Addressing perceived online teaching quality gap ‘crucial’

THE survey finds that students rate in-person tuition significantly more highly

September 2, 2021
Online lesson
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A significant minority of students feel that learning online resulted in poorer-quality education than an on-campus experience, according to a survey.

The survey of students from more than 120 countries on their experience of remote learning during the pandemic, conducted by Times Higher Education’s consultancy team, found that 41 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement “my education has been lower quality than if it had been delivered in person”.

The survey also found that 45 per cent of students said they did not have access to adequate resources when studying online.

In the poll, students rated in-person teaching more highly – on average eight out of 10 – than they did online instruction, which they rated on average 6.2 out of 10. More students also rated in-person experiences as nine or 10 out of 10 than for online learning: 44 per cent versus 13 per cent respectively.

Forty per cent of respondents said that they not been able to access elements of their course, such as laboratories or field work, during the pandemic.

Overall, 70 per cent of the students surveyed had either all or the majority of their teaching online, when it would normally be in person. This varied different across regions: in Europe the figure was 81 per cent, in North America 74 per cent and 91 per cent in South America.

In comparison, the averages in Africa and Asia were much lower, with 51 per cent and 69 per cent of respondents experiencing online learning.

The THE Student Pulse survey was completed by 2,217 current and prospective students.

The report highlights the benefits that students found with digital provision: 45 per cent selected the ability to choose to view lectures at any time of the day as a positive, 44 per cent said that it allowed them to study during the pandemic and just over a third – 34 per cent – said that it gave them the ability to work at their own pace.

Asked about what they would like to see in the future, a very large proportion – 85 per cent – agreed that lectures should be available on demand and 57 per cent agreed that the development of online learning can “complement and enhance the in-person education offered by universities”.

According to the report, results demonstrate that “students desire the convenience of online learning but without sacrificing the benefits of a traditional university experience”. However, the perceived quality gap is a “crucial issue” for the sector to address if online or hybrid classrooms are to become a permanent fixture in higher education, the authors write.

More than half of students – 53 per cent – stated that they did not enjoy their learning experience as much as the in-person equivalent.

Roughly three in 10 students said that their ability to concentrate while learning online was worse than in person, and the same amount – 29 per cent – said that online learning had negatively affected their mental health.

A third also said that they believed their employment prospects have been damaged by some of their learning being delivered online.

However, more students agreed – 47 per cent – than disagreed – 33 per cent – that they had spent more time studying because of online delivery of teaching than they would have done if all their teaching had been delivered in person.

Sam Whittaker, one of the authors of the report, said that it was “somewhat alarming” that students rated their online teaching experiences as being lower in quality than in-person equivalents, as well as nearly half of students not having the resources to learn online effectively.

“While students also valued elements of the online teaching experience including the flexibility that it affords, our findings suggest there are holes in online tuition that may need to be filled for a hybrid or exclusively online campus to be welcomed with open arms by the student community,” he said.

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