Students say online learning is improving, but they also believe they learn less effectively during tech-enabled virtual instruction, a new poll reveals. Here are the 3 ways their views about online learning are changing:
- Students in 2022 are reporting “substantial improvements” in the overall online learning experience and feel confident they can learn to use new ed-tech tools.
- Younger students believe they learn less effectively online, which means campus leaders must contend with perceptions of lower quality. Students over 25 years of age say they learn just as effectively online as they do in person.
- Students feel positive about how colleges and universities will launch online and hybrid programs in the future but are less enthusiastic about taking online courses themselves.
These are the major findings from the 2022 CIN EdTech Student Survey by the College Innovation Network at Western Governors University. Digging deeper into these three big takeaways, the survey found that fewer students reported having problems accessing edtech tools in their courses.
Students are also increasingly expecting their schools to offer academic support, career counseling and even some social activities online. “Institutions have made many improvements in students’ tech-enabled learning experiences since the 2020-21 academic year, but there remain areas for innovation,” the report says.
Online learning evolution
One of the big lessons of the MOOC craze of the early 2010s is that simply pairing digital content with assessments is not a recipe for success for many students, says David Andrews, the chancellor of University of Massachusetts Global (formerly known as Brandman University).
Strong digital content and professors who are adept at delivering it are essential, but institutions also must ensure online and hybrid students have access to academic coaching and other outside-of-class supports as demand for remote instruction grows, Andrews adds.
“Even in face-to-face universities, students are continuing to gravitate toward some combination of online and in-person,” he points out. “If you’re a working adult and have to choose between traveling to a fixed location on a fixed schedule vs. being able to learn on demand, there’s no choice.”
This is placing more pressure on administrators to accommodate remote students’ individual needs. UMass Global, for example, has an advising corps that helps students with time management skills and balancing school assignments with work and family. Because of these interventions, the institution has among the highest retention rates in the online sector even though the average age of its undergraduates is 35 and nearly all of its students are working, Andrews says.
“Instead of waiting for someone to ask for help, we have proactive indicators that they’ve disengaged and we reach out to get them back on track,” he says. “Our population needs to be encouraged and supported in a much more holistic way.”
Most of UMass Global’s students enroll to learn new job skills, switch careers, or for other workforce-related reasons. That has led the institution to prioritize employee-supported tuition programs, one of the fastest-growing components of adult and online learning. UMass Global works with one of the state’s largest hospital networks to provide master’s and bachelor’s degrees as well as smaller micro-credentials.
“Scheduling is as much in the control of students as it is the faculty members,” Andrews concludes. “Online also allows you to have a talent pool around the country that can match student needs.”
Advancing online learning
The early identification of students who struggle with edtech is one key to improving the online experience, the College Innovation Network survey recommends. About a quarter of the students polled said they struggled to learn to use edtech while more than a third reported having used new technology in the past year.
Colleges and universities can provide training on campus-wide technology such as the learning management system, email and other communications channels. During the first week of a class, faculty should survey students about their skill levels and confidence in using edtech.
Also, college leaders must assure students that virtual courses are designed around learning science standards to build confidence in the value of credentials earned online.