Pivoting Professional Development through the Framework of Digital Transformation

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Digital transformation can serve as a framework through which we can change professional development practices in higher education.

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Credit: Chutima Chaochaiya / Shutterstock.com © 2020

Professional development (PD) takes many forms—from listening to an expert at the front of the room, to actively engaging with peers, to participating in just-in-time learning experiences. We are currently facing more challenges than ever at our colleges and universities due to the current situation of budget cuts and changes to the foundations of higher education. These challenges can lead us to look at digital transformation as a way to shift our PD practices and survive in these new landscapes. EDUCAUSE defines digital transformation (Dx) as "a series of deep and coordinated culture, workforce, and technology shifts that enable new educational and operating models and transform an institution's operations, strategic directions, and value proposition."1

How can our current PD practices benefit from a digital transformation? I have noticed in the past that when managers are looking for places to cut or downsize, the first targets are the people who offer professional development. Opportunities for employees to attend conferences or workshops or further their education also end up on the chopping block. With this in mind, we should think of ways that professional development can pivot. Digital transformation could be an effective framework to guide this change.

Starting with culture, we need to address the following questions for our institutions: How do we view PD opportunities? Are they check-the-box events or truly meaningful experiences? Most of the time, the answer falls somewhere in between. It is important for everyone to be on some kind of learning journey, and this viewpoint alone can help shift the strategy at an institution. If we view professional development as a way to evolve, whether professionally or personally, we could see transformation in the workplace. I believe the networking and mentoring opportunities far exceed sitting in a room listening to an expert. I do not mean to downplay the value of that experience, but simply receiving knowledge is often not transformative. Connecting and sharing makes a stronger impact.

The next shift in the framework for digital transformation involves the workforce. A quote often attributed to Richard Riley, the former US secretary of education under President Bill Clinton, hits home for me: "We are currently preparing students for jobs that don't yet exist, using technologies that haven't been invented in order to solve problems that we don't even know are problems yet." Our colleges and universities are constantly changing to accommodate an evolving landscape. Professional development is the key to making sure our workforce is prepared to pivot and contribute to the success of the institution. If we don't invest in the professional and personal growth of our staff, we are damaging the core of our institution.

The idea of connecting and sharing has definitely changed in 2020, however, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is where the final shift, in technology, has to come into play. How can we implement digital transformation in professional development with a change in technology? PD groups outside of our higher education institutions—associations such as EDUCAUSE and the Online Learning Consortium—can help us answer this question. Physical gatherings have been replaced with virtual ones.  I look toward a future when innovations in technology will allow us to feel more present with each other. I am ready for the holodeck on the starship Enterprise. But at least for now, we do have ways to engage with each other and further our learning journey through live virtual meetings or in asynchronous learning experiences.

Within this framework of digital transformation—encompassing culture, workforce, and technology—it is critical that we focus our attention on a workforce that is digitally literate or fluent. Our institutions should allow a culture of learning by supplying leaders and staff with opportunities and technologies to achieve goals of personal growth and professional advancement. Becoming a digital citizen in a world that is increasingly digital will advance not only our higher education institutions but our society overall.

For more information about enhancing your skills as a higher education IT manager and leader, please visit the EDUCAUSE Review Professional Development Commons blog as well as the EDUCAUSE Career Development web page.

The PD Commons blog encourages submissions. Please submit your ideas to [email protected].


  1. EDUCAUSE, "Dx: Digital Transformation of Higher Education" (website), accessed June 9, 2020.

Melody Buckner is Associate Vice Provost of Digital Learning Initiatives and Online Education at the University of Arizona.

© 2020 Melody Buckner. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY 4.0 International License.