What Drives Innovation in Higher Ed?

A word on results of The State of Innovation in Higher Education survey by OLC and Learning House.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jill Buban

What is innovation in higher education? What does an innovative culture look like and how do higher education institutions define and employ innovation?

These are some of the questions the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) and our research partner Learning House recently posed to more than 100 U.S. academic administrators in a survey aimed at discovering the drivers and barriers to innovation at higher education institutions.

“If an institution is formally planning goals around innovation, there should be earmarked funds to support these efforts.”

Our findings are outlined in a new report titled, The State of Innovation in Higher Education: A Survey of Academic Administrators, which is available for download from the OLC Research Center for Digital Learning & Leadership.

What Is Innovation?

Although survey respondents held a fundamental view that innovation is the art of solving problems to ensure students succeed in higher education, we quickly discovered there was not a consensus definition of innovation among those we surveyed.

Andrew J. Magda, manager of marketing research at Learning House and the co-author of our research report explains, “Despite its popularity, what innovation is and looks like varies widely.

Without a clear-cut answer as to what innovation is, institutions may find it difficult to set goals, acquire buy-in, and allocate funds for innovative efforts.”

The Disconnect Between Strategic Emphasis and Committed Resources

Among our most significant findings, 91 percent of the administrators surveyed noted that innovation is stated as a priority in either their strategic or academic plans, or both. However, only 40 percent reported having a dedicated budget for innovation.

Those who noted that innovation is driven by the academic administration were more likely to have a dedicated budget for innovation (52 percent) compared with those that reported multiple driving forces (40 percent). One-quarter said their approach to innovation is unplanned or decentralized.

Our key takeaway is that if an institution is formally planning goals around innovation, there should be earmarked funds to support these efforts.

If you’d like to hear more about this research, OLC and Learning House will be presenting findings from The State of Innovation in Higher Education during our free webinar on May 10.

Jill Buban, Ph.D., is the Senior Director of Research & Innovation for the Online Learning Consortium. She continues to study and present on topics surrounding effective technology use for adult learners in online environments. She is a member of the SSEA Communications Committee, an organization for which she was named an Emerging Scholar in 2012. Given the opportunity, Buban continues to teach in the areas of adult and online learning.

  • Madison


    Very interesting, thank you for sharing! A key issue here is the word itself ‘innovation’ we all understand what it means conceptually but when it actually comes to executing ‘innovation’ it is often too abstract a word to answer the question where do you start? A better way to look at it is, where are the problems and gaps in our ed tech approach, and what new measures can we introduce to improve

  • Kellie Alston


    I am so excited that I learned of this on LinkedIn as I am pursuing a Ph.D. in Instructional Design and Technology, taking a course right now called Leading Innovative Technology. I actually created a technology plan for the department for which I have worked for 13.5 years as a distance education lecturer. I look forward to attending this webinar & reading this report.

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