How digital learning is changing the future of education

8th April 2021

Author: Lindsay Denton, Digital Dot New York

What we colloquially refer to as "digital learning" can mean many things and has taken many forms over the years. From its infancy in the first e-learning platforms, it has evolved to encompass a plethora of pedagogies today. This evolution has, of course, closely followed an ever-changing digital landscape and innovations in the service of the academic community. Finally, it has also been accelerated, more so than diverted, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, with all these factors on full display, digital learning is changing the future of education. As a teacher myself, I find this to be a fascinating, substantive subject – one worth exploring in some depth.

Education in the mainstream digital landscape

First and foremost, I feel the foundation of digital learning is worth highlighting. The first, modest forms of digital learning found themselves encumbered by minimal technological power and accessibility. On the practical, hardware side, consider CD-ROMs and floppy discs, dial-up connections, and the prominence of PCs themselves. On the educators’ and students’ side, consider familiarity, accessibility, and even digital and computer literacy. This is not eons ago; technology really advanced this much in just over two decades.

The internet was still a rare commodity by 2005, with just 16% of the world’s population using it. Now, the digital landscape has advanced in staggering strides. Among others, Hootsuite reported the following relevant statistics:

  • 112 billion people use mobile phones
  • 388 billion people use the internet
  • 484 billion people are active social media users, 3.256 billion of whom do so on mobile devices

Perhaps most importantly, this doesn't merely highlight a much more welcoming mainstream digital landscape but also different outlooks. More recent generations have become increasingly tech-savvy and visually-focused and thus take more kindly to new, digitally assisted pedagogies. Digital learning is therefore changing the future of education, in no small part because the framework for it has evolved.

How digital learning is changing the future of education

This shift has been so substantial that the industry of education technology, or "EdTech", is booming. Even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, OECD reports that "[g]lobal expenditure in the EdTech industry is predicted to grow from USD 163 billion in 2019 to USD 404 billion in 2025". Indeed, the industry continues to provide digital learning platforms, assisting material toward blended learning, and even AI-driven test modules.

Pedagogies of the future

Among tried-and-tested, albeit evolved, practices like e-learning and blended learning, come more innovative learning modules. Consider, for example, gamification; indeed, two decades ago, gamifying learning was likely an absurd concept. Yet today, EdTechnology reports, the majority of teachers embrace the concept and use technology in the classroom. Having been a homeschool tutor and a private education teacher myself, I, too, can attest to technology's educational merits. Most notably, in digitally-assisted classes, I've observed increased engagement in younger student groups – where engagement is perhaps most fundamental.

Furthermore, such platforms as Cisco Webex have seen widespread use in online classrooms in response to COVID-19. In a time when measures for public health have strained education, digital events are the new normal. Fortunately, they proved to be a viable option because the framework for them had already been put in place. 1:1 learning initiatives had seen wide global acclaim over the years, from Europe to the US. Thus, what many schools first regarded as a necessity proved to be an asset that modernised education.


Similarly, digital learning is changing the future of education as it sees acceptance by governing bodies manifest into initiatives. The European Commission had already funded such initiatives, with express goals including:

  • Increased digital competence
  • The incorporation of data analysis and foresight into education
  • Higher adoption rates of digital technology across schools and educational institutions

The US Department of Education has also taken drastic steps to digitise education. The increasing aversion of younger students to traditional learning methods is thus being addressed, from leadership to the individual level.

Technology in the service of education; digital learning

Finally, technology provides substantial tools for enhanced education through such fields as:

Of course, innovations across these fields vary in significance and practical use. But from top-down initiatives to individual examples of innovation, it is clear that digital learning will shape education for years to come.

In conclusion

To summarise, digital learning finds fertile ground in the current digital landscape. The unprecedented digital interconnectedness we now enjoy facilitates new, innovative learning practices perfectly, which see widespread adoption. Whether through blended learning, 1:1, gamification, or any other digital or digitally assisted teaching practice, technology shapes education.