New research article: Post-pandemic learning technology developments

Over the past two years, a series of papers has been published on the emergency remote teaching (ERT) phase. These articles have highlighted the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on learning and teaching practices across HE institutions and the spur it provided to instructors to embrace digital teaching methods – the so-called ‘pivot to online teaching’. Much has been written about staff and student experiences with hybrid/hyflex learning and other forms of flexible delivery, but only limited attention has been directed to the future – specifically the enduring changes that will influence our conceptions about instructional design, delivery approaches and student engagement modes. What are the sustainable developments in online teaching and learning practices emerging from the pandemic period, which will shape the future of teaching and learning?

This is a question that Julie Voce (City, University of London) and Richard Walker (University of York) addressed in a recent research article, drawing on the perspectives of institutional heads of e-learning across the UK to reflect on the emerging learning technology developments and how they will shape the future of teaching and learning. Using a mixed-methods research design, drawing on Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association (UCISA) technology-enhanced learning (TEL) survey data (2018–2022) and panel discussions with institutional Heads of E-Learning, the paper discusses the key changes arising from the pandemic and the likely long-term impact they will have on technology adoption and usage within UK higher education.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, the research confirms the increased level of investment that HE institutions have been making in learning technology, with widespread adoption of webinar and virtual classroom tools during the ERT phase. The pivot that institutions have made to external hosting of these services, with software as a service (SaaS) the most commonly used delivery model, is enabling swifter releases of new tools and functionality to end users. The rollout of new services has been supported through increased investment in professional support staff, with particular attention to the creation of learning design roles and the recruitment of project staff to support institution-wide strategic learning and teaching initiatives, such as VLE platform implementations and upgrades.

The UCISA evidence also indicates that improvements in learning technology provision are being used to support more flexible and inclusive learning designs, with a focus on active and engaging learning experiences. This all points to a changing role for learning technology in programme design, in which learning technology and learning design support is no longer an ‘add on’/supplement but viewed as a core element of the student learning experience. With the emergence of generative AI tools such as Chat GPT, arguably the availability of new forms of technology is already driving changes in the way that instructors design for learning and assessment activities.

The long-term picture is one of further technology investment and change, as the sector adapts to external challenges such as the release of generative AI tools. However, the article concludes that the carrying forward of innovative practices from the ERT phase of the pandemic is contingent on a number of factors including instructional competencies (capability) and the capacity of teaching staff to update their knowledge and skills through engagement in continuous professional learning and development, with workload management (time) a key challenge to overcome.

The article is part of a Special Issue that the Sustainability journal has commissioned to explore the long-term effects of the pandemic and the sustainable e-learning practices that have emerged from it. Further articles will follow in the next few months, looking at different aspects of the pandemic and how they are influencing learning and teaching practices.

Richard Walker & Julie Voce. Post-Pandemic Learning Technology Developments in UK Higher Education: What Does the UCISA Evidence Tell Us? Sustainability. 2023; 15(17):12831.


Blog post originally published by Richard Walker via University of York Digital Education team blog and reshared with permission.

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