Learners in further education (FE) have told us about the lengths their lecturers and tutors went to in supporting them to learn remotely during the pandemic – and about what worked and what didn’t.
Jisc’s 2021 digital experience insights survey of FE learners showed that new and engaging resources were created, discussions, quizzes and polls introduced, and efforts were made to stay in touch via email with individual learners.
Lecture recordings were also well received and helped learners to manage their study around other commitments.
However, not all learners had opportunities to engage in more transformative activities or experience the best that digital approaches can offer.
This latest survey is a chance for colleges and their staff to work out how they might integrate the ‘best bits’ of online teaching into the curriculum. The answers will be different for each provider, so working through those questions with learner input is crucial.
The survey findings, both the stats and the ‘free” answers that learners gave, give a good general guide to the dos and don’ts, though.
Let’s first remember that online learning is different to face-to-face learning and should be specifically designed. After all, poor learning design has a negative impact on learners’ wellbeing on top of any difficulties learners experience in accessing the learning and resources because of digital and/or data poverty.
Collaborative activities increase learner engagement and provide opportunities to develop key employability skills such as effective online communication skills and co-operative research/design.
In the survey, high numbers of learners reported engaging in live sessions (68%), but fewer students said they had engaged in collaborative online activities. As more staff engage with online learning it is expected that models and practice will develop to include more participative activities.
Short chunks of learning and regular breaks help to mitigate physical discomfort in working online and make it easier for learners to maintain concentration. Be mindful of the volume of work and the amount of expected independent study.
Small groups work best for discussions and collaborative activities and can also feel safer socially.
Just as for face-to-face sessions, coordinated timetabling prevents clashes and avoids learners having to endure marathon back-to-back online sessions.
Learners recognise that it can be hard for teachers to ‘read the room’ online or to pace their teaching, so regular check-in points should be built into lesson plans and curriculum activities. These also provide an opportunity to set extra activities for those working at a faster pace.
Learners want the systems and platforms used to support their learning to be better structured and for all information to be in one place. Just more than half of learners (53%) felt their learning environment was easy to navigate and 46% said it was well designed.
They find it confusing when information is spread over several platforms and in different formats. We’d suggest adopting a common template across modules and providing orientation exercises to show learners where and how they can access the resources they need.
Where and how to get help for online learning and digital development should be clearly visible to learners. The survey found that 58% of respondents could access all the support services they needed online, but that still leaves a sizable number for whom online support wasn't easily accessible.
A majority (70%) of learners turn to their lecturers and tutors for help with online learning, and so it is vital that staff are competent and confident to guide learners with their digital skills development as well as to signpost specialist and self-help options.
Learners are keen to be involved in decisions about their lessons, yet only half (49%) of respondents agreed they were given the chance to be involved. They can not only provide insight into what works and doesn’t work well for them but can make useful suggestions for how their learning can be improved.
Of course, all learners are unique, what works for some does not for others, so taking a flexible approach is a good idea. FE providers that took part in the survey could share their specific findings with learners and set up focus groups to discuss how to improve.
Jisc’s 2021/22 digital experience insights survey will open in October 2021. This an inclusive service for FE and skills members.