Digital Transformation in Education & Training

In a recent blog entry, we covered the typical barriers to digital transformation faced by enterprises of all sizes, the world over. This post kicks off a series focusing on specific industries by looking at digital transformation in the education sector.

What Is Digital Transformation?

Digital transformation is the process by which an organisation adopts new technologies to modernise its business. Done right, it can simplify workflows and make collaboration more efficient – while helping a business be more secure and more environmentally friendly.

So how does that relate to the education sector in 2021 and beyond?

Digital Transformation in the Classroom: Current and Future Outlooks

While the world was already moving towards a digital future before 2020, the Coronavirus pandemic accelerated that significantly in many sectors.

That’s certainly true of digital transformation in the classroom, which gathered pace almost overnight when schools shut and lessons first moved online.

At the time, the shift served to highlight how unprepared most of the sector was for digital transformation. The Department For Education (DFE) estimated as many as 10,000 schools in England had either limited capability to deliver remote learning or none whatsoever. Similarly, it was estimated in April 2020 that only around 20 out of 150 UK universities were set up to provide courses digitally to a standard equivalent to in-class learning.

However, necessity is the mother of invention, and the education sector made great strides in the intervening months.

As of now, the DFE has offered schools clearer guidance of how remote learning should look. Meanwhile, an initiative called Learning and Teaching Reimagined (LTR), spearheaded by JISC (formerly the Joint Information Systems Committee), has produced a report looking at the short, medium and long-term visions and solutions for digital transformation in education and training.

That report highlights several areas for institutions to consider:

The Digital Divide

Our post on digital transformation barriers cited cost as a blocker to digital transformation and suggested PC-as-a-service providers as one possible solution. The pandemic presented similar issues and solutions for students and schools.

With classrooms closed and access to university hardware cut off, the digital divide between students who had access to effective computers and high-speed internet, and those who didn’t, was thrown into sharp relief. Those who did, could. Those who couldn’t were left in limbo.

To help, the DFE issued some 200,000 laptops to disadvantaged school children, while the LTR report says “many universities stepped up quickly in 2020 with laptop loans and bursaries.”

However, the solution needs to go further. The LTR report holds up the University of Aberdeen as a model for change, outlining how Aberdeen is setting out technology requirements for courses and proactively surveying students to discover their technological needs.

By taking this approach at the institutional level, rather than course or department level, teaching and training providers will be set up to affect digital transformation in the classroom in the coming months and years. After all, empowering students from all economic backgrounds to operate remotely is sure to set them up better for a working world where they may experience similar changes.

Inclusivity and Accessibility

The Learning and Teaching Reimagined report also cites helping those with disabilities as an important way digital transformation will impact education and training.

The University of Dundee holds particular promise in this area, offering assistive software that can help students with hearing difficulties, dyslexia, and other disabilities. This software includes:

  • MindView: Dundee University calls this “one of the world’s leading mind mapping software packages,” incorporating MS Office integration allowing for easy project exporting
  • Audio Notetaker: software which captures lecture recordings and can sync them with lecture PowerPoint slides
  • Read&Write: a literacy software toolbar designed to help students who have difficulty with documents, eBooks and web content by reading them aloud.

Like Aberdeen, Dundee is ahead of the curve. For the rest, technology-enhanced learning software will be a crucial area to develop if digital transformation in the education sector is going to do justice to students with disabilities.

Investing in Staff Capabilities and Tools

When it comes to digital transformation, some educational institutions saw more progress in one month in 2020 than they had in the previous five years.

That was testament to the incredible efforts of teachers who rapidly upskilled and moved lessons online.

This enforced innovation was far from perfect, however. A survey from the Office For Students reveals that 56% of students didn’t feel they had the appropriate online course materials.

Clearly, there is a large opportunity for institutions to upgrade legacy systems (another typical digital transformation barrier) and move to, or vastly improve, Cloud-based learning portals.

In the interim, however, we expect to see adoption of more immediate innovative hardware solutions. Document cameras like AVer Visualizers can help teachers stream, present, annotate and record lessons from home. Interactive control boxes like the CB-310 can be easily fitted to help usher in a new era of socially-distanced classroom collaboration. Plus, auto-tracking AI cameras will enable teachers and lecturers to livestream courses from empty classrooms to students located anywhere, without compromising image or lesson quality.

With these innovations, of course, should come an increased investment in teacher training. Without it, digital transformation in the classroom is likely to fall flat at the first hurdle.

Technology-Enhanced Assessments

Alongside the LTR report, JSC also commissioned one on the future of educational assessments. A quick read reveals some of the key developments we can expect to see from digital transformation in education and training.

Specifically, it notes that assessments should prepare students to use the technologies they’ll employ in their future careers. We therefore expect to see traditional pen-and-paper assessments replaced by computer-based ones; where biometric authentication and remote proctoring will be used to ensure security, and advancements in AI will lead to a hybrid of teacher-led and automated marking.

Are You Ready for the Future of Education?

Digital transformation in the education sector is inevitable. The only question is how quickly institutions are willing to adapt, and how readily they’re able to invest.

At DCSL, we’re already thinking about that future and how we can play a part in building it. So, whether you’re looking to digitally transform your entire institution, or you’re interested in creating bespoke software to help your students, we can help. Get in touch to find out how.