Digital transformation hindered by lack of skills support

Elearning vendor D2L has published new research which reveals that while three quarters (75.15 per cent) of respondents agree digital learning enhances the quality of higher education, there remains an urgent need to increase resources, support and digital upskilling for teachers and academics across Australian and New Zealand (A/NZ).

According to the survey of 503 higher education respondents across universities, TAFEs and RTOs in A/NZ, as digital transformation initiatives were accelerated in response to the pandemic, the number of higher education institutions offering more than 50 per cent of their courses fully online increased significantly from 35.98 per cent pre-pandemic to 57.06 per cent this year.

However, 47.48 per cent identified a lack of support and training in the use of digital tools to deliver education as the biggest challenge in transitioning learning online in the wake of COVID-19. The lack of content fit for blended or fully-online delivery was second at 39.84 per cent, while a lack of commitment from senior management to embrace the shift to online learning was reported by 37.02 per cent of respondents.

Further, more than two-thirds (69.78 per cent) said training was not available to introduce and support faculty and staff to use new technologies at all, despite progress in overarching digital transformation strategies.

In fact, the research found that the continued gap in digital skills and competencies among academics and teachers was the most common obstacle impeding overarching digital transformation strategies, cited by 26.02 per cent of respondents. The academic skills gap was cited more often than even the historic challenges of cost (25.20 per cent) and lack of resources and/or infrastructure (22.54 per cent).

“The higher education sectors in Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) faced a host of challenges as a result of the pandemic, and institutions were required to adapt teaching and learning arrangements extremely quickly. Lockdowns forced online-only learning – at times almost overnight – which inhibited student experience and satisfaction, and border closures kept international students disconnected from domestic institutions,” said Tony Maguire, Regional Director A/NZ at D2L.

“It was also a period in which digital transformation strategies accelerated across the sector, predominately motivated by the desire to enhance student experience (39.34 per cent) and improve course quality (34.63 per cent). But the investment into new tools for teaching and learning has rarely been supported with adequate training and digital upskilling for A/NZ educators.”

According to Maguire, teachers and academics – many of whom have spent their entire careers teaching face-to-face – need to be confident in not only the capabilities of the tools provided to them, but their ability to use those technologies to create efficiencies that maximise outcomes for students and themselves. However, the data reveals only 34.79 per cent say improving digital skills within the academic community is a top priority for their organisations over the next two years.

“Teachers and academics are the cornerstone to national ambitions for a future-proofed digital economy, and on-the-job digital training is foundational to helping educators acquire the digital skills and competencies, confidence, and resiliency they need to engage and nurture student learning in a completely new environment,” he said.

“Our partnerships with higher education institutions through A/NZ have revealed that this training should be delivered via the same learning management system (LMS) educators use to educate their students. It both creates an authentic way for teachers to learn the platform, and enables them to understand the nuances of digital learning from the perspective of their students.”

Additional key findings from the research include:

  • The key drivers for digital transformation strategies in the A/NZ higher education sectors are enhancing the student experience (39.34 per cent), improving course quality (34.63 per cent) and increasing student enrolments (29.71 per cent).
  • Although 76.44 per cent started planning their digital transformation strategies during or before 2018, 40.37 per cent had commenced implementing in that time period; 59.63 per cent started during or after 2019.
  • More than one quarter (28.63 per cent) strongly agree and nearly half (46.52 per cent) somewhat agree that technological developments enhance the quality of higher education, while only 7.95 per cent somewhat or strongly disagree.
  • Meanwhile, 23.66 per cent strongly agree and 47.51 per cent somewhat agree that blended learning offers educational benefits above and beyond solely face-to-face, while 8.95 per cent somewhat or strongly disagree.
  • Only 38.83% of respondents said there has been an increase in the level of digital skills within academic and learner communities following the transition online and only 37.63% reported the institution had introduced new/uplifted content to deliver a more engaging blended/online experience.
  • With higher education adopting an increasingly-pivotal role in upskilling Australian and New Zealand workers, 50.50 per cent of respondents indicated an increase in enrolled adult learners over the past five years, with 21.07 per cent stating numbers are mostly unchanged. Looking ahead, 53.68 per cent anticipate an increase in their adult learning cohort over the next decade while 21.67 per cent expect figures to remain about the same.


These findings are part of a global survey of 4,830 higher education respondents, conducted by Censuswide and commissioned by D2L. D2L Brightspace is a cloud-based learning platform.