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Survey shows majority of university students want blended learning

Group of students sat and stood around desk

But Jisc report finds more support is needed for online studies and access to devices.

One of the largest datasets of student experiences in the UK shows that more prefer a blended learning approach than learning mainly on site.

The 2021/22 digital experience insights survey of higher education students outlines how students use technology in their learning, their attitudes towards it and the benefits and challenges; the survey was conducted between October 2021 and April 2022 and attracted 33,726 respondents.

Key statistics include:

  • 42% of respondents preferred mainly on-site learning
  • 45% would like a mix of on-site and online
  • 13% wanted to be taught mainly online

Overall, the students who responded to the survey reported an improved digital learning experience: 74% rated the quality of their online learning environment as above average (best imaginable, excellent, or good), up 7 percentage points from 20/21, and only 6% rated it as below average, half the previous figure.

However, most respondents do not have a say in the digital tools their courses use and don’t feel there’s adequate support for online learning: 

  • 37% reported having input into decisions about the learning platforms used by their universities
  • More than a third (35%) rated support for online learning to be average or worse
  • Only 33% of respondents had an assessment of their digital skills and training needs

The report also shows digital access and support improved in several areas:

  • Those facing problems with wifi/broadband were down 12 percentage points on the previous year – dropping from 63% to 51%
  • The survey found that 16% struggled to find a safe, private area to work, down from 21% the year before
  • Fewer students reported struggling with the cost of mobile data, dropping 9 percentage points year-on-year to 24% of respondents
  • The percentage of students reporting no access to learning platforms more than halved, dropping from 30% to 13%

However, the majority of respondents (63%) still faced challenges accessing digital resources, assessments, or lectures.

Digital and data poverty remains an issue too: 51% reported problems with wifi/broadband signal, and 15% struggled with the cost of mobile data.

The percentage of students without access to a suitable computer or other device reduced slightly by 3 percentage points (from 15% to 12%) between 2021 and 2022.

In the foreword to the report, Professor Steve West CBE, vice chancellor of UWE Bristol and president of Universities UK, said the key to building successful blended courses was student involvement and supporting students on lower incomes with devices, training, and more:

“There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of what students want, so we must involve students in the design of the educational experience and the technology to support it, embracing continuous co-creation at all levels with students as partners.

“The sector also needs to deal with the continuing challenges that online study creates for some students: digital and data poverty have been around as long as the internet, but it took a pandemic to highlight the plight of a significant minority of disadvantaged students who don’t have access to the vital basics – suitable devices, a reliable internet connection, a safe and private place to work – and who cannot afford mobile data or broadband costs.

“We have some way to go as a sector, but as Jisc’s CEO Heidi Fraser-Krauss has advised, universities cannot risk under-investing in technology if they are to deliver a high quality, digitally enhanced, blended learning experience.”

To understand how the DEI surveys support member organisations, read more about the report’s methodology and aims.

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