Tech-savvy students want real-life lecturers too, study finds

Universities have been warned not to assume that “digital native” students will embrace all e-learning initiatives, or indeed prefer them to traditional forms of education.

September 16, 2011

A report released by the Canadian consulting firm Higher Education Strategy Associates warns that calls for curricula to be “radically overhauled” are sometimes based on evidence that “can sometimes be alarmingly thin”.

The authors surveyed nearly 1,300 students to determine views on e-learning, saying that there had previously been “precious little research” done in this area.

The results, detailed in The State of E-Learning in Canadian Universities, 2011: If Students are Digital Natives, Why Don’t They Like E-Learning?, suggest that students still consider a mix of traditional and high-tech learning to be “second-choice”.

Although over a quarter of those surveyed said they believed the quality of learning materials was better in courses with electronic elements, around half said that the quality of education was better when courses were delivered entirely by a lecturer in person.

In addition, over two-thirds said that the quality of instructors was best on courses delivered in-person, with the report citing an “enormous desire [among students] to learn directly from a ‘sage on the stage’”.

Despite this, nearly 60 per cent of students spoken to said they wanted more course content to be offered electronically.

The authors of the report suggest that the seemingly contradictory messages have to do with convenience: “Students prefer physical texts,” they explain, “but they’d like to have the option of having an e-resource to read it wherever and whenever they need.”

The report concludes that the main problem with e-learning in Canadian institutions is with the quality of resources, with more investment needed in the integration between in-person and online learning.

The authors predict that, with the right investment, e-learning resources can become “a technology that actually enhances and is additive to their in-class experience".

An additional attraction of e-learning becomes apparent in another question asked as part of the survey: over half the students surveyed said that they were more likely to skip classes that offered online resources as it would be easier to catch up.

sarah.cunnane@tsleducation.com

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