The Student Experience: Online Learning
Some of the general concerns and issues with online learning
Students may face difficulties in online learning situations in a number of ways:
- Keeping motivated and managing isolation and loneliness in online environments can be difficult and learners need to be able to be persistent and hold themselves to account for progress.
- Time management can be impacted and it can be easy to fall behind for some students. This can lead to a loss of confidence with the knock-on danger of students dropping out of courses.
- Some students may lack the technical skills to fully engage in online environments. Or some may be apprehensive about different modes of learning. Digital literacy should not be assumed and a lack of skills can lead to anxiety and lack of confidence.
- Students may lack access to appropriate equipment, software or broadband to enable them to fully access online environments.
- Neurodiverse students may find the amount of information available in online learning environment overwhelming. In order to avoid this Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) need to be carefully designed and curated to ensure clear access to information and consistency of information throughout. But with multiple users this is not always possible.
- This concern for students might also apply to the number of learning features in use in online teaching, such as chat rooms, polls, white-boards etc adding to cognitive load. Some students may be overwhelmed by numbers of steps involved and find it simpler to listen and ask questions in face to face situations.
- Where flipped learning is used, students with reading or visual challenges may struggle to fully access materials prior to discussion groups and seminars, meaning they miss out on vital learning opportunities.
It should not be assumed that students have the digital literacy to understand and make use of digital online resources. Many have come through an education system where learning is still largely delivered face to face. For some students such as neurodiverse learners, making sense of and acquiring these skills may be more challenging. As with other academic skills, consideration should be made of how best to introduce digital skills, with pace and support being two key success factors.
Lecturers may face additional challenges:
- Poorly designed online learning is just as exclusive as poor face to face learning. Whereas most higher education lecturers are comfortable in face to face situations, it cannot be assumed that they have the same skills and awareness in the online environment. For example, merely transferring presentation slides to an online environment will be insufficient to replicate the content of a face to face lecture. Lecturers need support and training to enable them to deliver effective online learning experiences.
- In might follow then that lecturers with a good awareness of inclusive teaching practice in face to face learning may not necessarily be able to carry this across into online environments.
- Lecturers with disabilities may themselves face some barriers in accessing online learning technologies. And this may impact on their design of online courses and content.
- Assessing the digital literacy of students. Access aside, it should not be assumed that students have the digital literacy to understand and make use of digital online resources. Many have come through an education system where learning is still largely delivered face to face. Lecturers need to be mindful of students’ skills set.
These are just examples and students may have many other reasons for facing challenges in online learning environments. More detailed information on the particular challenges some students may find in these academic environments can be found in Case Studies 1-5.