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Digital transformation in A/NZ hindered by lack of skills support

By Catherine Knowles, Thu 11 Nov 2021

Digital transformation in Australian and New Zealand (A/NZ) is continuing to accelerate, but gaps remain in digital skills development support for higher education faculties.

This is according to new research from D2L, a global learning and professional development technology company.

The research finds 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 A/NZ.

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.

The lack of content fit for blended or fully-online delivery was second at 39.84%, while a lack of commitment from senior management to embrace the shift to online learning was reported by 37.02% of respondents.

Further, more than two-thirds (69.78%) said 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, 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%).

It was also a period in which digital transformation strategies accelerated across the sector, predominately motivated by the desire to enhance student experience (39.34%) and improve course quality (34.63%), the research shows.

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

D2L regional director A/NZ Tony Maguire says, “The higher education sectors in Australia and New Zealand faced a host of challenges as a result of 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.”

According to Maguire, teachers and academics, many of whom have spent their entire careers teaching face-to-face, need to be confident in the capabilities of the tools provided to them and their ability to use those technologies to create efficiencies that maximise 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 organisations over the next two years.

Maguire says, “Teachers and academics are the cornerstone to national ambitions for a future-proofed digital economy, and on-the-job digital training is foundational to helping educators acquire the digital skills and competencies, confidence, and resiliency they need to engage and nurture student learning in a completely new environment.

“Our partnerships with higher education institutions through A/NZ have revealed that this training should be delivered via the same learning management system (LMS) educators use to educate their 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.”

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