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What were learning technologists’ experiences of 2020?

With insights from ALT’s annual survey, Maren Deepwell and Helen O'Sullivan make sense of the changing status of learning technology through the pandemic.
This article is more than 3 years old

Maren Deepwell is the former Chief Executive of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT)

Helen O’Sullivan is Deputy Vice Chancellor and Provost at the University of Chester. 

ALT’s Annual Survey findings show that over 90 percent of higher education provision has moved online.

For many staff and students the formative experience of using educational technology has been in response to the pandemic, and we have seen a huge increase in the use of technology in teaching and assessment. So what does the sector landscape look like now?

Our survey shows what tools for collaboration and assessment are currently used most and what is a priority for this academic year. We also asked ALT Members to look at what’s ahead, and blended learning has risen to become a top priority for 2021-22. Other findings highlight how much things have changed in the established Learning Technology landscape.

More leadership in learning technology

Over 20 per cent of ALT member job roles analysed as part of the survey have a primary focus on digital leadership. This is also reflected in the large number of senior roles advertised in ALT’s job board over the past year as institutions recognised the need for learning technology expertise in senior teams.

The survey also reflects the significant amount of change in institutional policies for using technologies and online delivery, with 65 per cent of members reporting changes in their internal policies.

More senior leaders now have a specialist expertise in digital education and learning technology, and there is an increasing need for collaboration between academic leaders and those responsible for the digital infrastructure in setting the strategic direction of an institution to respond to the pandemic. Our findings suggest that there is now a widely distributed expertise in leading digital transformation in universities. Senior leadership teams should make sure that they involve these experts in developing and delivering their post-pandemic digital strategies.

Collaboration and student engagement

The survey also charts trends in technologies and tools used and the impact of learning during the pandemic is reflected, with collaborative environments including Microsoft Teams and Moodle – and video conferencing tools such as Zoom, Blackboard and Panopto – topping the most used list. Tools that enable sharing information and working together, such as Padlet, have gained much in importance as student engagement continues to be the number one driver in the use of technology across the board. Collaborative tools were seen as most important by 81 per cent of members, ahead of assessment and online delivery solutions.

Blended learning is one of the key priorities for the next academic year – which is aligned to ALT’s work to develop a new ethical framework for learning technology. Over 60 Members have signed up to join a working group to inform the development of the framework, including learner voices and members from industry.

Impact on wellbeing and staffing

The pivot online has put learning technologists at the forefront both of emergency provision and continued online delivery throughout this academic year, as lockdown measures continue to restrict the use of campuses. There has rightly been a sector-wide focus on student wellbeing and the survey also shines a light on the impact on staff, particularly learning technology staff, as members support up to 90 per cent of provision online. Whilst there has been investment in infrastructure, we haven’t seen a similar increase in permanent posts. Overall members have seen their budget either increase (45 per cent) or remain constant (41 percent) which is good to see.

As an organisation one of our key aims over the past year has been to change the perception of learning technology from what a crisis response required to a more positive and nuanced experience – informed by the expertise we have across the sector and within ALT. With 87 per cent of our members reporting that they find staff and student perception of digital education has become more positive, an important step in this direction has been taken. It is our aim to ensure that learning technology expertise, from digital practitioners and seasoned professionals to senior leaders, is at the heart of the vision for a blended future for education.

Explore the survey findings

ALT’s Annual Survey has run each year since 2014, with a number of the core questions remaining unchanged. We think it provides a unique insight into how learning technology is used across sectors as well as identifying emerging trends in current and future practice. Explore key findings from the ALT Annual Survey 2020, with three summary reports:

All data submitted is shared openly as part of ALT’s commitment to the Open Covid Pledge for Education.

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