A new study examines how students feel about courses, their changing study habits, mental health concerns, use of digital tools, and more.

Students say their biggest obstacle is being unprepared for courses


A new study examines student and instructor opinions on changing study habits, mental health concerns, use of digital tools, and more

Key points:

While the pandemic may seem to be in the rearview mirror, the impact of learning loss on students is still gaining strength. There is a sizable increase in the number of students who indicate that feeling unprepared for courses heading into the semester is the biggest obstacle to their success–up from 11 percent to 21 percent since last year, according to second annual McGraw Hill Study Trends Report.

The report examines student and instructor opinions on changing study habits, mental health concerns, student use of digital tools, and more, and was conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of McGraw Hill.

One in five students also report that learning loss caused by the pandemic has had a negative impact on their education and college preparedness.

The report captured the views of over 500 U.S. undergraduate students and 200 college instructors on how study habits have evolved since the pandemic began. The study also found that students are increasingly turning to social media and emerging generative AI tools to supplement their course materials, with an overwhelming majority of students (80 percent) using ChatGPT and social media for study help.

“The survey’s findings emphasize the need for creative solutions to address learning loss and related challenges and to support educators during this time of rapid change,” said Simon Allen, CEO of McGraw Hill. “We are committed to serving learners along their individual journeys, meeting them where they are and adapting our approach to serve their evolving preferences and needs.”

Students’ struggles are a growing challenge on college campuses

Current college freshmen spent significant portions of their formative high school years dealing with COVID-related disruptions and the impact of learning loss is manifesting as students are now struggling to handle the rigorous academic demands of higher education.

Professors are observing this as well, reporting that levels of unpreparedness due to COVID-19-related learning loss are even worse than students themselves might realize. One-third of instructors reported that all or most of their students struggled due to being unprepared, while only 21 percent of students reported struggles for this reason. This lack of preparedness is reported as the most common obstacle to students’ success, according to the educators surveyed.

These academic struggles highlight a growing need for mental health resources within higher education institutions:

  • Increased responsibilities, lack of free time and COVID-related disruptions have taken a toll on the mental health of today’s college students. A majority of students reported regularly feeling overwhelmed (57 percent) and stressed (56 percent) because of their studies.
  • More than one in three (35 percent) of students said they had considered dropping out as a result of the difficulties they experience when studying, up from 26 percent in last year’s survey.
  • Professors share this concern, with 90 percent agreeing that mental health is a growing challenge affecting undergraduate student success.
  • Nearly one in four professors (24 percent) feel that they lack adequate resources from their institutions to effectively support students with mental health challenges.

Both students and professors are embracing generative AI and are optimistic about its potential to support learning

Faced with rigorous courses, students are looking for tools that can support them through their study experiences and maximize their productivity during the hours they can dedicate to studying. Two-thirds of students say they had to choose between schoolwork and obligations outside of school, which is a significant increase over 59 percent last year.

Students widely express the desire for study materials that align with the convenience and engagement of social media. Over 70 percent of students say they would study more, and more effectively, if their study materials were more like social media. And both students and educators are actively exploring the potential of generative AI chatbots like ChatGPT to bolster comprehension, seeking ways to navigate the challenges of modern learning. One in three students report using AI chatbots for schoolwork in the past year.

But these self-curated online materials are imperfect stopgaps, and students and instructors are aware of those flaws, especially when it comes to accuracy and trustworthiness. Forty-six percent of instructors and 39 percent of students express that they would be more comfortable using AI tools for coursework if the tools’ content were developed and vetted by trusted academic sources.

Justin Singh, Chief Transformation and Strategy Officer for McGraw Hill, remarked on this innovative approach, stating, “Students’ learning needs are in constant flux, and they increasingly seek technology that mirrors the engaging, convenient format of tools and technology they use in their daily lives like ChatGPT and social media.”

This press release originally appeared online.

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