Here's how students' interactions with technology impact the overall student experience on--and off--campuses across the nation.

Flexibility is key to the student experience

The student experience is a vital part of any higher education institution's strategic plan--here's how students' interactions with technology impact their overall experience

Key points:

  • There are several essential elements that go into a positive student experience, according to a new EDUCAUSE survey
  • Internet access and quality, accessibility for students with disabilities, and ability to design and access flexible learning options are paramount
  • See related article: A smarter way to think about college

Flexibility, choice, and equity are all critical components of the student experience on–and off–campus, according to the 2023 Students and Technology Report from EDUCAUSE.

The report asks the following: “What does it mean to be a student now in 2023, on the fading tail of a global pandemic and in the midst of lingering uncertainty about the world, our leaders, our economy, and our own futures within all of it? What do students still need from a postsecondary education now and in that uncertain future, and how can they best go about meeting that need? And, finally, where does technology serve as a fulcrum, for better and for worse, both opening and closing students’ paths forward through their educational journeys?”

Listen to Kevin Hogan interview Mark McCormack, Senior Director of Research and Insights at EDUCAUSE, about the report.

Findings are organized around three main themes:

  1. The locationality of education, and specifically balancing engagements and supports between residential and off-campus learners
  2. The role of students as consumers in the educational marketplace, and specifically the power of student choice in how they engage in their educational journeys
  3. The mounting expectations for institutions to offer equitable education, and specifically the importance of assistive technologies and accommodations for students with disabilities and impairments

Supporting students on and off campus: When it comes to supporting students on and off campus, institutions should look to off-campus learners as they seek to change their business models to accommodate a changing enrollment picture. Off-campus students typically have more professional, personal, and family obligations than on-campus students, and there is much opportunity to be found in tapping into the needs of adult and lifelong learners.

Internet as a location-based amenity: Unsurprisingly, students view their internet access–and the quality of that internet connection–as paramount to their educational experience and a critical factor in where they choose to live. EDUCAUSE’s survey found that on-campus students report less satisfaction with their internet access than off-campus students. Addressing this key issue will have wide-ranging implications for on- and off-campus students.

Learning modality as a lifestyle preference: Students living off campus were far more likely to report being married, having dependents, and being employed–all elements contributing to the appeal of remote or hybrid learning options that, because of their flexible nature, better align with the demands these students juggle. Students living on campus were more likely to gravitate toward on-site course options due to the social connectedness and peer interaction that come with such experiences.

Hybrid course experiences: Students who reported enrolling in at least one hybrid course over the past academic year were asked to indicate the mode in which they most typically engage in that course—online or on-site. Students living off campus were significantly more likely to engage in their hybrid course online (53 percent said they “mostly” or “only” participate online) compared with students living on campus (29 percent said they “mostly” or “only” participate online).

Assessments of technology supports and experiences: Students with disabilities and impairments are significantly less satisfied with their technology supports and experiences at their institution, and learning modality preferences in particular may be influenced by needs related to specific types of disability or impairment.

The report also outlines possible next steps, based on the survey, to enhance the student experience and address critical student needs:

  • Listen to students. This could be as simple as beginning with a conversation. Gather students, ask questions, listen, discuss, and respond. Elevate in particular those student voices that may not typically be heard or acknowledged.
  • Explore options for developing a “hybrid learning policy” if your institution doesn’t already have one. Involve students, faculty, and staff as direct contributors to your policy. Establish institution-wide consensus and excitement for shared values that will guide all of your decisions and practices related to hybrid courses. And consider approaches to evaluation and accountability to help ensure faculty and students alike are adhering to your values and policies and effectively implementing hybrid course models and practices.
  • In reflecting on where the future of higher education may be headed, don’t just take our word for it. Build your institution’s capabilities and culture around foresight thinking and planning, and engage in your own thought exercises around the trends you see emerging around your institution. Create an action plan for your institution that can help you identify short-, mid-, and long-term actions that you can take to be better prepared to adapt and thrive in whatever the future of higher education ends up being.

Related: How to cultivate student belonging in the student experience

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Laura Ascione

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