What Students really think about Online Learning

What do students really think about online learning—do they love it? Hate it? Numerous reports and articles about online learning provide data on enrollment rates, perceived learning and more. But it’s the unedited, raw comments of actual students, as I wrote about in my last post that is invaluable to course instructors, designers and online educators. I’ll share in this post student comments and suggestions for supporting students in light of their feedback.

Below is a collection of [select] student feedback from anonymous feedback submissions from online surveys given at the end of fully online courses for credit. Responses are unedited. It’s telling of how students really feel. Feedback is grouped into four categories: 1) interaction/learning community  2) technical  3) course design/structure  and 4) learning environment.

Overview of Program
Below you’ll find the most representative responses from 115  student feedback forms from a possible 236 students (49% response rate). Also note, feedback is from a small program—15 courses, general education, for credit, with video lectures as the main content delivery method. LMS platform is Moodle. Responses below to open-ended questions, either ‘what did you like ‘least’ about the course, and ‘what did you like best about the course’.

Learning Environment

  • “..the online environment, definitely will be taking courses in person for [next] semesters” [response to ‘what you like least…]
  • The online environment, I tried it but I will most definitely be taking courses in person from now on. I have found that I struggle with time management and would benefit from scheduled class meetings.”
  • “it was a little rough at the beginning to understand the instructions. A little more clarity at the beginning would be helpful.”
  • “I would benefit a lot more from scheduled class meetings, personally struggled with time management.”
  • “I liked the course because it was easier to complete all of the work. I was able to do everything on my own time with a deadline at the end of the week. I also liked the weekly discussion boards.”
  • “that i could take it at my own pace”
  • “I really appreciated this course being offered in the online format. It allowed me to fit it into my schedule easily…”

Interaction/learning community

  • “I hate the class discussions, but I understand its to make it more interactive but I wish they weren’t there. They could just be assignments.”
  • “I loved the personal classroom feel of the videos and the message board posting assignments.”
  • “The lack of ability to interact.”
  • ..Well it is online. So I wish I had more live interaction with students even if was view a Skype class time.”
  • “It was an efficient alternative to taking the class physically.”
  • The group project. I chose this course because I don’t have time, working, school, and running a household to work with other people. I work best alone and was not able to participate much.”

Course Design/Structure

  • “I would want the flow of the course to be more smooth and logically structured rather than separated by blocks and topics that must be covered. Also, I wish some questions on quizzes were more clear and not misleading.”
  • “Some of the lectures were long, but that’s just me and my attention span.”

Technical Issues

  • “I wish I could have been able to download the videos so I could watch more of them in the time I had. It would have been nice if I could put them on the mobile device.”
  • “I enjoyed watching the videos at my convenience but I wish I could have downloaded them since the local weather often interfered with my ability to stream the videos.”
  • “…please make more of the videos downloadable for mobile devices like Kindle fire, androids, iPad, etc.”
  • “….online program is good, but honestly and with all respect, not great. I was not able to get any mobile application (iPad) to work ….that is a major setback in that many online students take courses because of the flexibility it offers”

Conclusions

  • Students are demanding mobile learning options.
  • Time management appears to be a factor for those struggling with online learning.
  • Numerous students mention the flexibility of online learning as a positive factor.
  • Majority of students want interaction and personal connection.
  • Effective course design is needed for clarity of instructions, and ease of navigation within the course environment (being able to find resources, instructions easily).

Related Post:
Click here for previous post, How unfavorable student feedback improves online courses, which provides tips and resources for creating student feedback surveys.

20 thoughts on “What Students really think about Online Learning

  1. I personally don’t like the online discussion boards. Especially when the teacher makes it a requirement for the grade. to me it Is just extra assignments that the physical class students don’ don’t have to do. I just want to finish my assignment and get back to spending time with my family and my children not waste time doing extra assignments.

    • Hi Alissa,

      I absolutely see your point. Do you feel as if the discussion questions are ‘busy’ work? Meaning that the questions don’t really apply to the course? Do you think if the questions and discussion were meaningful, and interesting to you, you might look at discussion differently? Just wondering aloud as your comments are very useful for instructors that read this blog. It’s excellent to hear from the student viewpoint. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I think whether or not learner perceive themselves to have enjoyed or liked a class is VERY significant. A great deal of subconscious interpretation and decision making is reflected in the final determination of whether or not we enjoyed an experience. I worked as a faculty trainer for instructors entering the online world in higher ed, and now develop eLearning for industry. My MA is Instructional Design with an emphasis on games in learning. It’s not just clunky technology or not being able to use an iPad that makes learners say they don’t like online delivery.
    I observed that many online instructors seem to have an impulse to deliver and structure their courses from the same exact paradigm that can make in-person instruction dull and feel like a procedure one undergoes, rather than an experience one enters. The metaphor of a classroom is entirely too dominant in online classes and truly hobbles the potential of online learning. A teacher would do better to consider their online course a third place, a location where learners come to engage something new, away from the known demands of the rest of their lives. I had some really great results in the college when we started to consider metaphors like museums, coffee shops, galleries, break rooms, picture books, libraries, restaurants, and other similar socially and novelty driven enterprises. It’s not about smooth video downloads. It’s about giving some thought to why online learning spaces are emphatically NOT a classroom.
    In-person and online delivery are not in competition. It’s not an “or” question. It’s an “and” answer. If we get to a place where we successfully rethink online courses, the power of each will be applied to its best use.

