Purpose: This article investigates some ongoing issues faced by Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) having to rapidly move their teaching online during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Design/methodology/approach: The article incorporates a review of academic and policy literature concerning digitalisation and online learning in universities, and qualitative interviews with staff involved in online teaching and learning at a university in Scotland. Findings: For most HEIs and organisations across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the speed at which digitalisation and digital ways of working have been embedded in organisational life and service delivery including new ways of learning and working. This has led to a recognition of the need for practically-focused, effective inclusive digital interventions. A range of initiatives have been developed or accelerated in response to the pandemic are discussed. These should be explicitly designed and implemented to also reach individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds, including those with low skill levels or qualifications and older age groups. Effort is also needed by policy-makers and HEIs to better understand the challenges and unintended consequences that digital learning and working poses. Originality/value of the paper: This article provides an analysis of the processes, issues and impacts associated with the rapid shift to digitisation in HEIs at a point in time shortly following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. It raises issues around inclusivity of online learning, pedagogic issues, unintended consequences of digitalisation and privacy issues when moving to online teaching relevant both during the pandemic and in the longer term. Research limitations/implications: More research is needed into the methods and implications of increased online teaching. The range of interviewees is limited to one main organisation. A wider range of staff, students, HEIs and other types of organisation would add additional insights. Practical implications: Insights from interviews highlight a number of institutional responses to digitalisation, which were accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic. These identify learning and reflection points for HEIs moving to enhanced online teaching provision.


Publisher policy allows this work to be made available in this repository. Published in World Journal of Science, Technology and Sustainable Development by Emerald. The original publication is available at: https://doi.org/10.1108/wjstsd-11-2020-0090. This article is deposited under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial International Licence 4.0 (CC BY-NC 4.0). Any reuse is allowed in accordance with the terms outlined by the licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/). To reuse the AAM for commercial purposes, permission should be sought by contacting permissions@emeraldinsight.com.

Cite as

Webb, A., McQuaid, R. & Webster, C. 2021, 'Moving learning online and the COVID-19 pandemic: a university response', World Journal of Science, Technology and Sustainable Development, 18(1), pp. 1-19. https://doi.org/10.1108/wjstsd-11-2020-0090

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Last updated: 01 October 2022
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