Institutional Readiness to Adopt Fully Remote Learning

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Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many colleges and universities had offered courses and programs in fully online or blended learning environments. The technologies, practices, and supports needed for online learning have been implemented unevenly, however, leaving institutions at differing levels of readiness for current circumstances.

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The COVID-19 pandemic is prompting many colleges and universities to abruptly and comprehensively adopt online learning, remote work, and other activities to help contain the spread of the virus. In the past decade, institutions have recognized the importance of advising, early alerts, degree planning, and other services to help students attain their academic goals affordably and efficiently. A wide range of new applications and technologies to support student success are now available and may prove invaluable to help students adapt to fully remote learning. EDUCAUSE data from 2019 reveal that many, but far from all, institutions, students, faculty, and staff are ready and able to use these technologies during the pandemic.

How Many Institutions Were Already Delivering Online Learning?

First, the good news for institutions moving their face-to-face courses to online-only formats: large majorities of institutions have experience in the domain of online learning, providing hybrid/blended courses and completely online courses (see table 1). Additionally, majorities of institutions also make provisions for testing centers and ADA compliance for distance learning. Now, for the not-so-good news: despite their experience offering online courses, institutions are—in response to the COVID-19 pandemic—moving courses online at an unprecedented scale, which will likely strain campus resources (e.g., IT, teaching and learning centers, and instructional designers) as instructors move their courses online. And, for the 12% of BA institutions and 7% of small institutions (< 2,000 student FTEs) that previously offered no online learning options whatsoever, options and resources for moving online might be severely limited. For the 61% of institutions providing testing centers, they are likely ill-equipped to handle the onslaught of usage that might accompany every student needing to be proctored for every exam for every course. Finally, faculty will need to make sure that materials posted in the online environment are accessible for all students, including those with disabilities.

Table 1. Institutional provision of online learning prior to the COVID-19 pandemic

Course Learning Environment Type

Percentage of Institutions That Offer This Type of Course Learning Environment (US Nonspecialized Institutions)

Hybrid/blended courses


Completely online courses


No online learning provided



How Many Institutions Have the Basic Infrastructure to Adopt Fully Remote Learning?

Most higher education institutions appear to have adopted and at least partially deployed the basic tools that are required for a comprehensive and sustained move to online courses. Specifically, most faculty who are being asked to move their courses online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic already have access to institutionally provided online learning systems (or LMSes), collaboration tools, and web or videoconferencing (see table 2). However, the technologies that support creative or hands-on experiences traditionally carried out in wet or computer laboratories, studios, conservatories, and other nontraditional learning spaces have seen more limited deployment, which could impede instructors in delivering online versions of their face-to-face courses. For the short term, faculty who have typically relied on digital tools in situ might need to figure out workarounds, suspend expectations that regular and normal classroom experiences are within reach, and recalibrate their typical pedagogical approach to accommodate the realities of the moment. Additionally, the emergency move to completely online courses might afford institutions the opportunity to assess which technology services need to be expanded in the wake of the pandemic and to reconsider their investments in ones that are not really necessary to instruction.

Table 2. Level of deployment of learning technology services

Learning Technology Service

Percentage of Institutions with This Partially in Place

Percentage of Institutions with This in Place Institution-Wide

Online learning system



Collaboration tools



Web or videoconferencing



Which Institutions Might Be Better Positioned to Scale Up Quickly?

In terms of infrastructure and services, most institutions were very well-positioned to meet the challenge of moving courses online for remote instruction for the remainder of the academic year. Learning and educational technologies are viewed as mission-critical in terms of the support provided (91%) and as a strategic priority (73%), and these dispositions likely contribute to the fact that systems, programs, and services are highly reliable (94%), centralized (90%), secure (88%), adaptable (80%), and scalable (76%) (see table 3). In contrast, barely more than half of institutions have established governance for learning/educational technologies, resulting in problems with the efficient delivery of systems, confusion over policy, and variation in the type and quality of services and tools provided.1 Certainly, the need to triage the educational delivery system in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged and will continue to challenge these systems, but there is an opportunity for institutions to identify ways in which gaps in support for and provision of learning and educational technology systems can be remediated going forward.

Table 3. Institutional provision of learning technology services and best practices

Learning Technology Service/Practice

Percentage of Institutions with Service or Practice in Place

Our learning/educational technology delivery systems are highly reliable.


IT considers learning/educational technology delivery systems to be mission-critical in terms of the support provided.


Most of our learning/educational technology (e.g., course delivery, lecture capture, content management system, and support) is supported through a centralized system.


Our institution has appropriate technology in place to ensure the security of learning/educational technology data.


Our learning/educational technology services and programs are adaptable; we will be able to accommodate new methods of learning delivery in the coming years.


Our learning/educational technology services and programs are scalable; we will be able to handle a growing number of technology-enhanced courses and spaces in the coming years.


Our institution views learning/educational technology as a strategic priority.


Our institution views learning/educational technology as an investment, rather than as an added cost.


Our institution has an effective, established mechanism in place for learning/educational technology governance (responsible for policy, quality, accreditation requirements, etc.).


Do Institutions Have the Technologies to Help Manage and Provision Learning Materials?

Technologies necessary for the management and provision of learning materials might prove critical in the coming weeks and months for instructors teaching remotely. Faculty and students would likely benefit from having tools with which to consume, organize and store, and publish content, but these technologies are not as widely available as they could be. While a majority of institutions have at least partially deployed electronic portfolios and e-books or e-textbooks, fewer than a third have deployed these and other tools institution-wide (see table 4). The limited supply of these tools might reflect local demand for them during the conditions of a normal academic setting, but it is entirely plausible that the comprehensive move to remote instruction could begin to stretch these resources thin unless they are more widely deployed and scalable. One of the more critical needs could be in the space of e-books and e-textbooks, given that students might not have access to physical copies of needed texts and cannot obtain copies in a timely manner due to availability or delivery times and/or an inability to travel due to quarantines and restricted travel orders. While it might not be possible to make these technologies available to all in the immediate term, an assessment of demands for them under pandemic conditions could create an opportunity to expand coverage and improve access for all students and faculty.

