Two-thirds of students rate their online learning this year positively, a new survey of 39,000 students suggests – although the findings also suggest only a third found it engaging and struggled to access platforms and services.
The figures come from the Student digital experience insights survey 2020/21 for UK higher education (HE), published 7 September, which spoke to 38,917 students. It represents one of the most extensive surveys of student opinion in the sector.
The survey found that 42% of students rated their online learning as ‘good’: a further 21% described it as ‘excellent’, and 3% reported it as the ‘best imaginable’. Although 67% gave their online experience a positive review, some 21% thought it was ‘average’, and 12% rated it as ‘poor’, ‘awful’ or the ‘worst imaginable’.
More than half (53%) thought their online learning was well-designed, and 36% were neutral, with just 11% in disagreement. Eighteen per cent did not think materials were at the right level or well-paced, and 24% did not think they were engaging or motivating, versus 45% and 35%, respectively, that agreed with the statements. The survey also found students broadly thought virtual learning environments (VLEs) were safe and secure and universities good at enabling access and communicating, but only a plurality thought VLEs were reliable, easy to navigate and well-designed.
A positive collaboration between education, telecommunications, and government is crucial so that no one is digitally excluded as the sector heads towards a blended and flexible future
– Liam Earney, Jisc
The Jisc survey found that the most common problem encountered by students was poor wifi connection, affecting 63% of respondents. However, the survey does not disaggregate where poor connectivity was most acute: three-quarters studied in their student or family home, for example – compared to just 9% on campus. Thirty per cent struggled with access to online platforms, 24% had problems with mobile data costs, and 22% lacked specialist software.
Commenting on evidence of unreliable and, at times unaffordable, internet access, Jisc renewed its calls for more collaboration between higher education, government, and internet providers to alleviate digital poverty.
Liam Earney, Jisc’s managing director for higher education, wrote in the foreword to the report: “Technology plays a key role in the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda, which aims to improve opportunity and boost livelihoods across the country as we recover from the pandemic. A positive collaboration between education, telecommunications, and government is crucial so that no one is digitally excluded as the sector heads towards a blended and flexible future.”