What do students think of online learning? 2 surveys shed some light.

Online degree earners are satisfied but Generation Z wants to return to campus
By: | June 18, 2020
Colleges and universities should work to blend the best of online and in-person learning to appeal to students during and after the coronavirus pandemic, a leading consulting firm says. (Photo courtesy of the University of Kentucky)Colleges and universities should work to blend the best of online and in-person learning to appeal to students during and after the coronavirus pandemic, a leading consulting firm says. (Photo courtesy of the University of Kentucky)

Students enrolled in online degrees gave high marks to their programs, but on-campus students forced to head home by coronavirus do not want to remain in virtual instruction long-term, according to a pair of surveys released this week.

Nearly 80% of students who completed online degrees said the experience was worth the cost, according to an annual report from higher education consultants, Wiley Education Services, and Aslanian Market Research.

However, only 2% of 18-to-24-year-olds want to attend college exclusively online while nearly 3-in-4 want to study in-person post-coronavirus, said a survey by ReGenerations, which helps business connect with workers from different generations.

“The radical shift to virtual learning during COVID-19, made possible by the heroic efforts of faculty, was critical to helping students continue their education, but should not be considered a true or sustainable online learning solution,” said Todd Zipper, president of Wiley Education Services.

A key long-term strategy recommended by Wiley’s survey of 1,500 students is for colleges and universities to carefully design programs that blend the best of online and on-campus learning.

“The most successful online programs are carefully crafted by faculty and course designers who follow best practices for organizing courses, presenting content, empowering faculty and leveraging technology to encourage active engagement,” Zipper said.

Key stats from Wiley’s survey include:

  • 74% of students in online programs want to use mobile devices to progress through courses
  • 75% of respondents chose a school within 50 miles of home
  • 78% of those who completed their online degree agree or strongly agree it was worth the cost

The survey also found that online students’ top priorities remain affordability, school reputation and a quick path to completion. However, 64% of students surveyed said they were willing to pay more tuition for a higher quality program.

Generation Z wants to be on campus

Another survey, however, warns colleges and universities not to rely on online learning as a long-term solution. Some 72% of the 18-to-24-year-olds surveyed by ReGenerations said in-person was the best way to earn a college degree.

“The results make it clear the rising generation has missed the one-on-one interactions they admit they took a bit for granted before the pandemic,” ReGenerations President Jessica Stollings-Holder said a new release. “What we discovered cuts against the grain of the popular narrative that the post-COVID-19 world will be overwhelmingly online. That’s not what these young men and women want—or say they need.”

These survey’s results don’t mean Generation Z blew off their online classes. One-third of the respondents said spent more of their shelter-at-home time learning than they spent playing video games or using other forms of technology.

Members of Generation Z are worried about how deeply the coronavirus outbreak will limit their educational and employment opportunities—for example, 67% expect dimmer job prospects. Still, five times the respondents (69 percent to 13 percent) said they were excited—rather than anxious—to eventually return to “normal” life.

“The optimism of this younger generation should inspire us all,” Stollings-Holder said.