How do college students feel about remote learning?

A new report shows they are pleased with the care and efforts being made by instructors.
By: | February 3, 2021
Getty Images, shapechargeGetty Images, shapecharge

The vast majority of higher education students who have experienced hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic say they have been supported well academically and personally by their online instructors, according to a new study performed by Sykes Enterprises.

In the report, “Student Perceptions of Online Learning in Higher Education During COVID-19”, 95% of respondents said they felt professors were addressing their personal needs while allowing for understanding in completing course work. Nearly the same percentage of the 1,500 students polled felt their instructors pivoted well to a switch to remote models.

The responses from students were largely positive overall – 85% said their online courses felt like a “classroom community”, 84% said remote learning environments can be effective and 70% said they would consider taking more virtual classes in the future.

Still, there were some barriers holding them back from fully endorsing them.

“Our student respondents told us that while they feel quite personally supported by their online instructors, there’s also ample opportunity to improve their virtual learning experience,” said Steve Davis, Higher Education Business Development Executive at Sykes. “Nearly half of students say they want more support both on how to better virtually collaborate with their classmates (45%) as well as how to deal with tech issues during class (44%).”

And although instructors seemed to do well in delivering their lessons online, students said they would like more interaction. Some 61% were able to engage in virtual office hours last fall.

The technology they are using

There were several more positives for colleges and universities that made the pivot to online, in a hybrid or fully remote model. Only 4% of the students surveyed felt professors did not adapt well to the switch. When they weren’t connecting for classes or in one-on-one sessions, students said more than 80% of them provided access to their videos so they could review lectures.

Students also were pleased with the level of support for online tools they used in the fall, as 70% rated their schools with 4 stars out of 5 or better.

“The rippling effects from COVID-19 have dramatically transformed higher education systems for good—and with students indicating that virtual learning can offer an effective learning environment, now is the time to further invest in elevating the virtual student learning experience,” Davis said.

That experience included a variety of different apps and platforms that students used to engage during the fall. The most popular were Google Classroom (72.1%), Blackboard (46.7%), Canvas (36.7%) and Schoology (16.3%). The feature they utilized most, not surprisingly, was texts/chats with classmates (31%). Interactive whiteboards also ranked very high (29%), as did breakout rooms (18.3%) and live polls (14%).

Further results

The report offered additional insight into student thoughts and decisions during the pandemic:

  • Did you switch colleges? When asked if they had changed institutions because of a pivot to online learning, 20% of students said they had. That is a high number compared with other data released by other reporting agencies like the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center but still worth noting given the tumult the pandemic has caused in different regions.
  • Best part of remote switch? The most positive outcome was not the direct communication with instructors or the contributions they were making during class or the learning environment itself. It was the fact that they felt like they had a better chance of not getting coronavirus (71%).
  • Online vs. in-person, which is better? Student responses were mixed. Only 2.5% felt remote instruction was completely ineffective. But only 16% felt it was more effective. Most answers ranged toward the middle: 38% felt it was somewhat more effective, while 43% either thought there was no difference or that it was somewhat less effective.
  • What kind of feedback do you prefer? When operating in a virtual model, students said don’t call them. Only 25% prefer hearing a progress report from them. More than 40% would like either comments typed and sent to them or get updates through a video call.