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«1 Digital literacy in higher education: The rhetoric and the reality Lorelle J. Burton, Jane Summers, Jill Lawrence, Karen Noble, and Peter Gibbings ...»

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Opportunities to undertake study “anytime, anywhere” have enabled increased access to higher education. However, higher education institutions must develop rigorous systems to support online learning, enabling learning to be contextualised for individual participants. Concomitantly, as the technology continues to evolve, and as lecturers begin to understand the potential of e-learning, it is likely that we will see the emergence of new and more effective approaches to online learning and teaching in the future. There is growing evidence that online learning is a useful tool for higher education if applied with skill. It is the development of skill, for both staff and students that must become a focus, rather than simply supporting information technology innovation.

Technology requirements of higher education have been categorised into three groups. First, technologies to be adopted within the next year or less will include cloud computing, learning analytics, mobile apps and tablet computing. Such technologies enable one to be flexible to change and to process or access larger resources more easily. Second, in the next 2 to 3 years, education should become more student-focussed, enabling individual learners to develop a digital identity while participating in a more personalised educational experience that is tailored to their specific needs. The expectation is that educators will apply more game based learning and open source content and practices to enhance engagement and improve potential learning outcomes. Finally, although technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace, in the next 4 to 5 years, higher education will need to focus on issues such as digital preservation, open online courseware, and telepresence. Institutions need to forward plan and educators need to begin preparing for these emerging technologies now, to enable them to adapt their curricula and teaching approaches in time to meet the needs of future students.

Improvements in the online learning journey are unlikely without some fundamental changes at the institutional level to better support staff. A new paradigm may be required, in which diverse skills of staff and students are recognised and used as a resource, in more flexible organisational structures.

Emerging technologies raise the skill requirements of academics, and successful applications of online learning are dependent on additional skills provided in tandem by other support professionals including instructional designers and media producers, among others.

Conclusion The current data helped to debunk the myth that age determines experience and confidence in using digital learning technologies. Digital Immigrants did not show the assumed low levels of experience with digital learning tools; their experience and confidence was comparable to that of Digital Natives.

Further, the current data highlighted the complexities of quality online learning. This includes recognising the importance of online course design to the student learning experience. Online learning environments should enable the exchange of meaningful ideas to promote critical thinking and reflective learning experiences. This will help to create a sense of community among the online learners.

However, quality online learning is not assured, and requires attention to internal factors such as prior experience and confidence in using digital learning tools, and external factors such as course design, pedagogy, and institutional support, to ensure maximum positive impact.

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