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Moving learning online and the COVID-19 pandemic: a university response

Aleksandra Webb (Stirling Management School, University of Stirling, Stirling, UK)
Ronald William McQuaid (Stirling Management School, University of Stirling, Stirling, UK)
C. William R. Webster (Stirling Management School, University of Stirling, Stirling, UK)

World Journal of Science, Technology and Sustainable Development

ISSN: 2042-5945

Article publication date: 2 March 2021




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 coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.


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.


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 that 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 policymakers and HEIs to better understand the challenges and unintended consequences that digital learning and working poses.

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.


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, pedagogy, unintended consequences of digitalisation and privacy, when moving to online teaching that are relevant both during the pandemic and in the longer term.



The work for this article was part-funded by the EU ERASMUS+KA2, project no. 2019-1-RO01-KA203-063214, entitled ESCALATE ( The authors are extremely grateful to the authors’project partners and to local experts and colleagues at the case study university, who shared their knowledge of policy and practice concerning digitalisation and employability in HEIs. The authors also wish to thank anonymous referees for their comments.


Webb, A., McQuaid, R.W. and Webster, C.W.R. (2021), "Moving learning online and the COVID-19 pandemic: a university response", World Journal of Science, Technology and Sustainable Development, Vol. 18 No. 1, pp. 1-19.



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