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In a new survey by @WEAadulted, the UK’s leading adult education charity, 69% of students reported that their online course experience was the same when compared to face to face learning. Over one in four (28%) felt their virtual course was better compared to face to face learning

The survey results out today, conducted by The WEA in May 2021, gathered responses from 1,792 WEA online learners across students in England and Scotland to determine their views regarding virtual learning.

These figures supporting virtual learning are impressive considering 61% of these students reported on having none or little experience using virtual learning prior to the pandemic.

According to the survey, the top benefit of virtual learning cited by over two-thirds of the students (67%) is the lack of travel, while 64% highlighted the accessibility of courses irrespective of the location and tutor, making it easier to learn than ever before. Nearly half (45%) felt that learning online saved them money and 38% reported that it was better for the environment.

Online outperforming classroom education?

When asked about the future learning experiences, 39% of students wanted a blended model of learning (venue-based and virtual), whilst 28% would prefer to learn online. However 27% still preferred venue-based teaching.

Simon Parkinson CEO of The WEA said: “It was vital to hear learners voices through this survey, as they have adapted to a world that has been altered forever by the pandemic. This crisis provides a powerful test of the potential of learning online and we need to continue to support those adults who had a go at learning during lockdown by providing a dynamic mix of online and venue-based teaching. Bringing tutors and students together in community venues will still be a core part of the WEA offer as it always has been. With the experience of the past year we can also see how online courses can be a powerful addition where they retain the interaction and immediacy that students and tutors would previously have enjoyed from being in the same room.

However we also need to engage those adults who did not access learning opportunities during the pandemic.  We continue to reach out to those most marginalised within society through our programmes such as the digital lifeline and will be publishing new research in late July to understand why they did not participate to ensure nobody is left behind in the post-covid economy.”

Thirst for culture

As cultural venues shut down during the pandemic, students turned to cultural courses online in droves.  The top 5 most popular course areas were History and culture (53%), Arts and crafts (15%), Language and writing (9%), Health and Lifestyle (7%) Community and family (5%). Learning can be addictive and nearly a quarter of adults (24%) embraced this opportunity to learn through lockdown by completing 5 or more courses.

Devoting some of quarantine time to self-education can give a sense of control that will help students cope with anxiety engendered by the pandemic and was supported by the survey results where nearly half of the students (48%) reported that the course helped them improve their mental wellbeing.

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