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  7. I think the key here is not so much whether students like online ed or not, but rather how it is delivered. Online courses are often so clunky and poorly managed that they try to do too much and in doing so, accomplish too little. Online ed cannot wholly replace an in classroom experience, but it can augment it. Blogs that professors run for their class are a great example of how an online component can be successful. Just assigning dozens of readings in ‘learning modules’ is a lazy, archaic approach that students (myself included) despise.

    Another component is interaction. Profs are bewildered when students don’t participate in online discussions or contact them with problems. Certainly, there is an element of self-discipline that is lacking on the part of some students but in order for students to interact with content, it needs to be easy to do. Online educational tools like Vista, Blackboard, etc are outdated, don’t thread comments or conversations well and are designed without the users in mind. Educators don’t need these “tools” (just say no to Wikis). A blog, (tumblr, wordpress, blogger) will suffice nicely. They are easier to manage, easier to make aesthetically pleasing and much, much easier for students to interact with.

    I think this blog post highlights some very important feedback but I hope those that read it (as they appear to be) understand that online ed can work, it just needs to be simple, sleek and supplementary and isn’t for everyone.

    Thanks for posting this!

    Nick
    (4th year History major and Online Ed Designer)
    UBC

    • HI Nick,
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I agree with you, we shouldn’t get hung up on the ‘satisfaction’ component, but focus on the delivery of quality learning resources and instruction, while at the same time, provide tools that offer interactive opportunities for students to engage with classmates and content. The ‘popular’ LMS platforms such as Blackboard and Moodle are outdated and cumbersome (as I’ve written about before several times), though I am encouraged by some of the new offerings to replace these [almost] antiquated tools. I am currently taking a course with Coursera, and am very impressed so far with their beta platform. A much more fluid experience. I’ll be writing more about this soon.

      Interaction as you mention, is twofold – one the onus is on the professor to work at engagement, and the other is the tools that [should] be readily available for students to use that are user-friendly and conducive to learning exchanges.

      I am pleased that readers of this post appear (from comments and emails I’ve received) do appreciate the nuances on online learning – and can use students feedback as a means to improve the quality of learning experience for students.

      Thank you again Nick for your feedback and insightful analysis.
      Debbie

      • Hi Debbie,
        Congratulations on your posts and nice feedback.
        I am for blended teaching/learning myself and I also think that online communication cannot wholly replace a conventional education, but it can strengthen it.
        Halina

        • Hi Halina,
          Thanks for your comment and sharing your thoughts about communicating in the online environment. I agree with you that when communicating within an online environment, it is one dimensional, in that nuances that are only visible face-to-face are lost. For example, body language, facial expressions, eye contact are all lost within an online environment :(, however there are other benefits that online brings that still can support and strengthen education as you said. Thanks again Halina – I so much enjoy hearing and learning from readers such as yourself. Debbie

  8. As an online educator, a lot of this is very interesting information. I teach a business course, and I’ve found that many of these comments are the same ones my students express (only during the course evaluation time, though). Through the class, they are largely uncommunicative. I ask if they have questions on the material, they say nothing, and then after they’ve turned in their assignment as gotten a bad grade on it, they claim they didn’t understand something. Well why don’t they speak up?

    It’s troubling that with all of the avenues available for online professors to reach out to students (I provide my email address, my phone number, and we have a forum specifically for questions), students rarely use these. Perhaps it’s the old adage of leading a horse to water but not making them able to drink. If students are paying thousands of dollars for this educational experience — some of them even taking out loans to do so — then it would behoove them to speak up, be active, and make sure they get their money’s worth. The online professors are there to teach you, so be a student and ask questions!

    • Your observation is similar to what we have found – there are some vocal students but many don’t take advantage of the willingness of the professor to help. When I was working on my Master’s degree, I had one prof that was very successful in getting students (myself included) to reach out to him – he literally demanded at times that we contact him for clarification or for a group meeting. For example, the group I was working in was way off track with an assignment – he indicated we as a group needed to have a Sykpe meeting with him. Which we did. Another technique he used was to write postings to the class in the discussion forum, telling us how the class was doing as a whole, (whether off track or not), and suggest students contact him with questions etc. A different approach, but he was successful.

      I believe that students take online courses because of the convenience, and they may not be motivated to interact over and above the ‘course requirements’. Thanks for your observation, I encourage others reading this to share your thoughts if you can shed some insight into this phenomenon. Thanks for your comment!

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    • Hi Tracey, Thanks for sharing this. What an articulate student – excellent reading for any educator of high school or college age students. What I found most interesting about this student’s feedback is reason #5 – ‘You can get more Help’, where she mentions the immediate, comprehensive and personal response from the course instructor. Truly, this is where online learning can excel, with a course instructor that provides constructive feedback that further develops students higher order thinking and academic skills. Thanks Tracey for your comment. :)

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