Our young people are touted as a tech-savvy cohort who have grown up with the internet and smart devices, but is the UK higher education (HE) system equipping them for life in the modern workplace?
While 81.5% of university students feel that digital skills will be important in their chosen career, only half believe that their courses prepare them well for the digital workplace. These are sobering statistics considering the well-documented technical skills gap in the UK and that good digital skills are becoming increasingly vital in the workplace.
Our new student digital experience tracker survey (pdf) sheds light on the digital skills, habits and attitudes of today’s higher education learners.
The results show that the use of technology in teaching and assessment is not fully embedded into practice. Highlighting an apparent mismatch between the skills required by employers and those that students are familiar with, or believe are necessary, the report warns:
“We need to be concerned about the almost 20% of learners in HE and almost 40% in FE who do not feel digital skills to be relevant in their chosen careers.
Since we know that around 90% of all new jobs require good digital skills, there must be a question mark over the workplace awareness of these learners, and perhaps of their teachers.”
Our head change for student experience, Sarah Knight, says HE providers need to address this gap:
“Though colleges and universities are arming students with the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed for their preferred careers, some are missing the opportunity to embed digital skills as part of the curriculum.
Incorporating opportunities to embed digital skills into the curriculum (as well as technology into the delivery), doesn’t only improve the experience for learners, it also enhances the professional development of staff.
The digital capabilities of staff are key in order to pass on the relevant digital skills to learners, to improve their employability.”
However, it appears that tutors are not the automatic go-to for support in digital upskilling, particularly for university students. Just 15.8% of HE learners said they would ask for help from a tutor. Online assistance was the most common choice for this group (36.5% said they would turn here for help), with a lesser number (20%) asking fellow students, friends and family.
Learners are generally upbeat about engaging with digital technology to support their course learning, but its use doesn’t seem to be widespread. The survey finds that around six in ten feel that use of digital technology on their course results in better understanding and allows them to fit learning into their lives more easily. More than 95% of HE students say they have produced work in a digital format and around 78% have experience of working online with others.
However, 58% of HE learners have never used an educational game or simulation as part of their course and 48.4% have never used a poll or quiz to give answers in class.
The report notes that, considering the very high percentage of HE (95.7%) learners who access online information weekly or more, a decade and a half after the development of “the social web”, content-centred teaching practices continue to dominate.
It goes on:
“A similar observation could be made about the low use of interactive digital media such as games and simulations, which provide rapid intrinsic feedback, and polling, which provides in-situ feedback to make live learning more engaging and responsive. Neither appears on this evidence to be fully mainstream yet.”
The tracker is a tool that enables organisations to explore how students use and feel about the digital tools, environment and support they provide. It offers institutions valuable insight into how students are experiencing digitally enhanced learning, and provides an opportunity for them to engage with students with regards to issues such as the design of their curriculum and the digital environment.
More survey findings
Virtual learning environments (VLEs)
HE learners are highly likely to use VLEs: 80% rely on it to do coursework and 67% regularly access it via a mobile device. However, only 40% say they enjoy using the collaborative features or want their tutors to use VLEs more.
Notably more HE learners agree that e-assessment was convenient (80%) in comparison with the number of learners who agree that e-assessment is more enjoyable (57.6%), provides them with better feedback (45.8%) or helps them avoid plagiarism (70%). This suggests that negative feelings about online assessment overall may be related to ‘delivery’ (and outcomes) rather than to ‘management’.
In both sectors, the report suggests that e-assessment perceived by students as being practically useful rather than pedagogically valuable.
Digital learning tools
Students were asked how often they used digital tools or apps to complete course tasks in their own time. Of those who used such tools weekly or more, 64.4% use digital tools to make notes or recordings; 68.8% look for extra resources; 60.7% manage links and references; and 81.6% access lecture notes or recorded lectures. A minority (40.2%) use social media to discuss learning.
Other notable statistics
- 80.4% of HE students have reliable wifi access in their university
- 95.1% have access to online course materials
- 91.2% have access to institution owned computers and printers
- 88.4% use their own laptop to support learning
- 65.5% agree they have access to digital training and support when they need it
- 31% agree that they are given the chance to be involved in decisions about digital services
- 80% know where to get help within their university if they are bullied or harassed online
- 35% agree they know how their personal data is stored and used