Colleges and universities: Students discuss how digital learning can improve

March 8, 2021

Over 27,000 students share how colleges and universities could improve digital learning

A Jisc survey of 27,069 higher and further education students reveals that most are pleased with their digital learning, but areas such as wellbeing, mental health, and staff digital skills need more attention.

Between October and December 2020, 21,697 higher education (HE) students and 5,372 in further education (FE) took part in Jisc’s digital experience insights student survey. The surveys seek to support the sector in adapting and responding to the changing situation as a result of COVID–19 policies.

The surveys run from October 2020 until 30 April 2021, and this first snapshot of results shows the swift work of colleges and universities in moving learning online has been predominantly well received by students.

Nearly seven-in-ten students surveyed rate the quality of online and digital learning as either ‘best imaginable’, ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ (68% of both FE and HE students.

Support for FE learners whilst learning online, also comes out on top, with almost three quarters of learners rating support given to them as ‘good’, ‘excellent’ or ‘best imaginable’.

Both HE and FE students surveyed noted the huge benefits of flexible learning, with lecture recordings proving helpful for note-taking and scheduling learning around other aspects of life. Some FE learners enjoy the comfort and convenience of studying at home, as well as feeling more in control.

Identifying negative aspects of remote learning, students reported challenges such as technical issues, difficulty concentrating, unsuitable study environments, isolation, wellbeing and mental health issues to name a few.


Respondents rated Online and Digital Learning as either ‘best imaginable’, ‘excellent’ or ‘good’

Key Solutions
  • Get the basics right – this includes wifi (on campus and elsewhere), reliable hardware and software, clear navigation to learning content, timetabling and session scheduling, audio and lighting of online sessions
  • Make learning sessions more interactive
  • Record lessons and make them available soon after delivery to aid personal learning preferences, revision and catch up
  • Train and support lecturers to use online tools in a pedagogically sound and inclusive way
  • Think about the pace of delivery (too fast/too slow) and consider shorter bursts with regular breaks
  • Create opportunities to talk to/ask questions of lecturers and fellow learners, and give timely individual and group support
  • Improve communication – reminders of when sessions were going to start, when assignments were due, an accessible list of frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Sarah Knight, Jisc’s head of data and digital capability, comments:

“It’s thanks to staff that the rapid transition to ‘digital-first’ teaching has been possible, and their achievements deserve real celebration. It’s brilliant to see that students are reaping the benefits of their hard work. Students too, have had to face an entirely new studying format, and the transition can’t have been easy.

“…Jisc’s digital experience insights surveys are designed to support colleges and universities to understand and improve the digital experience of their students, and to provide baseline and benchmarking data to inform digital strategies across the sector. We hope this data pulse helps universities and colleges see clearly where students are benefiting, and where they could be better supported.”