Capacity building for digital education

Whitelock, Denise; Goshtasbpour, Fereshte; Pitt, Rebecca; Ferguson, Rebecca and Cross, Simon (2024). Capacity building for digital education. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, 39(2) pp. 105–111.



Building capacity for digital education can be a daunting prospect because digital education – also known as technology-enhanced learning or TEL – is a complex system. Such systems are difficult to model because of the ways in which their different elements – including people, technologies, and resources – relate to each other and depend upon each other. In the context of Higher Education, this complex includes interconnected information technology resources that can function as a unit, digital content, various forms of student feedback, not forgetting the various technologies and human actors involved. In this special collection, we argue that managing the growth of this complex system with all its interdependencies is crucial to its success. Through mapping these interdependencies, essential processes become clearer. These, in turn, illustrate how information/data is transferred between different parts of the ecosystem. This mapping should also reveal which parts of the system are not connected and therefore unable to exchange knowledge/data. One of the salient findings from work on ‘Covid challenges and opportunities driving the research agenda’ (Whitelock et al., Citation2021) was the need for specialised introductions to new devices and pedagogies, resulting in capacity building initiatives leading to managed growth.

Capacity building has been defined by the UN as:

"the process of developing and strengthening the skills, instincts, abilities, processes and resources that organizations and communities need to survive, adapt, and thrive in a fast-changing world. An essential ingredient in capacity building is transformation that is generated and sustained over time from within; transformation of this kind goes beyond performing tasks to changing mindsets and attitudes."

This special collection looks at some of the lessons that can be learned from putting capacity building into practice in different Higher Education contexts. In the following sections, we examine a decade of HE capacity building projects undertaken around the world by our own institution, The Open University (OU), showing how they highlight different facets of the complex system that is digital education.

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