Education’s digital transformation opportunity: The current state and what’s to come

Small child on a tablet.

Digital transformation continues to gain momentum in education both in K-12 and higher education environments. Although the concept is already familiar to many educators, a shift is taking place: more education professionals are recognizing the value of initiatives like implementing digital signatures or improving student information systems. Today, 65 percent of K-12 educators agree that digital transformation is critical — and among HED professionals, that number is an even higher 77 percent.

Proving their commitment, schools are making significant progress in both classroom-focused initiatives and back-office operational upgrades. Demand for digital transformation is driven by the need for access to information. Those who achieve it attain a wide range of benefits, including greater operational efficiency and higher data accuracy. This moment represents a critical opportunity for educators to make strides in digital transformation. Let’s take a look at how things stand now and gain a clearer view of what’s to come.

What is digital transformation in education?

In September 2021, Adobe partnered with Hotwire to survey more than 200 education professionals, across the K-12 and higher education sectors, with a goal of gaining a clearer understanding of their perceptions of and progress with digital transformation initiatives. Findings reveal that educators clearly understand the importance of adopting digital technologies and are increasingly making it a priority to do so.

For this survey, digital transformation is defined as “coordinated workforce and technology shifts that transform an institution’s operations and strategic direction.” And it’s gaining momentum: a full 65 percent of K-12 education respondents agree that digital transformation is highly important — and that number rises to 77 percent among higher education professionals.

Shifting to paperless environments is a key effort within digital transformation: 74 percent of education leadership considers it critical. This is unsurprising when you consider that educational institutions in the U.S. process an average of 85,000 signed documents every single week — and 35 percent of educational institutions expect document volumes to increase over the next 18 to 21 months. That adds up to a major problem when 77 percent of U.S. education workflows involve time-consuming, error-prone paper-based processes.

The good news is that many schools are already taking steps toward digital transformation — both in the back office and in the classroom. The survey found that an average of 33 percent of educators are converting paper forms to digital ones, while 26 percent are automating administrative processes and workflows. Another 25 percent, meanwhile, are converting “wet” signatures to digital ones.

A need for access in the classroom

Students’ career success requires strong technological literacy. That means teachers need to ensure technology gets into classrooms by setting personal examples — completing class evaluations on electronic tablets, digitizing forms, and using electronic signatures instead of paper ones, and incorporating multimedia into their lessons.

Classrooms like these are qualitatively changing students’ experiences of the classroom environment — inspiring 42 percent of educators to invest in online and remote learning improvements for their own institutions. Another 32 percent are investing in student information system implementation and improvements, and 30 percent are investing in learning management system upgrades.

The demand for these changes is driven by their measurable impact on efficiency. Although survey respondents cited a wide range of positive outcomes, 50 percent rated “easier access to information” as the top factor. “Operational efficiency” and “time savings” came in close seconds, with an average of 42 percent of educators citing each of these benefits as critical.

Another 35 percent of education professionals cited “greater data accuracy,” while 27 percent pointed to “better student outcomes” and “better decision-making.” Finally, 21 percent of education professionals said they valued the fact that digital transformation enabled their staff to spend more time focusing on students.

Adobe’s electronic signatures help schools become more sustainable

Educators are going paperless in a variety of ways. For example, many use Adobe Scan to create multi-page digital worksheets from paper printouts. Students, meanwhile, can use Adobe Scan to scan and submit their handwritten work with a phone camera. This has helped smooth the transition for many students coming from last year’s remote-learning paradigm.

Administrators can also take advantage of digital documents — using Adobe Sign, for instance, to streamline the admission process. Sign makes it easy to digitize parental consent forms and liability waivers, cutting down on admin office waste. And when K-12 parents e-sign forms remotely, schools save time and paper — plus, they reduce their carbon footprint by eliminating the need for vehicular travel to and from school.

Small changes can translate into surprisingly significant outcomes. For every 1,000 students who transition to digital forms and signatures, schools save an average of 1,530 gallons of water, 533 pounds of wood, 534 kilowatt-hours of energy, 84 pounds of waste, and 1,287 pounds of carbon dioxide. (Want to calculate your school’s potential savings? Check out our Savings Calculator.)

Moving toward paperless education environments

In the future, educators expect paperless environments to become even more essential. That means it’s important to make progress on digital transformation initiatives. Going paperless will only become more vital in terms of sending, signing and managing documents. No less than 77 percent say this need has accelerated over the last 12 months — and 85 percent expect it to continue to grow throughout the next five years and beyond.

And while barriers to a paperless world are unavoidable, respondents cited faculty and staff as the top issues — far more than any technological hurdle. However, these challenges present a learning opportunity, where additional resources can be deployed to support and accelerate the adoption of paperless processes. Professional development sessions, change management training, and tool consolidation are all tactics that could help.

When transitioning to a paperless environment, institutions tend to face five key challenges. First, 29 percent of education professionals say faculty and staff buy-in is difficult to secure. Second, 24 percent cite a lack of access to technology for staff members. Third, 22 percent of educators point to a lack of funding. Fourth, 21 percent indicate issues with implementation processes. And fifth, 21 percent note a lack of information technology (IT) resources dedicated to help.

If you’re facing the challenge of transitioning to a paperless educational environment, a well-known, trusted, and secure solution can help garner buy-in among faculty and other staff members. Among respondents surveyed, a full 70 percent said they were familiar with Adobe Sign — it’s a highly recognizable name, built on trust.

E-signing provides resiliency and flexibility in today’s increasingly unpredictable education world. Digital signatures safeguard consistent workflows in response to changing conditions like weather or health emergencies. In fact, access to digital services like e-signatures is a crucial component of technology parity: ensuring that all employees and students have secure access to the resources required to perform their work.

Adobe is here to empower schools to make strides in digital transformation. To find out how Adobe Sign can help your school go paperless, visit our website.