Digital learning has many benefits. It can make education more flexible, more accessible, and better suited to the lifestyle of the modern student. But what do the students themselves make of it? Is digital learning working as well in practice as it does in theory? Or are students missing out on elements of their education that simply cannot be replicated online?
Some students in the U.K., facing their third year in which some or all of their course will be taught online, are not entirely convinced that digital learning is offering them value for money. For most of us, a laptop is just a convenient way to work, track social media, shop, watch sports online, and play games. But for a whole generation of university students, they have become lecture halls, tutorials, tutor access and so much more. For some of these students, this isn’t nearly enough.
Lack of Interaction
The main complaint of some U.K. students is the lack of interaction. While online lectures provide the flexibility to be watched at any time, they are often recorded, so students are not able to interact with the lecturer or ask questions. Even where lectures are given live, via platforms such as Zoom, many students are reluctant to take part in the same way as they would in a classroom scenario.
Some remote students don’t feel they have the same opportunity to learn from each other, and may find this demotivating. One Leeds University student said he had been at the uni for a year and not set foot in a faculty building, let alone interacted with staff or fellow students. A petition raised by the student body in Leeds states that ‘online teaching is in no way a substitute for in-person learning.’
A Continuing Problem
Many U.K. universities are planning to continue with online learning or a hybrid of in-person and online lectures for the fall term. The University of Liverpool, the London School of Economics, St Andrews and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and University College London have all said that they expect a hybrid approach in the new academic year.
Many of these institutions are partly motivated by the savings involved. A reduction in staff numbers would significantly cut costs at a time when many universities are struggling. This could mean online and remote learning becomes the norm rather than the exception in many cases. However, this approach may not be sustainable, as more and more U.K. students are questioning the value of their uni experience and whether online course are worth the £9,250 (over $13,000) a year in tuition fees.
Time of Change
Like so many areas of life in the past year, the changes in university tuition were inevitably going to come about anyway. Just as the move to home streaming rather than cinema trips has been accelerated by events, so too has digital learning. As with any changes, there will always be resistance as well as opportunities, and the faster the change, the more those two sides of the coin will clash.
It is up to universities, both in the U.K. and across the world, to manage the changes in a way that benefits all stakeholders, including the students they are there to serve. If they fail to do this, and in the U.K. it seems that they are struggling to keep the students on board, then they could lose those students altogether.
Featured Image: Sharon McCutcheon, Unsplash.