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Digital, Strategy, News, Insights

Can technology help us tackle some of the greatest challenges in Higher Education?

The PSC brought together a stellar panel of leaders in higher education to discuss the role of technology in the future of Higher Education. Can it help level up our education system? Has COVID precipitated positive change? We share our key takeaways

Before we dive into our biggest learnings, let us set the scene with our fantastic cast of panellists at our event last week.

The chair was Lord Bob Kerslake, Chair of Civic University Commission and Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, and our expert speakers were:

Sara Custer, editor, THE Campus, Times Higher Education

Rajay Naik, CEO of Skilled Education

Jonathan Slater, former Permanent Secretary, UK Department for Education

Susie Whigham, National Programme Director, The Brilliant Club

Antonio Weiss, Senior Partner at The PSC and author of A Practical Guide to Digital Transformation

Can technology help us tackle some of the greatest challenges in Higher Education?

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Forget what we think we know about digital learning  

While COVID has been a great accelerator for digital change everywhere including Higher Education, it was noted that it might be best to forget what we learned about digital learning during COVID. Many of the digital tools and offerings were a quick response to an immediate problem and do not necessarily reflect what online learning can be when properly planned and invested in.  

For example, putting a recorded lecture online during COVID was vital to continue learning in unprecedented times, but really doesn’t reflect what digital learning is capable of offering in the future.  

We run the risk of letting this rather simplified approach to online learning – and the immediate response that it isn’t as good as in-person learning – hold us back from the possibility of creating more advanced, digital learning in the future. We must proceed carefully and listen to voices across the education landscape, but we mustn’t let COVID and all its associations derail us from investing in the future of digital learning.   


There are some great opportunities if we do invest  

The panellists discussed examples of how better online learning can offer increased engagement between teacher and learner, and potentially create a digital education that is personal, tailored and accessible.  

Panellists spoke about the potential to use AI to tailor leaning paths or offer personalised adaptive assessments, to gamify the learning experience to increase engagement, and to use extended reality to provide simulations for real life scenarios and challenges.  

These technologies are in their nascence in education, and panellists agreed on the importance that the UK is at the forefront of investing in tech-supported learning to explore these opportunities.   

Online doesn’t necessarily mean inclusive  

The assumption that offering a digital education is inherently more inclusive was concerning to some panellists. While certainly an online education can help students overcome barriers to entry such as geography, time availability, caring obligations etc., it was debated whether digital learning as it currently stands can offer students a high enough quality education compared to in-person learning.   

Until digital learning is improved to the point that it can offer benefits that are equal to, or offer a real alternative to, in-person learning, we run the risk of creating two tiers of education in which those that can access in-person education are better off.  


What struck us about the panel conversation was the note of caution from panellists about the assumption that digital is the future of Higher Education. There was widespread agreement that when used right, tech can hugely enhance learning, but that there are many pitfalls, and we shouldn’t view it as a solution to the problems in education.  

Our panellists agreed that investing in the future of digital in education is vital and the opportunities are huge, but perhaps we’re not quite yet at the stage where we can offer an alternative that is good enough to rival in-person learning.  


We'd love to hear from you at if you have any thoughts, personal experience or questions on this topic. 


Author: Luke Bacon 

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