About the Digital Capability Framework
In 2018, HolonIQ released an open source 16-point framework identifying key capabilities underpinning digital higher education. The 16-point framework was used by institutions in different ways to articulate, share and showcase current and emerging models in digital learning, and to identify areas for strategic focus and development.
The 2020 Higher Education Digital Capability (HEDC) Framework builds on the earlier model and adds a deeper focus on digital capabilities across the whole learner lifecycle. Institutional capabilities have been mapped to four connected dimensions across the lifecycle, from Demand & Discovery (DD) to Learning Design (LD), Learner Experience (LX) and Work & Lifelong Learning (WL). The framework encompasses current capabilities such as recruitment, curriculum design, assessment and career planning, but also looks ahead to future and emerging capabilities for successful digital learning.
Informed by academic research and with input from higher education leaders globally, the HEDC Framework offers an overarching view for institutions to map and measure digital capabilities across the learner lifecycle, ultimately to support practical and sustainable approaches to digital services and online learning.
Mapping Digital Capabilities in Higher Education
The Higher Education Digital Capability framework identifies four core dimensions along the learner lifecycle: Demand & Discovery (DD), Learning Design (LD), Learner Experience (LX) and Work & Lifelong Learning (WL). Within these are sixteen capability groups or ‘domains’, with more than 70 capability blocks adding a further level of detail. Overall, the framework is designed to allow flexibility and interpretation in context; some institutions will find almost every capability block relevant to their organisational structure, activities and aspirations, whilst others will focus on a more specific set of capabilities applicable to their individual context.
The overarching construct that forms the ‘top level’ of the framework is anchored on the student lifecycle, which can help to focus conversations, efforts and actions across different stakeholder groups and departments.
‘Demand and Discovery’ (DD) puts institutional strategy, insights and customer (student) focus at the start of the journey and establishes the importance of data to connect and personalise the student experience at every stage. ‘Learning Design’ (LD) picks up the learner focus and outlines capabilities and emerging skill sets in designing for diverse needs, environments and modalities. ‘Learner Experience’ (LX) sits at the heart of the lifecycle to profile capabilities that support student life, community and wellbeing as well as learning experiences, academic progress and assessment. ‘Work & Lifelong Learning’ (WL) completes the lifecycle, but rather than being a ‘final’ stage, shifts the focus to consider how learners can be supported as they choose and change careers throughout their lives with continued education needs.
At the next level of the framework are 16 ‘domains’ of capabilities - 4 in each lifecycle dimension. These create structured groups of capabilities relating to familiar activities like recruitment, curriculum design, assessment and career planning. These domains can map to organisational teams or structures in an institution, but will also overlap and blur boundaries between these. Connected capabilities can be shared responsibilities across units and departments and supported by shared systems and technologies. This is where the view of the whole lifecycle and groups of capabilities becomes particularly valuable.
70+ Capabilities Blocks
At the deepest level, each of the 16 domains unfolds into a series of blocks that include over 70 distinct digital capabilities. Some are well established in mature digital contexts, whilst others reflect emerging and evolving capabilities in the sector. Not all blocks will be of strategic importance or interest to every institution using the framework, and some are likely to be more ‘aspirational’ for institutions who are in the earlier stages of their digital journey.
The capabilities at this level were identified by analysing common factors in established models and frameworks, and refined in consultation with leaders in higher education institutions around the world. The individual capability blocks will continue to evolve as universities and organisations respond and adapt to changing learner needs and market demand.
Certain capabilities are not articulated in the framework, including those relating to technical infrastructure, data privacy and security, accessibility standards and other technology ‘hygiene factors’ which form part of the supporting structures for digital and online learning. These are well documented in other frameworks, and can be understood to underpin the whole learner lifecycle, also flowing through to functions such as HR, Finance and IT.
Demand and Discovery (DD)
This dimension brings together digital capabilities which impact institutional strategy and early stages in the learner lifecycle, connecting marketing processes, student recruitment and enrolment management.
New models and competitors are challenging established programs, and successful institutions draw on deep and complex data sets to understand and respond to the changing needs of learners, partners and markets.
Data now connects every stage in the student journey, enabling the creation of personalised communications across an array of channels and partners. Prospective learners are diverse and fragmented, requiring sophisticated tools and organisational capabilities to profile, segment, qualify and convert leads.
The demands on user experience (UX) continue to rise; recruitment and enrolment processes are expected to provide consistent, responsive and tailored digital experiences across every touchpoint.Back to top
Learning Design (LD)
Digital capabilities in Learning Design combine evidence-based understanding of learner needs and learning processes with emerging skill sets in user experience design (UX), instructional strategies, content and mixed media design.
Successful institutions are designing programs and courses to suit new learning environments, delivery modes and learning approaches. Diverse types of digital content are created, licenced and managed to support learning, responding in particular to the need for immersive learning and simulation in STEM subjects.
Emerging disciplines are also demanding new subject matter expertise, which must be sourced, managed and updated to keep pace with changing industries and knowledge.
Instructional strategies draw on an increasing range of digital capabilities to provide active and adaptive learning experiences for students to learn in different ways, both as individuals and as members of class groups and communities.Back to top
Learner Experience (LX)
At the heart of the learner lifecycle is a broad set of digital capabilities supporting student life, community and wellbeing as well as learning processes, academic progress and assessment.
Within Learner Experience, improved digital capabilities are bringing efficiency and relief to burdensome academic administration processes such as timetabling, compliance and reporting. As learning design and delivery changes, faculty professional development remains as important as ever, and remote training brings increased options and opportunities.
Students are able to take more control over their learning journey with improved digital learning environments and a single view of their priorities and progress, tailored to their needs. Where students are geographically distant, digital solutions can help them to create and engage in social groups and communities, and seek out the support they need, when they need it.
Digital assessment and verification capabilities are evolving, with vast improvements showing the potential for assessments, portfolios and exams to be conducted fairly and securely online. Graduations and celebrations can now take place in digital formats for those who can’t attend in person, with digital credential options embedded throughout the student journey.Back to top
Work and Lifelong Learning (WL)
Traditionally thought of as the ‘final’ stage in the learner lifecycle, the focus has been shifting for some time to consider how learners can be supported as they choose and change careers throughout their lives, underpinned by ongoing learning and skill development.
Work-Integrated Learning remains a key focus, with digital capabilities enabling virtual internships and remote mentoring with industry professionals. Career planning and placement services are making use of AI and machine learning for skills assessment and matching, whilst jobs fairs and events explore virtual possibilities.
Technology also supports networks and partnerships with industry, connecting learners and professionals and facilitating access to industry expertise. Finally, alumni engagement is thriving in the digital age, as institutions future-proof their roles as education providers by supporting learners at many different points in their lives.Back to top