Table 4. Deployment of technologies to manage and provision learning materials


Percentage of Institutions with This Partially in Place

Percentage of Institutions with This in Place Institution-Wide

Electronic portfolios






Digital asset management



E-publishing platform



Have Institutions Made Investments in Student and Faculty Adoption of Online Learning?

Most institutions provide help for faculty to learn how to use the LMS and other learning technologies (see table 5). Furthermore, large majorities of institutions provide expertise on digital pedagogy and course development and empower faculty to select which technologies would be best suited for their needs. A majority of institutions also supply LMS and academic technology training and support for students, although the percentages are much lower than for instructors. In today's extraordinary circumstances, however, it is unclear whether institutions can meet the onslaught of demand from faculty who are being required in short order to use the LMS and other learning technologies to support the move to remote learning. It is unlikely that any of the support or training taking place presently can be anything other than basic or limited in scope, which could force institutions to reconsider what constitutes "adequate" provision when the new normal is established.

Table 5. Institutional provision of consultation, training, and support of faculty and student use of learning/educational technologies

Training and Support

Percentage of Institutions Providing for Faculty

Percentage of Institutions Providing for Students

Our institution adequately provides LMS training and support services.



Our institution adequately provides LMS consultation and development services.



Our institution adequately provides learning/educational technology consultation and development services.



Our institution adequately provides learning/educational technology training and support services.



Our institution provides expertise on digital pedagogy and course development.



Although most institutions provide opportunities for faculty to receive training, consultations, and support for using the LMS and other technologies, the cultural and institutional mechanisms for faculty to deepen their experiences with educational technologies vary significantly. Most institutions give faculty considerable agency in their choices of what technologies to use, and communities of practice for the use of educational technologies are widespread (see table 6). However, only a third of institutions offer incentives for faculty to incorporate technology into their courses despite clear calls to provide stipends and course releases to do so, a deficit that likely meant many instructors who recently moved their courses online under emergency conditions had little or no experience using technology for remote learning.

Table 6. Institutional support of faculty use of learning/educational practices


Percentage of Institutions with Practice in Place

Our faculty play a large role in determining what learning/educational technologies are used in their courses.


[Our faculty have access to] instructor communities of practice for the use of educational technologies.


Our institution adequately provides opportunities for instructors to experiment with new learning/educational technologies and technology-enhanced spaces.


Our faculty are rewarded (e.g., extra salary, lower course load, specialized recognition) for developing technology-enhanced learning experiences.


Will Institutions Be Ready to Support Remote Access for Instructors and Students?

Institutional support for instructors and students to engage in remote learning is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the vast majority of higher education institutions offer support for personally owned devices that are not managed by the institution (see table 7). On the other, the use of personal devices for work-related tasks, especially when those tasks may involve sensitive data, is problematic at best and might expose student data to security and/or privacy risks. However, almost all institutions have laptops or tablets available for checkout or loan that are presumably configured to meet institutional standards for security and privacy with approved and supported applications.

Table 7. Institutional provision of support for remote access

Type of Support

Percentage of Institutions Providing This Support

Laptops or tablets available for checkout or loan


Support for instructors using personally owned devices not managed by the institution, such as personally owned laptops, tablets, and smartphones


But even for faculty and students who have these options, the number of devices available for checkout or loan is extremely limited (see table 8). To be fair, the limited number of laptops available for checkout is likely based on the expectation that almost all students have access to a computer. Indeed, according to 2019 EDUCAUSE data, 99% of students have access to one or more computing devices (i.e., desktop, laptop, hybrid or 2-in-1 device, or tablet), and most of those students either personally own or borrow the devices from family or friends. Just 3% of faculty neither own a desktop or laptop nor have one provided by their institution. Moreover, the stock of laptops maintained by central IT units likely was not intended to provide access on the scale required by the current shifting of all face-to-face instruction to online environments. This move, however, means that considerable numbers of students and faculty might not have the devices they need to carry out the work to be done.

Table 8. Laptops available for checkout from central IT, by Carnegie Classification

Carnegie Classification

Median Number of Laptops Available for Checkout per 1,000 Student FTE

All US






MA Public


MA Private


DR Public


DR Private


In normal times and under normal circumstances, higher education institutions generally appear to be well-prepared to support and deliver online instruction. These are, of course, anything but normal times and circumstances. The COVID-19 pandemic is presenting higher education with a host of unprecedented challenges. Our efforts here draw upon current EDUCAUSE Core Data Service and ETRAC data to help higher education leaders and employees anticipate potential problems as they move their entire set of course offerings online and prepare to support students, staff, and faculty to learn, teach, conduct research, and work remotely.

EDUCAUSE will continue to monitor higher education and technology related issues during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. For additional resources, please visit the EDUCAUSE COVID-19 web page.

For more information and analysis about higher education IT research and data, please visit the EDUCAUSE Review Data Bytes blog as well as the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research.


  1. Malcolm Brown, "Education in the Time of the Virus; or, Flying the Plane While Building It," EDUCAUSE Review, April 6, 2020.

D. Christopher Brooks is Director of Research at EDUCAUSE.

Susan Grajek is Vice President of Communities and Research at EDUCAUSE.

Leah Lang is Director of Analytics Services at EDUCAUSE.

© 2020 D. Christopher Brooks, Susan Grajek, and Leah Lang. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.