Digital Learning Pulse Survey

March 24, 2021

Digital Learning Pulse Survey

About Half of Faculty are More Positive About Online Learning Today Than Pre-Pandemic, And Expect to Keep New Teaching Techniques and Digital Materials in Place Post-Pandemic

The Third Digital Learning Pulse Survey, Conducted by Bay View Analytics on Behalf of OLC, WCET, UPCEA, CDLRA and Cengage, Looks at How Higher Education is Changing in the Wake of COVID-19.

As the pandemic has moved U.S. higher education online, half of faculty (51 percent) are more positive about online learning today than pre-pandemic. Most faculty (71 percent) said their teaching in Fall 2020 was “very different” or included a “number of changes” and almost half (47 percent) expect those changes to remain post-pandemic. The data is from the third edition of the Digital Learning Pulse Survey, an ongoing four-part series to better understand the needs of colleges in the wake of the disruption brought on by COVID-19. The final survey installment will incorporate students’ views of their learning experiences during the pandemic.


Respondents report considerable use of digital resources


The survey of 1,702 higher education faculty and administrators to understand institutions’ use of digital materials and views on online learning was conducted between December 3 and December 9 by Bay View Analytics in partnership with four leading online learning organizations and underwritten by Cengage.

Additional survey findings include:

  • Digital materials use has soared: pre- pandemic, only 25 percent of institutions made considerable use of digital materials; today 71 percent report considerable use of digital, with 81 percent expecting digital material use to “remain the same” or “increase” post-pandemic.
  • Online homework and courseware systems use more than doubled: pre-pandemic, only 22 percent of institutions made considerable use of online homework or courseware systems; today 58 percent report considerable use of them, with 74 percent expecting use to “remain the same” or “increase” post pandemic.
  • The majority of faculty are more positive about digital learning materials and online learning: 57 percent of faculty are more positive about digital learning materials today and 51 percent are more positive about online learning than pre-pandemic.
  • Faculty have radically changed teaching techniques since the pandemic, and don’t expect to revert back: 71 percent of faculty said their teaching in Fall 2020 was either “very different” from pre-pandemic methods or included a “number of changes,” and only 8 percent expect to revert back to pre-pandemic practices. Nearly half (47 percent) expect post-pandemic teaching will have a number of changes or look very different than how they taught pre-pandemic.
  • Administrators want more professional development support: Less than a quarter of administrators (24 percent) are happy with the professional development support they are receiving. Meanwhile, more than half of faculty (54 percent) think their institution is providing everything they need for professional development.

“…COVID-19 has radically accelerated the growth of online learning and digital learning tools, as well as put greater pressure on affordability,” said Fernando Bleichmar, Executive Vice President and General Manager for U.S. Higher Education at Cengage. “Quality online learning provides a needed, flexible option for students, but services and support for students and faculty along the way is critical for a successful learning experience. Even under pressure to quickly move to these new models, faculty are finding value in digital learning, and it is encouraging to see many plan to keep new formats in place post-pandemic…

“The Fall 2020 term showed higher education faculty and administrators to be extremely agile and adaptable as their preparation over the summer allowed them to support a massive transition to online learning,” said Jeff Seaman, lead researcher and director of Bay View Analytics. “The change forced faculty to implement new teaching styles, many of which they intend to continue post-pandemic.”

“Researching the faculty and student experience of COVID-19 is critically important in helping us understand near-term faculty and student support opportunities,” said Angela Gunder, Chief Academic Officer of the Online Learning Consortium. “Study upon study have shown that students prefer blended teaching modalities and the ways they leverage the best of what online and face-to-face courses have to offer. This study indicates that more faculty have become more comfortable with digital technologies, which is exciting because it means they are perhaps perfectly positioned to leverage more blended learning approaches in addition to existing online portfolios as we return to a post-pandemic version of normalcy.”

“It’s clear that leaders in higher ed have taken away key lessons brought on by the pandemic and have a renewed appreciation for the value of online learning,” said Robert Hansen, Chief Executive Officer of UPCEA. “Developing methodologies and processes to institutionalize these lessons into sustainable digital initiatives will benefit students, faculty and the institution immeasurably.”

“The survey results have shown that colleges and universities have reached an inflection point,” said Russ Poulin, Executive Director of WCET. “Not all courses will include digital learning, but the pandemic has led to many more using those tools. Now the challenge is scaling faculty development and student support systems to make best use of the technologies.”

For complete survey results, download the infographic here: