A new survey conducted among over 27,000 university students in the UK who are learning to some extent through online delivery reveals that satisfaction with online learning has improved since 2020. Students are now (1) more able to access more support from their institution, and (2) making use of assistive technologies while they learn. International students are particularly likely to be using assistive technologies.
The student digital experience insights survey 2022/23 was run by Jisc, a UK-based non-profit that describes itself as a “digital, data and technology agency focused on tertiary education, research and innovation.” Respondents were collectively enrolled in 40 universities in the UK that represent 13% of total higher education providers in the country.
Of the survey sample, 30% of students were international. The survey ran from October 2022 through April 2023.
Jisc notes that “it is clear that [digital learning] now forms an integral part of the higher education learning experience.”
8 in 10 pleased with their online experience
Most students (81%) considered their online learning experience to be good or exceptional (comprising “good,” “excellent,” and “best imaginable” responses).
The most common elements of students’ online learning environment were:
- Recordings of live sessions (76%)
- Recorded/pre-recorded content and resources (70%)
- An online assessment/testing platform (60%)
- Live streams of lectures (49%)
- A virtual learning environment (49%)
Supports appreciated by international students
Students were asked about a range of tools and features that help them to make the most of their learning environment, including captions, spelling/writing support, and transcripts.
International students were more likely than other students to say they use captions, spelling/writing support, and transcripts than other students were. It makes sense: language supports for international students should be relevant to both the in-person and online learning experience they have. Given that learning environments are now often hybrid, the finding that international students use assistive technologies more than other students do is an important one.
In general (across all students), 57% used at least one assistive technology or device, and these were the most-used according to student responses:
- Captions (28%)
- Spelling/writing support (26%)
- Screen reader (17%)
- Transcripts (16%)
- Dictation (15%)
- Screen magnification (10%)
Hybrid learning is the norm
While more than half of students (53%) said they prefer learning mainly on campus (in classes), more than a third (36%) said they like a mix of in-person and online learning (hybrid). Another 11% prefer to learn mainly online.
In terms of actual experience, just under two-thirds of students (64%) said they were mainly on campus, with 26% learning in a hybrid manner and 11% learning mainly online. Last year, only 28% of students surveyed were learning mainly on campus with other students.
Barriers to students’ online experience
Though students did report high satisfaction with digital learning, they also pointed to several issues affecting their ability to learn. The top issues were poor wifi connection (54%) and lack of a private area to work (36%). Smaller, but significant, numbers of students also reported having no suitable device (27%) and not having a safe area to work (19%). Those proportions suggest that students from more marginalised or poor backgrounds could use more support in accessing suitable technologies and secure and reassuring places to work.
That hard-to-replicate feeling
Students were overall very pleased with the effectiveness of online learning, especially its convenience (83%) and the way it allows students to progress in their studies (71%). The only area where fewer than half of students were satisfied was feeling like they were part of a community of staff and students; only 44% said they felt this sense of community.
Most feel institutions provide good supports
Nearly three-quarters of respondents (71%) said their university was doing an “above-average” job of helping them to learn effectively online. Jisc notes: “Responses to this question have markedly improved since 2020/21 when 60% of students rated the support offered to be above average.”
Room for improvement
More than 7,000 students responded to an open-ended question asking them to name one thing that could help students to use digital technologies more effectively. We highly recommend that institutions and schools check out pages 17-19 of the survey report for extensive findings, but we’ll also single out a few student recommendations here because they are so important:
- “At the start of the academic year show us how to engage with the software used on our courses. And make it so that we can rewatch these anytime and offer refresher sessions throughout the year”
- “Sometimes I find there is an overwhelming amount of information or information is too hard to find and is hidden behind too many links or pathways.”
- “Consider developing support for transferable and in-demand workplace skills, such as coding, marketing and graphic design.”
- “Offer accreditation for skills developed as part of or in addition to a course of study.”
- “Proactively check-in with students to identify additional support needs.”
- “Offer a variety of options for when students need help, including video tutorials, step-by- step guides, refresher sessions and the option to talk to a member of staff.”