Themes and Trends in Digital Learning—Beyond the Hype


Vanessa Peters

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Vanessa Peters, SRI International Education Researcher, will present at OLC Collaborate – Alaska in Anchorage on August 21st with OLC’s Nori Barajas-Murphy. 

OLC Collaborate Alaska - University of Alaska - AnchorageThere has been a lot of discussion about the promise of digital learning to increase access to postsecondary courses and improve student outcomes, yet there is still much work to be done to demonstrate these outcomes for all learners. In fall 2016, Tyton Partners and SRI Education conducted research on the digital learning market through surveys of both general administrator and faculty populations as well as instructors using Next Generation Courseware. From the data collected in the surveys, a handful of themes emerged, providing insight into the digital learning market today. Also in 2016, the OLC launched its inaugural Digital Learning Innovation Award (DLIAward) to recognize excellence in digital courseware implementation.  Over 100 proposals were submitted, describing a range of digital courseware implementations. A number of themes emerged from the proposals, most notably around the goals for digital courseware adoption and the institutional approaches for achieving those goals. Together, the research from these organizations highlight emerging themes and trends in digital learning products and implementation. Five key themes include:

  1. Administrators view digital learning as a strategic lever to achieve a range of institutional goals, yet perceptions of its impact vary significantly
  2. Digital learning decision-making is decentralized, involving the input of multiple stakeholders
  3. Although faculty are crucial to the success of a digital learning initiative, they are under-supported in their efforts to use courseware
  4. Faculty are motivated by the promise of digital learning products to support deeper student learning
  5. Low satisfaction with a courseware products inhibits larger scale adoption 

These five themes were echoed in the proposals for OLC’s 2016 DLIAward. Submissions from administrators, faculty, and IT staff described their plans for using courseware products to address local institutional goals. At the institutional level, these goals included minimizing the cost of textbooks and tuition for students and increasing course convenience and flexibility. For faculty-lead projects, improving student learning outcomes was the most common theme. Keys to avoiding low satisfaction with courseware products included the provision of research-driven instructional and pedagogical approaches, effective use of courseware data and analytics, and the establishment of a solid infrastructure prior to scaling. Join the discussion at OLC Collaborate – Alaska to learn more about these findings and explore avenues for future research. 

Vanessa Peters
Vanessa Peters Education Researcher SRI International

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