More sophisticated higher education learning tools promise to fundamentally change how instructors teach and students learn. Some instructors worry that new technologies may diminish their roles, or will be too difficult to integrate. But many others have moved ahead with new tools aimed at improving learning experiences and outcomes — and even more are learning from the early adopters and joining in. Educators are selecting more digital materials and expanding their use of interactive tools to track students’ mastery. Many are even creating new courses or redesigning existing courses to take greater advantage of digital.
As they do all this, educators are taking advantage of an environment where personal devices are nearly ubiquitous. About 92% of U.S. college and university students now own laptops, 93% own smartphones, and 45% own tablets.1
Better feedback, deeper connections, more engagement
Interactive capabilities can give instructors wider opportunities to connect with students, offer feedback, and optimize instruction in response to classroom and individual needs. Instructors can observe what assignments have been completed, how long they take, and how students are performing. When students encounter problems, instructors can quickly send notes, prompt students online, or adjust lectures and coursework.
Data generated through digital tools and content contains valuable insights for students, instructors, institutions, and edtech companies alike: insights that more traditional materials couldn’t provide. Each can see what’s working and what can be improved. In the words of Curtiss Barnes, Pearson’s managing director of global product management and design, “It’s about leveraging the data to gain a broad and deep awareness of what is going on in the classroom. It’s about real-time instructional value.”
In one recent survey, 77% of faculty reported that digital tools and materials help them think more critically about how they engage with students.2 Students also see significant opportunities for better learning:
67% recently said they believed they would receive better grades if educators used more technology in the classroom.3
86% said interactive study tools would improve their grades.
93% said digital enhancements such as the ability to highlight content in a digital textbook would improve their learning experiences.
Reduced costs, faster and wider access
Increasingly, colleges and universities are using technology to provide course materials more quickly, easily, and affordably — potentially saving students as much as 70%.
Educators have long known that if students don’t have materials when courses begin, they’re already behind. Students agree: 68% believe they would have better grades with first-day access, but 85% do delay purchasing materials.4 Now, with digital content delivery programs, institutions can provide all required course content to students by the first day of class.
At the University of California at Davis, over 70,000 students have received digital course materials through the Pearson Inclusive Access program during the past three years. That’s saved them $7 million compared with print textbooks, reports Jason Lorgan, executive director of the UC Davis bookstores.
Over 60% of UC Davis students surveyed also said adaptive digital content is more effective for learning than print. Says Lorgan. “Adaptive digital content is improving all the time, and we are excited that our faculty have this additional option.”
Technology: supporting instructors, not replacing them
Technology works best, Barnes says, when instructors clearly understand how to use it, focus on its intended purpose, and strategically integrate it with other approaches.
Above all, digital technology won’t and shouldn’t replace instructors. Rather, it can help them meet students where they are and successfully reach more of them. That should translate to stronger academic performance, and higher retention and graduation rates.
“Students learn best when there is an available instructor, because personal interactions and relationships are essential to the teaching and learning process,” says Barnes. “Technology backs up the instructor, because the instructor can’t be there at every moment for every student.”
Pearson aims to develop technologies that advance efficiency, efficacy, engagement, and affordability, Barnes says. Tools that meet these goals are rapidly arriving, and those who refuse to investigate them will be left behind. “The faster we grasp that,” he concludes, “the better off we’ll be.”
Explore our interactive ebook Why I Went Digital: meet some of today’s most innovative educators, and get their in-the-trenches tips for increasing student achievement.
1 Wakefield Research for VitalSource, May 2018.
2 “Technology use more, use it better” 2018. Infographic; based on: Report on faculty and digital learning leaders’ attitudes: Jaschik, Scott, and Doug Lederman (Eds.), The 2017 Inside Higher Ed Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology. Research report. Washington, DC: Inside Higher Ed and Gallup, December 2017. Report on students’ attitudes: Brooks, D. Christopher, and Jeffrey Pomerantz. ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2017. Research report. Louisville, CO: ECAR, October 2017.
3 Wakefield VitalSource Survey, May 2018.