A Look at Digital Transformation in Higher Education


Digital transformation is everywhere, and this shift — both technological and cultural — has only accelerated since the COVID-19 pandemic made social distancing necessary. While digital transformation (DX) is taking hold in almost every industry and field, it is, perhaps, most visible in education, specifically higher education.

What Is Digital Transformation in Higher Ed?

To talk about digital transformation in higher education, we have to talk about EdTech. According to ViewSonic, EdTech (educational technology) is simply the technology educators use to improve learning. Online discussion boards, virtual meeting tools (e.g., Zoom), and recorded lectures are just a few examples. Students use EdTech both in person and in distance learning situations. While EdTech enables digital transformation, and sometimes drives it, EdTech is only one piece of the puzzle.

One of the most important drivers of digital transformation is the end user, or in the case of education, the student. Tom Loosemore, founder of the UK’s Government Digital Service agency, puts it well: “Digital [transformation]: Applying the culture, practices, processes & technologies of the Internet-era to respond to people’s raised expectations.”

When all of these factors come together to improve student learning outcomes, you get digital transformation.

Transforming the Culture of Higher Education

Digital transformation in education involves not only how and where classes occur but also the culture of education itself. Instructors and administrators have to redefine what it means to be an educator, and students need to adjust to new modes of learning. Stakeholders must recognize the value of DX in order to invest the time and financial resources it takes to reap the benefits.

However, digital transformation isn’t just taking tests and listening to lectures over a computer. New ways of teaching and learning have emerged in pedagogy itself.

What Is Driving Digital Transformation in Higher Education?

Other than the new technology itself, many things are driving digital transformation in higher education — from cost and time constraints to relevance and availability.

As with most major changes in any field, financial concerns are a prime driver of digital transformation in higher education. Because college courses at a brick-and-mortar institution can be cost-prohibitive for many would-be students, schools without the infrastructure in place to support online versions of their programs could miss out on various revenue streams. And that’s just the beginning.

The financial benefits of DX in education go beyond missed tuition and fees. As institutions make the shift to a more digital model, many costs go down — after the initial investment. Instructors can teach more students than they could in person, and support staff can handle a much greater volume of work when it comes in the form of email, as opposed to face-to-face interactions. Recruitment via digital channels is also more cost-effective than direct mail or other traditional methods. Assessment data from digitally delivered exams can help improve remediation efforts, resulting in improved student retention. And those are just a few examples of how colleges and universities can save financial resources.

When done right, digital transformation can make institutions more efficient, delivering cost savings as well.

Why Now?

Digital transformation has been underway since the 1990s, when online university courses became prevalent. Of course, there have been other EdTech elements and digitization in education aside from online courses – digital transcripts, increased WiFi on campus, learning management systems, and cloud-based storage. Secure remote proctoring, enabled by A.I. and used for in-person, online, and hybrid programs, can also save institutions money.

However, until the spring of 2020, progress was slow, mostly due to demand and a general institutional unwillingness to meet the rising demand.

But when the pandemic’s lockdown measures and social-distancing guidelines took effect, schools at every level had to go online. Modernizing and digitizing was no longer an option; it was a necessity. All lectures, exams, quizzes, communication, assignments, and even recruitment went virtual. Digital transformation not only changed how educators did things, it also changed the content of those lectures, assignments, and assessments. Unfortunately, many institutions weren’t ready, but now many schools broadly recognize the benefits of digital transformation in higher education.

Benefits of Digital Transformation in Education

Digital transformation solves many common challenges: cost, time, location, and safety concerns. But what are some of the other benefits?

According to Educause Review, an important aspect of digital transformation involves “using technology to monitor student progress and success metrics and execute intervention protocols.”

A good example of this is digital formative assessments (e.g., unweighted quizzes throughout a semester). A digital assessment platform can grade these quizzes instantly, and instructors receive a report immediately, indicating where students did well and where there is opportunity for applying early remediation. These types of assessment help learners know where they stand early and often, as well as mapping their progression and growth throughout the program. The instructor can then adjust the content they cover — and possibly how they cover it — to improve student learning outcomes before the final exam.

Regardless of what stage of digital transformation your institution is in, it’s time to embrace the change and move forward.

For more information about the digital transformation in higher education and how ExamSoft can help, schedule a demo today.  


ViewSonic: Digital Transformation in the Education Sector – A Guide to Education Technology 

Educause Review: Digital Transformation: What Is It?