What do students really want from blended learning?

Reports over the past months show that a student body is ambivalent about learning remotely. Read our article to learn what students want from blended learning.

Clock 4 min read Calendar Published: 25 Sep 2020
Author Luke Garbutt
What do students really want from blended learning?

Reports over the past few months have shown that a student body is ambivalent about remote learning.

But as we explored in a previous article, blended learning is the most popular way forward for returning students, and is preferred by a large number of new students too.

So is an online dimension to education simply being tolerated while Covid remains a threat? Or is there an appetite for blended learning on its own terms as a structure for learning?

By analysing key research, polls and anecdotal evidence, let’s explore what students really want from blended learning.

A look at the data

We all experienced a shock in March, and this shock was felt keenly by students.

A survey conducted by Active Minds investigated the effects the Covid crisis was having on student mental health. Responses indicated that 80% of college students reported a negative impact on their mental health during the Spring transition, and 85% indicating that the most difficult aspect of the stay-at-home orders was staying focused on school work.

The fact that the sudden move away from campus in the midst of a global crisis harmed students’ mental health should come as no surprise. Support networks, routines and patterns of study were placed under immediate strain with the closure of campus.

Despite the best efforts of support staff and institutions, communication problems were unavoidable. And the experience of trying to maintain learning in the home environment, surrounded by distractions and cut off from peers, inevitably created problems with focus.

Was Spring all bad for students with disabilities?

However, research from brightspot finds that students with disabilities were a group more satisfied with their learning experiences compared with the overall student body. Close to 60% with disabilities were either completely satisfied or mostly satisfied with their experience in Spring.

The power of online advising

One factor influencing student opinion could be the strength of 1-1 services and support.

A shift to online consultations has seen more students access support than ever before. Ecampus News points to stats like a two-thirds reduction in no-shows for appointments, a 25% increase in student use of consultations and significant reductions in appointment length as evidence that online advising is more accessible, efficient and convenient for students than in-person meetings.

Could these stats suggest an overall improvement of students’ experience of support services, including disability support?

Taken separately from the online learning experience, it appears that the move online may have improved students’ contact with institutional support networks, a positive which may have been felt more readily by students with disabilities.

What students have been telling us

The challenges of remote learning were summarized well by students we featured in a recent webinar. We asked them about how their learning had progressed over the past few months, and whether there were any takeaways that were particularly relevant for Fall.

‘Transitioning to online learning, my classes have been asynchronous. It has been more harmful than helpful… I love learning, being engaged on campus and preparing for class but have lost that love for learning.’ - Tracy

When Tracy was asked what she did like about online learning, she responded ‘What has worked is being able to engage when I want to and if I do have symptoms flare up with disability, it is helpful [to have asynchronous classes].’

The flexibility remote learning can afford is appreciated by students, even if there were significant drawbacks to losing their immersion in campus life.

Emily, another panellist, spoke of similar issues

‘because I’m very used to going to school and doing my schoolwork there, it’s really hard for me to come home and do my essays or work from home, to watch the videos and take notes.’

While she found it harder to work effectively from home, Emily also appreciated the flexibility she gained through remote learning.

Passive learning is a drag

Feedback we’ve received from students indicates that a lack of opportunities to ask questions or engage actively in the class were real frustrations in Spring. Students felt isolated and helpless at times, something that was mitigated by good contact with academic advisors and disability support professionals, but which still left a negative impression of online learning methods.

While the Spring semester’s shift to online learning was a makeshift plan to keep classes going, with faculty and departments doing their best to transplant their work onto an online system, this semester will be different.

Now, the onus is on institutions to show that they’re able to deliver value for students despite the limitations placed upon them.

Institutions opting for a ‘Hyflex’ model this Fall, where some students attend in person and others join remotely, look set to correct this flaw in engagement. By giving students a choice in how they experience classes, and creating touchpoints for feedback, Hyflex colleges are hoping to preserve the things that worked in the transition and improve on areas that didn’t.

Delivering education that’s of equal value on and offline is vitally important for institutions to get right this semester. Regardless of the model used, there’s one thing we do know about student experience with online learning..

Communication is vital

As we’ve mentioned elsewhere, students’ perceptions of how transparently their college communicates with them could make the difference between persistence and dropping out.

40% of incoming freshmen believe that it’s likely they’ll change their mind about the institution they’re attending this semester. Given that 64% of students that regarded their college’s communication as fair/poor in Spring had a worse opinion of their school, keeping communication clear, simple and frequent will be very important for all departments.

Key Takeaways

It remains to be seen how well institutions manage blended learning, but there are a few takeaways that should help you and your department keep students on-side during this time of adjustment.

  • Students with disabilities could benefit from more flexibility in how learning is delivered, especially as the classroom itself can present obstacles
  • But the isolation and lack of structure in Spring created issues with mental health and a poorer experience of learning
  • Blended learning was a preferred option for many returning students and incoming freshman
  • But its online elements can’t just be a repeat of Spring
  • So departments, like Disability Services, have a role to play in encouraging active learning and student inclusivity.

“It just doesn’t work anymore”: Reassessing Note Taking Support for Blended Learning

Are the note taking accommodations we offer students fit for purpose?

On Oct 6th we’ll be hosting our latest free webinar. With a panel of guests, we’ll be discussing what needs to change with note taking support in the age of blended learning.

To find out more, and register your attendance, follow the link below!

Sign up to our latest webinar
Time for a simpler, smarter note taking accommodation?

Time for a simpler, smarter note taking accommodation?

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