Moving education online: 10 remote learning insights from 1,000+ students

Using OpinionX's next-gen survey to understand and discover student's biggest unmet needs.


Daniel Kyne

3 years ago | 5 min read

This post originally appeared on the OpinionX blog, which you can find here.

The COVID-19 lockdown created an unprecedented impact on the education sector globally, with schools and universities around the world forced to rapidly adopt remote learning practices.

We have compiled the 10 most important learnings gathered from over 1,000 students who engaged in digital focus groups run at scale by Dublin City University, Galway Mayo Institute of Technology, and the National Student Engagement Programme on OpinionX from April to June 2020.

OpinionX harnesses the power of collective intelligence through digital focus groups at scale to help meaningfully understand large populations online. All statements on OpinionX are written and voted on by users. In this case, the statements below were anonymously written and voted on by college students across Ireland.


Lesson 1: Clear, Concise, Consistent Communication

Students’ appetite for information has changed. Update students regularly using a small number of communication channels and set a clear comms strategy that extends across departments and functions in order to prevent fatigue caused by inconsistent outreach.

In order to implement this effectively, non-essential email should be limited where possible. Communication served as a fundamental aspect of the remote learning experience; perceptions of inconsistent or poor communication correlated with unsatisfaction across many other topics which appeared throughout our digital focus groups


Lesson 2: Build Remote Learning Skills

Remote learning is a new experience of education for most students. It shouldn’t be forgotten that students in higher education have typically spent 14 years in a classroom setting developing a specific skill set that does not automatically translate to online learning.

Colleges need to take the time to help students to develop skills which enable effective remote learning. These skills include building positive routine, stress management, setting boundaries with family and the ability to work on coursework more independently.


Lesson 3: Live and Rewatchable Lectures

The majority of students have a favourable view on video lectures. With a few minor enhancements and a more uniform approach within your institution, remote lectures can truly flourish.

Statements asking for either all live or only pre-recorded lectures remained divisive throughout. By far the most consensus-building approach is seen in the statement above which called for recordings of live-streamed lectures to be uploaded so that it can be rewatched and to support students with slower internet speed. Additionally, students felt that lecture interactivity was lost due to remote learning. Implementing dedicated lecturer Q&A sessions and peer-review groups were broadly supported by participants.


Lesson 4: Understand Students’ Financial Situation

The most contentious issues in the focus groups revolved around fees and the prospect of having no on-campus college experience for the 2020/21 academic year. Students consistently ranked statements related to tuition fees during remote learning as one of the most important issues in the discussion, as seen below (participants ranked this statement the second most important out of 200 submissions).

The view on paying full tuition fees for a learning experience that is perceived to be reduced or limited has contributed to a strong opinion amongst students on this topic. Any 2020/21 communications strategy should plan to deal with this issue directly as it will inevitably take centre stage closer to September/October.


Lesson 5: Move Essential Resources Online

Access to campus based resources act as an essential enabler of student success in college. From the library and maths learning centre to counselling and lecturer office hours, student success is underpinned by their ability to access the support of such resources.

Moving resources online or creating digital alternatives are not the only challenges. Ensure that online resources are easily accessible from centrally aggregated sites and that communication channels to each resource manager are open and easy to find.


Lesson 6: Enable Peer-to-Peer Support

Social interaction and the feeling of connectivity are not only core aspects of education but also of the holistic college experience. Remote learning removes this critical ingredient and this will not go unnoticed. The immediate reaction from lecturers and programme coordinators may be to add additional group work, however this was directly addressed on OpinionX by students who said it was unfair to unexpectedly add group work to a module that did not typically use this format of assessment.

Instead, integrate social interaction into the learning process in different ways. Add regular peer review sessions, facilitate small-group deliberation and engage students through more interactive lectures and Q&A forums. Students’ Unions should explore ways to engage students in social events online, host digital mixer events online and through video roulettes, and ensure routes to student participation in clubs, societies and student representative bodies are made visible.


Lesson 7: Train Lecturers in Digital Skills

Most students recognised that lecturers were doing their best to adapt quickly to remote learning and that issues were generally isolated to only a few lecturers. The main problems we saw repeat throughout the digital focus groups included lecturers using different communication channels, not responding to student outreach, rejecting appeals for feedback on assignments, making comments about students not having valid excuses during lockdown, issues with online lectures (Lesson 3) and some not doing online lectures at all.

Creating complex staggered timetables, investing in social distancing measures and establishing a clear, concise and consistent communication strategy will ultimately be undermined if lecturers struggle with the basics of online tools like Zoom and Moodle. Invest in staff training in digital skills development and hand down a framework for how lecturers are expected to deal with student outreach to keep your upper-level plans intact.


Lesson 8: Utilise Student Engagement Networks

Class representatives are capable of a lot more than simply requesting assignment deadline extensions from lecturers. Promote the importance of your student representative system, such as a Class Representative Council or equivalent structure, as early as possible in order to educate students on the responsibilities of the role.

With this new awareness, leverage your engaged students for more meaningful and frequent communication that extends deeper into your hierarchy. Class reps are your thermometer for student tempers, smoke alarm for impending disaster and primary network for ideas and solutions — engage them!


Lesson 9: Plan for Proactive Messaging

As the statement below suggests, students pick up on stalling. With the usual bustle of college life absent, students are much more likely to be waiting on every update from the institution and their lecturers.

The best way to plan for this is to allow for more room in the usual content schedule for advanced notice and publishing of communications. This includes everything from supports available and student opportunities to the release of timetables and exam schedules.


Lesson 10: Implement Full Circle Feedback

Like anything new, opinions on your remote learning strategy are bound to change fast and often. There will undoubtedly be urgent problems and many challenges along the way. The most important thing to remember is that while you don’t have all the answers, your students are there to help.

Students will be keen to share their experiences, voice their opinions and be heard within your institution. Forums, tick-the-box surveys and small-scale interviews won’t suffice when it comes to understanding the complexity and variety of opinions your entire student body will have. That’s where OpinionX can help.


We can help you to understand your students (or other stakeholders) and provide actionable insights to inform your dynamic remote learning strategy with our quick and easy-to-use platform for running digital focus groups with hundreds of participants at the same time.

If you’d like to learn more, send me a message on Twitter, LinkedIn or via our website and we’ll get you on a call with someone from the team.

Written by Daniel Kyne, Co-Founder & CEO of OpinionX


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