More research on student modality choices

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Last week I wrote about some 2022 Canadian research from the CDLRA that shows students overwhelmingly (89%) looking for greater flexibility & choice in how they access their courses. Today EDUCAUSE released their 2022 Students and Technology Report which also looks at shifts in learner preference in course modalities this time with a U.S. focus.

Unsurprisingly, we see a similar pattern in modality choices reflected in the EDUCAUSE study which specifically compares student responses from pre-pandemic (2020) to their current preferences*.

EDUCUASE survey on changes in student modality preferences from 2020 (pre-pandemic) to 2022

Adding up the numbers from the half online/half face to face, mostly online and completely online and we can see that currently, 47% of students want at least half of their courses and/or course content delivered online compared to 29% pre-pandemic. That is a significant shift and supports the CDLRA findings that learners want more online options.

Digging into the EDUCAUSE data, there is an interesting finding about how students prefer to work with each other. Almost half (49%) of students say they prefer to meet with other classmates mostly or always face-to-face and even 21% of learners who said their primary course preference was online say they prefer to do academic work with other students face-to-face. Meaning that students still want their education to include a physical face-to-face experience for the social interaction and believe their learning experience is richer with some face-to-face with other students. I wonder if they feel a similar need to have face-to-face interactions with their instructor? This wasn’t asked in the survey.

This student desire to have face-to-face learner interactions reminds me of the face-to-face** MOOC study groups where learners enroll in a MOOC and then find other learners in their location & arrange physical meet-ups to study or work together. With students demanding more online when it comes to course content, but more face-to-face with other learners, how might this alter the way in which we design our institutions, both physically and virtually? Could we see institutions design their physical presence to be various meet-up rooms in smaller centres – a distributed physical presence – to better facilitate these kinds of learner preferences? Instead of having a single large physical destination location in one city perhaps we start to see institutions develop smaller satellite facilities that are designed first as student meeting places for students who are taking online courses to connect face-to-face with others in their region. Could we be seeing an increased student acceptance of something like blended MOOC’s based on their pandemic experiences?

As these two studies illustrate, one thing is becoming clear – students who perhaps never had a taste of online learning prior to the pandemic have now had the experience and seem to be wanting more. And when you dig into some of the qualitative findings, you can see a whole host of reasons why.

“I am able to learn easier in online classes. I can accommodate for my disabilities easier, and I have the ability to go back and rewatch lectures if I missed some for whatever reason.”

“[Taking face-to-face classes] significantly hinders my ability to perform essential weekly activities, taking care of grandparents/parents.”

“I won’t be able to finish my degree unless I can do it online. My dad is in remission from cancer and doesn’t have any protection from COVID.”

“Having to commute would be more stressful. It would probably negatively impact my learning because I have a job that I have to prioritize over school with regard to my schedule.”

Once you experience the flexibility of online learning (just like the flexibility of remote working) and how it can contribute to a better work/life balance you can understand completely why learners are favouring online.

* I am not saying post-pandemic because I don’t think we are out of the woods just yet.
** These groups are not exclusively face-to-face. There are also virtual study groups.

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