College students are worried about their online learning ability

Do students feel prepared to learn online?

A new survey shows students are worried about maintaining academic focus and social relationships with peers

While most college students say they feel they have the tools they need to learn online, they remain anxious about their own skills in managing their learning in an off-campus environment, according to a new survey.

The findings come from Barnes & Noble Education, Inc., a solutions provider for the education industry. Conducted by Barnes & Noble College Insights the week of March 23, 2020, the survey looked at the perspectives of college students across the U.S. as they move from traditional classrooms to online courses as part of colleges’ and universities’ health and safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Related content: Adapting to online learning in a pinch (Part 3)

The survey found students split on readiness, with more than half of students (60 percent) saying they are at least somewhat prepared for the switch to online classes, while the rest are less certain, saying they need time to adjust to the transition. Previous experience with online learning appears to be a key factor in preparedness – students who have taken an online class previously are more likely to feel prepared (70 percent vs. 30 percent).

Still, many students are worried about their ability to adjust to learning completely outside of the classroom setting. More than half (64 percent) of students expressed concern over maintaining focus and discipline, unsure if they would be able to motivate themselves over the long term to do work remotely. They noted: “my house is not the proper environment in which to do work” and that they “easily get distracted while on the computer.”

More than half (55 percent) of students said they were concerned about the lack of social interactions, saying they learn better when they are with their fellow students, and 45 percent of students are concerned they will not perform as well academically under these circumstances. A smaller percentage of students have technological worries, with 12 percent citing concerns about their internet access not being strong or fast enough.

“While the switch to online learning is a massive adjustment for all parties involved, we need to remember that many of today’s students are digital natives, and they are generally well-equipped to handle digital materials and tools,” said Lisa Malat, president, Barnes & Noble College. “However, this abrupt change in lifestyle has also had social and emotional impacts on students, and many are grappling with how to succeed academically in the midst of this disruption. We’ve seen colleges, universities, faculty and family members all providing the resources they can to ease this transition. With the right structure and support in place, students may ultimately find that this way of learning works better for them, as it allows them to go more at their own pace.”

Nearly half (42 percent) of students said they see self-paced learning as a potential benefit of moving online.

In addition to using digital learning platforms to view lectures, surveyed students are planning to use a suite of digital tools to continue their education online. Twenty percent of students expect to use e-textbooks more, while 25 percent said they plan to use online study aids more. By far the greatest growth, though, was in the use of connection tools such as Skype, email, and chat services. More than three-quarters (78 percent) of students expect to increase their use of these tools for virtual interactions as part of the transition to online learning.

Using these tools to maintain regular connections with students may help schools and instructors address concerns about preparedness and education quality lingering for some students. While the majority of students agreed that schools and instructors are prepared for the switch to online learning, 24 percent expressed doubts about their college or university’s preparedness, and 33 percent expressed doubts about their instructors’ preparedness. Students who received strong communication from their professors as part of the switch noted its impact, as one student wrote, “my professors are being very helpful and understanding, which makes my transition feel more prepared.”

“Communication is key in times of uncertainty. Frequent check-ins between professors and students can play a crucial role in maximizing online learning,” said Malat. “Whether it’s through video conferences or a simple phone call, holding regular ‘office hours’ can help keep students feel engaged and provide them with the additional support they need to navigate this transition.”

Material from a press release was used in this report.

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