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Digital Learning Issues in The Global Higher Education Landscape

Online education
Online education delivery continues to aid teachers and learning in higher education. (PEXELS)

When most of the countries around the world were placed in lockdown in 2020, teachers were given just a few days to grapple with an unprecedented situation. There was a risk of falling into a dire learning crisis as educators,educational institutions and policymakers, as well as students of all ages, had to find ways to ensure the continuity of teaching and learning. 

But thanks to digital learning, powered by education technology, the teacher-student learning experience continues. 

Is there room for improvement? This article explores this and more.

Key Points at a Glance

  • COVID-19 has disrupted the international education sector and its effects look to last until 2022.
  • Online or digital learning has provided higher education institutions and international students alike with a solution to continue with studies.
  • More than half of students are okay with online learning, while the rest have expressed a range of issues in online learning.
  • The trends suggest that online learning will remain even when the world returns to normal as an additional means of providing education for everyone.

Online learning

As more and more higher education institutions innovate and host digital learning environments for their teachers and students, this has allowed international students to thrive even in the midst of a pandemic.

A recent survey explored the international student learning experience during the pandemic and the results have been remarkable: 79 percent of students who moved from traditional to online learning were satisfied with the move. However, 86 percent of them felt more at home with face-to-face learning than online.

What higher education students, teachers and institutions are now learning is that online learning may not necessarily be the epitome of the future school experience but may rather serve a purpose in providing a more wholesome and holistic study environment.

Digital learning economy

International education is ongoing thanks to digital learning. In the case of Australia, ranked first among countries with the largest number of international students as “a share of the total higher education population in 2020,” international students are making an important contribution to the country.

A recent research published by Australia’s Department of Education Skills and Employment have reported that “international students studying from outside Australia during the COVID-19 crisis” are helping the economy. They have contributed $3.3 billion in tuition for 2020. This was all under the online learning arrangement since Australia’s borders have remained closed in 2021.

As the trends suggest, international students will likely see online learning as a viable option in the future. A survey by BestColleges revealed that 49 percent of remote learners plan to enroll in online courses even when campuses return to normal operations.

Issues with digital learning

A study that delved into the digital learning environment in higher education, however, found out three “negative experiences” during online learning.

The first is the insufficient level of self-regulating and technical skills of the student. Next is the unestablished processes of communication with tutors and peers. Finally, the teachers’ online teaching skills are at an insufficient level.

Forty-four percent of students acknowledged and ranked different types of “learning problems caused by the design of online courses.”

Key Difficulty Points of Students in Online Learning

While some have attached different levels of difficulty when it comes to online learning, it is good to note that the rest of the respondents (56 percent) reported that they didn’t have any learning problems by taking courses online.

Making overall learning better

Online universities shared their thoughts on the issues surrounding digital learning and how traditional learning needs to adapt to the demands of the times during a webinar hosted by PIE News earlier this year. They say, it’s time to review the benefits of the “campus experience” when it comes to training and equipping students for career opportunities.

“Do we really have to put these people in a synthetic environment for three years? How much of a real world experience is it?” challenged Caroline Evans, corporate strategy director of UK-based Arden University.

“Their learning becomes redundant very quickly, and their career doesn’t have longevity,” shared Evans, on the international students’ chances of landing a career after completing their studies in traditional schools.


While global higher education institutions and international students have brought up issues in line with maintaining a digital learning environment, online learning remains to be a champion of averting an education crisis, rather than a catalyst. The international education sector has education technology to thank for the quick pivot from campus to online learning. This has helped millions of learners around the globe to continue learning even in the midst of a pandemic.

“Higher ed has been a leader in online learning, and the pandemic provided the opportunity to adapt and evolve that model at scale in a way that will have a lasting impact,” said Susan Manning, co-author of “Online Education for Dummies

Data Sources:

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. United Nations. Retrieved from https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/report/2021/goal-04/

The global student experience: 2021 insights and analysis from the world’s largest student survey. I-graduate. Retrieved from https://info.i-graduate.org/the-global-student-experience-2021

Szmigiera, M. (2021, March 30) International student share of higher-ed population worldwide in 2020, by country. Statista. Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/788155/international-student-share-of-higher-education-worldwide/

International students outside Australia due to COVID 19 (2021, May) Department of Education Skills and Employment. Retrieved from https://internationaleducation.gov.au/research/research-snapshots/Documents/RS_COVID-19%20update%20March%202021.pdf

2021 Online Education Trends Report. Best Colleges. Retrieved from https://www.bestcolleges.com/research/annual-trends-in-online-education/.

Malkawi, E. (2021) Digital Learning Environment in Higher Education: New Global Issues. Globalization and its Socio-Economic Consequences. Retrieved from https://www.shs-conferences.org/articles/shsconf/pdf/2021/03/shsconf_glob20_05019.pdf

Quinn, C. (2021, March 5) Employability outcomes in focus at online unis. The PIE News. Retrieved from https://thepienews.com/news/online-universities-focus-employability/

Schaffhauser, D. (2021, January 4) 25 Ed Tech Predictions for 2021. Campus Technology. Retrieved from https://campustechnology.com/Articles/2021/01/04/25-Ed-Tech-Predictions-for-2021.aspx?Page=1.


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