The piece originally appeared in Tech and Learning UK on July 7, 2017
Today’s university students are digital and mobile. The smartphones they carry around in their pocketsare more powerful than the desktop computers available five years ago. We know that students are using technology to stay connected to each other, but also to help with their studies.
This presents a great opportunity for universities to harness these inclinations toward technology among students to empower learning. And many are taking advantage of it. According to research completed by VitalSource last year, 61% of UK universities have a digital textbook programme. That’s a good thing for the universities as they look to compete in an increasingly global higher education marketplace. Students have high expectations of the technology used in their studies.
Beyond the student expectations and meeting their evolving learning modalities, digital learning serves to help universities meet the requirements of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) addressing teaching quality, the learning environment, and student outcomes and learning gain.
Key to the TEF is access and digital moves the needle in the right direction for access. When it comes to students from socioeconomic-disadvantaged backgrounds, digital learning tools help level the playing field. This was the key driver at Plymouth University, in their decision to provide e-textbooks to students across the University. Their e-textbook programme gives students from disadvantaged backgrounds equal access to content from day one of their course.
Digital learning tools and e-textbooks also impact the flexibility and employability measures of the TEF. Digital learning tools facilitate distance education. Doing a good job with digital helps attract international students and allows students of all ability levels to learn in ways that best suit their needs and learning styles. To be employable in today’s workforce marketplace, students must be digitally literate. Making the education delivery match the realities of today’s workplace increases their chances of finding jobs upon completion of university.
While universities can provide these digital tools to students to meet the above goals, none of it matters if students are not accepting of the technology. Fortunately, our research confirms student satisfaction with at least the e-textbook offerings. At Manchester University, 77% of students said it made them more likely to do their reading. By the end of the third term of the e-textbook programme at the London School of Business and Management, 80% of students agreed that digital textbooks were useful and easy to use.
It is not an understatement to say that there has been a digital revolution in education worldwide over the last decade. Shifting learning modalities and expectations of students have made this shift necessary and the exponential growth of technology has made it possible. Many universities have got on board with the transformation and for those who haven’t, 2017 presents great opportunities to do so.