A significant proportion of further education or sixth form college learners faced barriers to online study during the pandemic. 

Results of the 2021/21 digital experience insights survey by Jisc, showed that almost half (49%) of respondents reported problems with wifi, and 21% had difficulty accessing online platforms/services.  

Underlining the digital divide highlighted by enforced remote work and study, the poll also showed 16% struggled to pay mobile data costs, 14% didn’t have a suitable computer/device and 12% reported they didn’t have a safe, private area to work. 

Insights from 23,741 learners in 39 colleges in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland* were collected between October 2020 and April 2021. At the time, 25% of respondents were physically on campus, 35% described a mix of on-site and online learning, and 40% were learning entirely online.   

Despite the difficulties, the survey showed that, overall, learners were positive about the quality of online and digital learning; 66% rated it as ‘best imaginable’, ‘excellent’ or ‘good’. 

“However,” said the report, “not all learners had opportunities to engage in more transformative activities or experience the best that digital approaches can offer.” 

The report suggests that: 

  • Online learning is different to face-to-face learning and should be designed specifically with that in mind 
  • Collaborative activities naturally increase learner engagement and provide vital opportunities to develop key employability skills such as effective online communication skills and co-operative research/design 
  • Poor learning design has a negative impact on learners’ wellbeing on top of any difficulties learners experience in accessing the learning and resources 

There was significant appreciation for staff and their support in helping learners to continue studying during difficult circumstances. 

The report said:

“Learners told us about the lengths their lecturers and tutors had gone to in supporting them to learn; creating new and engaging resources, using discussions, quizzes and polls, and replying to individual queries via email. Lecture recordings were well received and helped learners to manage their study around other commitments.” 

There was also strong satisfaction from learners in relation to the organisational systems, services and support that were made available. For example, 65% of learners said they were enabled to access online systems and services from anywhere, and 64% were supported to use their own digital devices. 

Interestingly, almost half (49%) agreed they were given the chance to be involved in decisions about online learning, which is a substantially more positive response than in previous years. 

Jisc’s 2021/22 digital experience insights survey will open in October 2021. This an inclusive service for FE and skills members. 

*FE colleges in Wales did not take part in this specific survey this year as they were participating in a different digital experience insights survey as part of a separately commissioned Welsh Government initiative. 

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