A rather large survey of current college students – the Student Voice Survey – was released recently. The poll was done by Inside Higher Ed, College Pulse and Kaplan and captured responses from 2,000 students across 108 institutions in late May.
Results of the survey underscore the bad experience many students had with remote, online learning this past year. That’s not a surprise. But it is bad news.
When asked to compare how much they learned this year versus previous college years, a majority of college students (52%) said they learned less this year. Only 8% said they learned more. If you drop out the students who did not have a year to compare, more than two-thirds (67%) said they learned less this past year.
In reality, those students probably have no idea whether they learned more or less this year. At best, they’re poor judges of it. Which means that those results are more likely to reflect their feelings about the past year of learning rather than the learning itself.
Either way, that’s not good.
Interestingly, a sizeable plurality of students (46%) said they were spending more time on assignments and course work this year than in years past. That jumps to 53% if you remove those who can’t compare the workload to a previous year. Again, saying they are working more and learning less may be the stand-in for “I hate this” more than an accurate indicator of hours invested and knowledge acquired.
But it goes on.
Fully 81% of students said it was either “extremely difficult” or “somewhat difficult” to concentrate during “remote lectures.” Just 17% said it was easy to do so.
Cutting to the heart of the matter, the survey asked students to “rate the value of education” they received this year. Three-quarters said the value was either good, fair or poor – 28%, 28% and 19% respectively. But in this survey, “good” isn’t good. It’s the middle option on a five-choice scale which means 75% of college students said the educational value they received this year was average or worse.
Still, 88% of students say they plan to re-enroll for classes this Fall, which highlights again that it’s not college they’re downgrading, it’s college done the way it’s been done this past year – online, remotely.
Sixty-one percent of students in the survey said they took all their classes this past year online. A further third said they took at least some of their classes online. That’s 94% taking some or all of their classes online – just so everyone is clear about what’s being evaluated when students say their learning less, spending more time and don’t think it’s a good value.
But the longer term reverberations of these findings – that college students really hated their online experience – will go beyond any learning losses or even the lawsuits and refunds that we saw in early 2020. As the negative sentiments and reviews calcify, as they become part of the accepted wisdom of the college experience, it will likely make selling online courses and programs more difficult.
College leaders and even some professors will parse the difference between online learning and emergency remote instruction. And there is a difference.
But this is not a pedagogy problem, it’s a marketing problem. Expecting customers, the ones with the negative reactions, to care about the difference is not a safe bet. More than likely, they won’t. If you order fish at a local restaurant and get sick, how likely are you to consider the argument that the steak from that same restaurant is actually pretty good? How likely are you to go back and try the steak? Not very.
From its outset, online college programs and courses were beset by the perception that they were inferior to, a cheap copy of, the on campus variety. In most quarters, that feeling has dissipated but not entirely gone away. Take that existing sentiment and add on an entire college cohort – 94% of college students – who took at least some online classes and largely hated them and you have the makings of a big problem.
Time will tell how big a problem it is. But with millions of students and billions of dollars involved, if it turns out that the pandemic has made students sick of online learning, it could be quite consequential.