Online learning tools have been ranked as the most important technology for British universities, proving twice as popular than any other type of tech.
A new survey carried out by Jisc and ucisa, also finds that 68% of higher education (HE) digital leaders feel the effective use of this technology is key to digital transformation projects, with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in joint second (32%). Improving student experience is the biggest driver for tech adoption (91%), above improving workforce productivity (71%), saving costs across the organisation (41%) and improving staff morale (11%).
The Digital leadership in HE report also highlights the progress made by universities in strategic digital transformation. More than half (53%) have a digital strategy in place, while a further 21% stated their strategy is integrated with others in the organisation.
There are barriers that need to be overcome before digital technologies are embraced at UK universities, however. Organisational culture was touted as the top challenge (70%), followed by financial constraints (48%) and a lack of capability or capacity in IT (41%).
For online learning, some raise concerns that such tools undermine the worth of a physical campus, but almost half (48%) of academic staff have digital tools embedded into their ways of working.
Josh Fry, Director of Cloud at Jisc, commented: “It’s heartening to see HE institutions throughout the UK increasingly making progress with their digital strategies. I truly believe that the technology priorities recognised in the report – such as online learning, AI and machine learning – can result in improved experiences and greater accessibility for a wider range of students, whilst continuing to make the UK the most digitally advanced education and research nation in the world.
“Innovation must have a purpose, and it is important to take a whole-campus approach to a digital strategy before implementing new tools; technology initiatives work much better when aligned with an organisation’s business and teaching and learning strategy. Digital leaders in HE must work out how ‘disruptive’ technologies can be introduced into methods of working in a way that encourages engagement from academic and support staff.”
Trevor Baxter, IT Solutions Director at King’s College London highlighted that learning tools such as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), Virtual Reality, Mixed Reality and 3D are beneficial for learning purposes. He said: “We need to start looking into these technologies more because if we don’t, we can actually lose students coming from abroad to study in our universities.”
John Beaver, Director of IT Services at Bath Spa University, added: “For us, AI is a big interest, both as a technology that we may apply for student experience purposes, such as an AI that might find books of interest in the library for a student knowing what they’re doing or recommend particular modules or courses that may be of interest to them.”
Peter Tinson, Executive Director at ucisa, said: “In the age of Education 4.0, when we must constantly adapt to prepare our students for the changing landscape of the job market, it’s critical that universities continue on their digital transformation journeys in order to ensure the premium experience student expect. This report highlights some really exciting examples to follow, and we look forward to hearing more in the coming weeks and months.”