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Students give mixed response to online learning


Mark Say Managing Editor

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Students in higher education have mixed views on the balance between online and on-site learning, according to findings from a survey by Jisc.

The membership organisation for technology services in the sector has highlighted the findings from its latest digital experience insights survey, which was carried out between October 2021 and April 2022.

It said that, from 33,726 respondents to its questions, 42% preferred mainly on-site learning, 45% a mixture of on-site and online and only 13% mainly online.

This comes after a heavy reliance over the past two academic years on online learning in response to the Covid-19 lockdowns.

Overall, they were positive about their experiences in digital learning, with 74% rating the quality of the environment as above average – up from 67% the previous year – and only 6% said it was below average, half the previous figure.

But most said they had no say in the digital tools their courses use and that there is not adequate support for online learning. Just 37% reported having an input into decisions about the learning platforms used by their university, while 35% rated support for online learning to be average or worse and only 33% had an assessment of their skills and training needs.

Improving access and support

A positive note from the survey was that digital access and support improved in several areas. For example, the number facing problems and Wi-Fi and/or broadband fell from 63% the previous year to 51%, while the number struggling to find a safe, private area to work fell from 21% to 16%, and those struggling with the cost of mobile data declined from 33% to 24%.

But digital and data poverty has remained an issue for many, with 51% having problems with Wi-Fi signals or broadband, and 15% struggling with the cost of mobile data.

In the foreword to the report, Professor Steve West CBE, vice chancellor of UWE Bristol and president of Universities UK, says the key to building successful blended courses was student involvement and supporting students on lower incomes with devices, training, and more.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of what students want, so we must involve students in the design of the educational experience and the technology to support it, embracing continuous co-creation at all levels with students as partners,” he says.

“The sector also needs to deal with the continuing challenges that online study creates for some students. Digital and data poverty have been around as long as the internet, but it took a pandemic to highlight the plight of a significant minority of disadvantaged students who don’t have access to the vital basics – suitable devices, a reliable internet connection, a safe and private place to work – and who cannot afford mobile data or broadband costs.

“We have some way to go as a sector, but as Jisc’s CEO Heidi Fraser-Krauss has advised, universities cannot risk under-investing in technology if they are to deliver a high quality, digitally enhanced, blended learning experience.”


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