Prior to COVID-19, universities offering a full online learning experience was limited to specific courses or even institutions. It was, in the main an option habitually considered for students looking for a different experience outside of campus. Most students that chose to go to university instead preferred the full student lifestyle, from on-campus seminars to extracurricular time with their peers.
The pivot to a full online learning strategy has not been easy for students or universities. Although many learning technologies have in fact been in place for many years and digital transformations underway, nothing could have prepared universities for the acceleration they were about to encounter.
A year into the pandemic and yet there are many advantages to online learning and best practice that will be here to stay, the emerging issues of online learning are not necessarily about the teaching delivery online but about the distance created between the institution, staff, and their students.
The right approach to online learning has proven to have positive results. An area of success has been its’ ability to suit student demands. Reviewing recorded lectures to increase productivity and efficiency is one example of how technology has put students in control of their own time. Students also report that they have gained confidence in speaking via discussion forms and forums. They have demonstrated that they can cope with the recent changes if the right communication and resources are used, but is this enough to provide a fulfilling student experience?
A recent Wonkhe and New Pearson’s research on students’ expectations showed that 63% of students needed more interactions with other students, and 57 per cent were missing more contact time with tutors. Delivering online learning without the opportunity for personal communication intensifies the lack of interaction between staff and students.
Away from the long-established university culture, students miss the connections with tutors showing a personal interest in their learning. Perhaps this absence of discussion between staff and students, and amongst students themselves, leaves too much open to interpretation. Without direction, engagement falls. It is therefore the combination of online learning and limited engagement that presents a problem, suggesting that it is the lack of communication, not the method of study, that is the cause for concern.
In the Wonkhe and New Pearson’s research, only 35 per cent of students confirmed that they had regular indicators about their academic performance on the course. Remote learning has decreased the opportunities to compare notes with peers or have informal talks with lecturers, those that build opportunities for self-assessment of their progress.
Academic staff and personal tutors face their own set of challenges, transitioning course content and teaching delivery to online formats, mastering new technologies and managing student relationships at scale and at a distance are no easy feat.
In this context, the ability to easily identify when a student is struggling or may need more support is critical. Understanding student engagement is key to building a better picture of how students are responding to their online learning and flag changes in engagement behaviour. Using this model, low engagement can therefore be attributed to risk and high engagement to progression and attainment. This method of using engagement data can help staff to focus on who to reach out to and ensure that the right support gets to the right students at the right time, with more precision and at scale.
The future for education returning to ‘normal’ remains uncertain, yet as most universities see multiple benefits to online learning there’s little doubt that it is here to stay. It is now important for universities to reflect on the learnings from the past year to effectively manage expectations of the students already in the system for a better experience but also for those due to start in September.
Student engagement data will no doubt play an important role in helping to improve relationships and the communication between students and staff. Offering a valuable long-term approach to closing the virtual gap and keeping track of progression, helping students to feel understood and supported – even from behind a screen.
To hear more about how to measure student engagement and its impact on attainment, click here.
Prior to COVID-19, universities offering a full online learning experience was limited to specific courses or even institutions. It was, in the main an option habitually considered for students looking for a different experience outside of campus. Most students that chose to go to university instead preferred the full student lifestyle, from on-campus seminars to extracurricular time with their peers. […]
Fill in your details in the form to the right to access the full article.