s Teaching Excellence Summit, 10-12 July at the University of GlasgowRegister now to attend

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