This year, more than 57 percent of universities, TAFE colleges, and registered training organisations put at least half of their courses fully online. But even as the technology was rolled out, educators were left to fumble their way through unfamiliar tools and systems.
A survey of teachers and academics across Australia and New Zealand, conducted earlier this year by Desire2Learn (D2L) Australia, found that even though 75 percent of higher education professionals believe digital learning enhances the quality of higher education, less than 40 percent find that teachers' and learners' digital skills have increased in response to the online shift - and even fewer say that their institutions have improved or updated the content of courses to make them more suitable for online and blended learning.
Why is this the case? For a start, institutions apparently aren't providing faculty and staff with sufficient training to use the new technologies. Online education requires two kinds of training for educators: firstly for them to become familiar with the tools, and secondly for them to use the tools in a manner that effectively replicates or at least substitutes for the learning outcomes students would get in a traditional class.
But 70 percent of survey respondents said that training in new technologies isn't provided in their institution at all, and the resulting skill gap among academics and teachers is apparently the most common obstacle to digital transformation strategies. What's more, less than 35 percent say that their organisations are making educators' digital skills a top priority over the next two years.
Tony Maguire, D2L's Regional Director for ANZ, said that the investment in new tools and technologies needs to be supported by adequate training and upskilling for educators. Many teachers and academics have spent their careers teaching face to face, he pointed out; and they need to not only acquire the ability to use the tools now pressed upon them, but also use those tools in ways that "maximise outcomes for students and themselves".
“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.