Teaching and Learning and IT Issues: Exploring the Intersections

Teaching and Learning and IT Issues: Exploring the Intersections

One might ask: Why does EDUCAUSE conduct two separate surveys on significant issues for its community? The annual Top 10 IT Issues list, discussed in this issue of EDUCAUSE Review, provides a view of higher education seen primarily through the lens of the IT organization. It covers the full range of postsecondary “business,” from administrative to academic pursuits. By contrast, the ELI Key Issues survey is more narrowly focused on teaching and learning. At the same time, however, it canvasses community members from a variety of campus areas, including IT organizations but also centers for teaching and learning, libraries, and the dean and provost offices. The additional perspective afforded by the ELI Key Issues is important in light of higher education’s shift in emphasis away from technology per se and toward learning and instructional practices. Digital technology remains, of course, the key and strategic enabler, but it is no longer the centerpiece. Using faculty development as an example, today it is no longer a matter of getting faculty to “teach with technology.” Instead, the issue is supporting faculty to adopt learner-centered instructional designs as a way to foster student success. Technology enables those designs, but it does not dictate them.

Taken together, these two EDUCAUSE surveys provide a rich and informative view on the top issues facing higher education today. Since they are complementary in nature, it is useful to closely examine the points at which they converge.

Optimizing Educational Technology, #2 on the EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issues list, closely aligns with several of the ELI Key Issues. Faculty development (ELI Key Issue #1) is about improving practice and enabling faculty members to support learning with the effective use of technology. Academic transformation (ELI Key Issue #2) is about using information technology creatively to support new teaching and learning models. Learning analytics (ELI Key Issue #5) refers to studying data about learners and their contexts in order to understand and optimize learning and the environments where it occurs. Finally, working with emerging technology (ELI Key Issue #3) is about having an ongoing awareness of innovations, developing an effective process by which to discover them, utilizing pilots, and considering full-scale implementation. Many, if not all, innovations from the past five years began with discovering the best ways to address an institutional challenge—such as first-year retention, developmental education, persistence or graduation—with the creative use of technology situated in new organizational models or approaches.

We’ve known for some time that in order to make progress on these particularly challenging issues, we must establish cross-organizational collaborations, involving key stakeholders who support learners not just in the classroom but all along their experience. Interestingly, the most significant teaching and learning innovations of the past five years have also required cross-organizational collaborations, cohort-based leadership, and institutional community building. Thus, Optimizing Educational Technology has the potential to transform our institutions, from our classrooms to our very cultures. This issue is especially conspicuous if we think about the work being done in the area of integrated student advising systems. To further the work already under way in this area, the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) has recently awarded nearly 20 grants to support continued development for these tools. These new grants will enable schools to further integrate data and its analysis, providing a more complete picture of a student’s status, most often in real time, and offering the basis for more effective intervention. Here again, the interests of the IT organization and of the teaching and learning community converge, since these advances in advising systems will require the integration of an ever-wider range of data types and the creation of IT resources to perform the analyses.

Learning management system (LMS) services (ELI Key Issue #15) is another area of converging interests. According to EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) data, 99 percent of institutions run at least one LMS, 85 percent of faculty use an LMS, and almost 75 percent feel the LMS is a useful tool. For an environment as diverse as teaching and learning, this is an extraordinary adoption rate. However, 15 percent of institutions anticipate changing their LMS application within the next three years.1 This suggests that the teaching and learning community is looking past the current LMS, envisioning instead a broader, more comprehensive digital learning environment. Strategic core functions, such as customization and personalization, learning analytics, and collaboration, as well as accessibility and universal design, are emerging as key features for this new landscape. This means that the IT organization staff and teaching and learning staff will have a host of new collaboration opportunities in the coming years: the new landscape will require a blend of IT and pedagogical expertise to design and craft this next generation of digital learning environments for both instructors and students.2

Lastly, online and blended learning (ELI Key Issue #4) has been among the top five teaching and learning key issues since 2012. Since so many emerging innovations (i.e., learning analytics, adaptive learning, personalized learning) involve this context in one way or another, it remains highly relevant. According to The State of E-Learning in Higher Education, e-learning is ubiquitous, with more than 80 percent of institutions offering at least several courses online and more than 50 percent offering a “significant” number of courses online in 2013.3 In addition, mature institutions that offer online and blended learning options to their students are beginning to evolve these models to discover the one that best fits their students. Personalized learning is an example of a model that provides a unique, focused learning path for each student. Technology systems and tools, along with rich data sets and analytics programs, can support a customized learning experience regardless of the student or institutional type by leading learners through learning experiences and offering the support they need, at the time they need those resources, and in a form well suited to them. Personalized learning is one of many new ways tools and processes are being integrated to reimagine ineffective, outdated models for the purpose of delivering an improved learning experience.

These points of contact between the key teaching and learning issues and the top IT issues can provide the basis of strategic and tactical discussions between the IT organization and the cohort of campus organizations supporting teaching and learning. Each roster of significant issues serves to illuminate the other, providing a better sense of direction as we move forward in support of the key mission of teaching and learning.


  1. Eden Dahlstrom, D. Christopher Brooks, and Jacqueline Bichsel, The Current Ecosystem of Learning Management Systems in Higher Education: Student, Faculty, and IT Perspectives, research report (Louisville, CO: ECAR, September 2014), 4, 3.   
  2. For a fuller description of this new digital learning environment, see Malcolm Brown, Joanne Dehoney, and Nancy Millichap, “The Next-Generation Digital Learning Environment,” an ELI paper, April 2015.
  3. Jacqueline Bichsel, The State of E-Learning in Higher Education: An Eye toward Growth and Increased Access, research report (Louisville, CO: ECAR, June 2013), 19.

Veronica Diaz is Associate Director, ELI, and Director of Online Programs for EDUCAUSE. Malcolm Brown is Director, ELI, for EDUCAUSE.

© 2016 Veronica Diaz and Malcolm Brown. The text of this article is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

EDUCAUSE Review 51, no. 1 (January/February 2016)