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Student Survey Finds Online Learning Experiences Improving

Year-over-year data suggests students are becoming more comfortable with, and optimistic about, online learning, while educators and institutions are advised to track student outcomes after implementing new technology.

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of online education or e-learning.
Despite an early learning curve and questions regarding the efficacy of remote instruction during COVID-19, students have grown increasingly comfortable with taking online courses and adopting new ed-tech tools, a new study from Western Governors University Labs’ College Innovation Network found.

According to a news release, the study solicited opinions from 1,402 students from Central Ohio Technical College, Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio, Loyola University in New Orleans, Northern Virginia Community College, PennWest California in Pennsylvania, and Piedmont Community College in North Carolina. Among the most notable findings, 88 percent of students said they were confident in their ability to adapt to new ed-tech tools and digital learning platforms used in courses, representing a 5 percent increase from 2021.

The study noted that 23 percent more students this year claimed ed-tech tools helped to enhance their learning, with the caveat that students “perceive online learning options to be less effective and lower quality than in-person learning,” according to the report. In addition, about 66 percent of students said they support the expansion of online courses and fully online programs, with nearly 20 percent reporting that they still “feel negatively” about fully remote/online courses.

WGU Labs' Director of Learning Innovation Omid Fotuhi said the goal of the survey, part of their EdTech Survey Series, is to present a full view of student and faculty experiences with remote learning to guide and inform institutional decision-making amid the digitization taking place across higher education. Based on the results of this survey, the center's recommendations include increased investments in tech support for students and a re-evaluation of online learning implementation to better track student outcomes.

“While there were mixed feelings about the role of technology and the level of confidence that goes along with using that technology that was relatively still low in the pandemic, we actually found in 2022 that perceptions of technology access and usage improved, which was a really positive finding,” Fotuhi told Government Technology. “That highlights a couple of things. One is that as students gained experience using technology, they realized the benefits of having more flexible modalities to access their learning.

“It shows that potentially, the introduction of new technologies is coming to a state where the number of technologies students are being expected to adapt and adopt is maybe not exceeding what they can digest and cope with,” he said, adding that students also expressed some optimism about the future of learning.

According to the study, about 40 percent of higher ed students reported learning primarily online in 2022. While most of those students said they feel more optimistic about remote learning than they used to, the study noted that students 25 and older “have more positive perceptions of online learning” compared to students aged 18 to 24.

Fotuhi added that two- and four-year institutions primarily designed for remote or digital learning have generally fared better, compared to those still mainly emphasizing traditional in-person learning.

“That reveals that you need a bit of a runway for an institution to understand how to really serve students through technology,” he said, adding that many institutions have identified best practices for online learning and instruction through the process of expanding their digital portfolios.

However, the adjustment to new online learning platforms has proven more difficult for some students than others, according to Fotuhi. The concern is similar among higher ed faculty, who have had to adjust their approaches to pedagogy and instruction for digital courses.

“I would say one of the insights we've seen emerge is that we should think about the introduction of technology in more intentional ways, both with a mindfulness about how ready [a student is] and the mental preparedness that students have, but also from a skills perspective,” he said. “Do students have the affordances that they need to learn and adapt to these technologies?”

Chad Knights, Northern Virginia Community College’s VP of information and engineering technologies and college computing, said in a public statement that institutions like his could use the report’s findings to emphasize strengths and address weaknesses to better facilitate online learning as digital and hybrid course models become a new normal across higher ed.

“We found that gaining insight into the opinions and feelings of our students, as it relates to the college’s technology and digital environment, proved valuable as it is information that we can use to improve the user experience and guide future projects," he said. "It also serves as a perfect complement to usage statistics, which alone can only tell half the story."
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.