When higher education first started to include primitive digital technology across colleges and universities in North America before the turn of the century, educators and corporates alike were on the fence. Some saw the potential of integrating the old with the new and deemed it advancement, but others were convinced that new technology was a threat to the sacred institution of learning. However, living in a world like today’s, where our every waking moment is infiltrated, governed, and consumed by technology, only a traditionalist technophobe would deny the importance of digital learning. For those in the educational sector, digital solutions are just that – solutions, to rapidly increasing costs of operation, changes in student demographics, and an accelerated rate of demand for improved and effective methods of increasing student learning.
The prospective benefits of efficient digital learning tools are innumerable. While switching entirely to a digital platform may not be completely viable at this point in time, including a digital component to an existing course has proven to be very useful, especially in introductory courses. The demand for a more blended product – a textbook with supplemental resources – is continually growing. A vast majority of instructors at college campuses across the country say that one of the top factors affecting their decision for the adoption of a new text for their course is the supplemental material provided with it. Aside from ease of read for students, and content coverage of the text, the third most important factor is the price of the textbook. Digital learning tools thus lead the way in being both cost effective and supportive of individual student and instructor needs.
Well thought out and custom-tailored instructional products can be not just cost effective in their model, but also improve the quality of learning and reach a wider target audience and demographic. In fact, with the appropriate use of data analyses, student outcomes and learning efficiency can be improved significantly. These products can determine specific areas that students need to work on, provide opportunities for educational games or other interactive and engaging learning tasks, include simulations that enable learning practically without the risk, and help with reminders that enable metacognition. Metacognition has been proven to be effective in increasing scores on learning outcome measures, independent of demographic variation, scores at baseline testing, or differences in motivation levels (Wang & Guo 2003).
A growing number of higher education publishers recognize this need for quality digital learning products and are focusing their resources on bettering these products. Macmillan Learning in particular, has always been ahead of the curve with this. Their newly appointed Chief Technology officer reinforces their vision of “improving lives through education”. Chelsea Valentine, who has a unique background as both a technology leader and a former adjunct professor, brings a fresh perspective to the job. She emphasizes the company’s future digital vision for more innovative and flexible solutions to deal with modern educational challenges. Through their primary digital learning product Sapling Learning, Valentine hopes to develop tools that will effectively escalate student outcomes. Macmillan isn’t alone in this endeavor either; other leading higher education publications like Pearson are jumping on the digital learning bandwagon too. Chief Executive Officer John Fallon recently introduced a cost-cutting plan that revealed a move to digital learning. Albeit this plan was met with resistance and was indeed, more out of a necessity to recover from a recent hit the company took as a whole, than to drive the company towards technologically advanced learning products, it still demonstrates a shift in the industry. According to the NMC Horizon Project Strategic Brief on digital literacy (which was sponsored by Adobe Technologies interestingly) however, the problem seems to be “the lack of agreement on what comprises digital literacy” and this in turn, is what is leading to the impediments in many colleges and universities developing programs and policies that support a more technologically advance learning atmosphere. The brief further discusses other challenges faced by higher education in the United States, illuminates the best models of practice for digital learning, as well as makes recommendations for the implementation of successful initiatives.
Despite the advantages outweighing any cons, there is a definite reluctance for higher education to make a complete switch to digital platforms. In part this is due to flaws in the current way that higher education operates. The Learning Management System (LMS), a course management tool (e.g., Blackboard), is the only form of technology adopted by most universities. The push for technology is largely hindered by monetary self-interests in colleges and universities. By charging students the same amount for credits earned in an online course and a physical classroom, universities operationalize cost-efficient methods for their own gain. It doesn’t help either that these online course do not have specific material geared towards distance learning, but rather use repurposed lecture material. Any progress made towards a technologically advanced initiative is rejected at the hands of deep-seated traditional practices of learning and archaic cultural conventions.
May 5, 2017
For sources see:
Adobe Systems, “Digital Literacy: An NMC Horizon Project Strategic Brief.” NMC, October 2016, http://www.nmc.org
Geraghty, Kate. “Macmillan Learning Appoints Chelsea Valentine as Chief Technology Officer.” PR Web, May 2017, http://www.prweb.com
Hampson, Keith. “Is That All There Is? Higher Education’s Struggle to Leverage Digital Teaching and Learning.” Higher Education Management, December 2016, http://www.highereducation.net
Holton, Kate. “Pearson shares jump on new cost-cuts, investors rebel at AGM.” Reuters, May 2017, http://www.reuters.com
Steinberg, Scott. “Technology for Schools and Teachers: 5 Reasons Digital Learning Matters.” The Huffington Post, March 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com
Wang, Ling and Dejun Guo. “A Research on the Relationship between Metacognition and Learning Motivation.” Psychological Science (China), vol. 26, no. 5, Sept. 2003, pp. 829-833.