March 24, 2021

Survey: About Half of Faculty are More Positive About Online Learning Today Than Pre-Pandemic, And Expect to Keep New Teaching Techniques and Digital Materials in Place Post-Pandemic

BOSTON—March 24, 2021—As the pandemic has moved U.S. higher education online, half of faculty (51 percent) are more positive about online learning today than pre-pandemic. Most faculty (71 percent) said their teaching in Fall 2020 was “very different” or included a “number of changes” and almost half (47 percent) expect those changes to remain post-pandemic. The data is from the third edition of the Digital Learning Pulse Survey, an ongoing four-part series to better understand the needs of colleges in the wake of the disruption brought on by COVID-19. The final survey installment will incorporate students’ views of their learning experiences during the pandemic.

The survey of 1,702 faculty and administrators at 967 institutions was conducted by Bay View Analytics on behalf of the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), WCET (the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies), University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA), Canadian Digital Learning Research Association (CDLRA) and primary partner and underwriter Cengage, a global education technology company.

Additional survey findings include:

  • Digital materials use has soared: pre- pandemic, only 25 percent of institutions made considerable use of digital materials; today 71 percent report considerable use of digital, with 81 percent expecting digital material use to “remain the same” or “increase” post-pandemic.
  • Online homework and courseware systems use more than doubled: pre-pandemic, only 22 percent of institutions made considerable use of online homework or courseware systems; today 58 percent report considerable use of them, with 74 percent expecting use to “remain the same” or “increase” post pandemic.
  • The majority of faculty are more positive about digital learning materials and online learning: 57 percent of faculty are more positive about digital learning materials today and 51 percent are more positive about online learning than pre-pandemic.
  • Faculty have radically changed teaching techniques since the pandemic, and don’t expect to revert back: 71 percent of faculty said their teaching in Fall 2020 was either “very different” from pre-pandemic methods or included a “number of changes,” and only 8 percent expect to revert back to pre-pandemic practices. Nearly half (47 percent) expect post-pandemic teaching will have a number of changes or look very different than how they taught pre-pandemic.
  • Administrators want more professional development support: Less than a quarter of administrators (24 percent) are happy with the professional development support they are receiving. Meanwhile, more than half of faculty (54 percent) think their institution is providing everything they need for professional development.

Multi-colored chart depicting that 51% of faculty are more positive about online learning today compared to pre-pandemic, while 39% expressed: no change. 57% are also more optimistic about digital materials.

Download Complete Infographic here: Insight on the Post-Pandemic College Classroom – Digital Learning Pulse Survey

“COVID-19 has radically accelerated the growth of online learning and digital learning tools, as well as put greater pressure on affordability,” said Fernando Bleichmar, Executive Vice President and General Manager for U.S. Higher Education at Cengage. “Quality online learning provides a needed, flexible option for students, but services and support for students and faculty along the way is critical for a successful learning experience. Even under pressure to quickly move to these new models, faculty are finding value in digital learning, and it is encouraging to see many plan to keep new formats in place post-pandemic.”

“The Fall 2020 term showed higher education faculty and administrators to be extremely agile and adaptable as their preparation over the summer allowed them to support a massive transition to online learning,” said Jeff Seaman, lead researcher and director of Bay View Analytics. “The change forced faculty to implement new teaching styles, many of which they intend to continue post-pandemic.”

“Researching the faculty and student experience of COVID-19 is critically important in helping us understand near-term faculty and student support opportunities,” said Angela Gunder, Chief Academic Officer of the Online Learning Consortium. “Study upon study have shown that students prefer blended teaching modalities and the ways they leverage the best of what online and face-to-face courses have to offer. This study indicates that more faculty have become more comfortable with digital technologies, which is exciting because it means they are perhaps perfectly positioned to leverage more blended learning approaches in addition to existing online portfolios as we return to a post-pandemic version of normalcy.”

“It’s clear that leaders in higher ed have taken away key lessons brought on by the pandemic and have a renewed appreciation for the value of online learning,” said Robert Hansen, Chief Executive Officer of UPCEA. “Developing methodologies and processes to institutionalize these lessons into sustainable digital initiatives will benefit students, faculty and the institution immeasurably.”

“The survey results have shown that colleges and universities have reached an inflection point,” said Russ Poulin, Executive Director of WCET. “Not all courses will include digital learning, but the pandemic has led to many more using those tools. Now the challenge is scaling faculty development and student support systems to make best use of the technologies.”

For complete survey results, download the infographic here:

The results of the fourth and final installment of the Digital Learning Pulse Survey series will be released this spring and will incorporate insights from students, faculty and administrators.


The survey of higher education faculty and administrators to understand institutions’ use of digital materials and views on online learning was conducted between December 3 and December 9 by Bay View Analytics in partnership with four leading online learning organizations and underwritten by Cengage.

About Bay View Analytics

Bay View Analytics is a statistical research firm with a focus on survey design, implementation, and analysis. Formerly known as the Babson Survey Research Group, the scope of Bay View Analytics’ consulting engagements includes scientific statistical analyses, clinical trial statistics, and survey designs for a range of topics, with a particular focus on online education. Bay View Analytics has been conducting research and publishing annual reports on the state of online education in U.S. higher education for thirteen years. Visit for more information.

About Cengage

Cengage, an education technology company serving millions of learners in 165 countries, advances the way students learn through quality, digital experiences. We serve the K-12, higher education, professional, library, English language teaching, and workforce training markets worldwide. We believe that through the power and joy of learning, students can enrich their lives and achieve their dreams – no matter their age, experience, abilities, or environment. Our industry-leading products and services make education more accessible and affordable, including Cengage Unlimited, the first-of-its-kind all-access digital subscription service. Visit us at or find us on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.

About WCET

WCET – the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies, is the leader in the practice, policy, & advocacy of digital learning in higher education. WCET is a member-driven non-profit which brings together colleges, universities, higher education organizations, and companies to collectively improve the quality and reach of technology-enhanced learning programs. Learn more at


UPCEA is the association for professional, continuing, and online education. Founded in 1915, the association serves its members with innovative conferences and specialty seminars, research and benchmarking information, professional networking opportunities and timely publications. Based in Washington, D.C., UPCEA builds greater awareness of the vital link between adult learners and non-traditional learners and public policy issues. Visit


The mission of the Canadian Digital Learning Research Association (CDLRA) is to measure the evolution of digital learning at publicly funded post-secondary institutions in Canada and to assess its impact on employment, skills development and digital competencies across the country. Learn more at

About Online Learning Consortium

The Online Learning Consortium (OLC) is a collaborative community of education leaders and innovators, dedicated to advancing quality digital teaching and learning experiences designed to reach and engage the modern learner – anyone, anywhere, anytime. OLC inspires innovation and quality through an extensive set of resources, including, best-practice publications, quality benchmarking, leading-edge instruction, community-driven conferences, practitioner-based and empirical research and expert guidance. The growing OLC community includes faculty members, administrators, trainers, instructional designers, and other learning professionals, as well as educational institutions, professional societies and corporate enterprises. Visit for more information.