Since 2014, Tyton Partners has monitored the dynamics of the higher education digital learning and courseware market with the goals of understanding the needs of institutions, instructors, and students and investigating how suppliers are evolving to meet those needs. This 2021 summary provides an updated view on how the pandemic has altered the landscape of teaching, learning, and course materials in higher education. Informing this research are survey responses from over 1,000 administrators and 3,000 faculty at 1,600 unique postsecondary institutions as well as interviews with more than 20 digital learning suppliers.
Approximately 2,300 of our faculty respondents teach introductory-level courses, and this report focuses on these instructors because of their role in developing and delivering courses that reach large numbers of students and influence student retention and progression. Our respondents report that their institutions are prioritizing digital transformation and grappling with how to address systemic racism and other inequities laid bare by the pandemic.
These findings have been echoed in other recent Time for Class research: in fall 2020, instructors described an increased positive perception of digital learning and more frequent and embedded uses of digital resources (especially in introductory classes); given increased exposure to the lived experiences of many of their students, they also voice growing concerns about equity across student groups.¹
Recent student surveys bear out the need for careful attention to how the ongoing shift to digital learning affects learners: a July 2020 Digital Promise study found that students are emerging from the pandemic with more exposure to digital learning but with disparate levels of access to devices and internet as well as varying attitudes toward the value of higher education.² And in an April 2021 report from Top Hat, students say they valued online learning most when receiving frequent feedback from their instructors via courseware and engaging in digital learning activities during class. They also contend that they are open to continued use of digital learning to enhance in-person classes, particularly to create opportunities for flexibility and engagement.³
Throughout this work, digital learning is defined as the use of technology and teaching practices enabled by technology to enhance learning. It encompasses a broad range of content and communication tools, curricular models, design strategies, and student support services that personalize instruction for students in blended, hybrid, and online learning environments. Equitable digital learning adapts instruction to students’ needs and capabilities. If implemented well, digital learning has the potential to facilitate active learning, empower instructors with data to inform teaching, and enable better student outcomes.
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