Quite a few of the biggest questions facing higher education in 2018 – particularly those involving digital technology – could be answered the same way: “We need more research on that.”
In what combination of classroom settings do students work best? What sorts of instructional approaches work best with which groups of students? How can instructors reproduce face-to-face experiences in digital environments? How can technology expand access to education and diversify the pool of students heading into the work force?
Digital learning thinkers hope research can help them find, or at least approach, the answers. But all kinds of roadblocks keep getting in their way, and the solutions to overcome those roadblocks haven’t yet materialized.
From a logistical standpoint, institutions often don’t have the bandwidth to fund research projects as ambitious as the ones necessary to tackle overarching questions. Private foundations and other external organizations, meanwhile, have their own priorities and limited grant budgets.
The challenges aren’t limited to a shortage of resources. There’s also a shortage of understanding – administrators who aren’t willing to share student outcomes data with researchers, technology that evolves more rapidly than the deliberate pace of research efforts, academics who haven’t landed on the most nuanced questions to ask. Some leaders in digital learning research believe the lack of a formal discipline on such subjects means studies thus far have been scattered and incomplete.