2022/23 UK further education learners digital experience insights survey findings
The digital experience insights survey for further education learners took place between October 2022 and April 2023. Participating FE colleges and sixth form colleges were able to select their own survey period within these dates, typically a three to four week window.
There were 8,788 respondents from 23 organisations. 19 of these were based in England, two in Scotland and two in Northern Ireland. These 23 organisations represent 9% of all further education providers in the UK. A separate analysis of the digital experience of learners in colleges in Wales was conducted in 2022/23.
The highest number of responses from a single organisation was 1,520 learners (28% of their total learner population) and the mean number of responses was 382 per organisation (on average 7% of the total number of learners in each organisation that participated). However, three of the 23 organisations contributed fewer than 100 responses.
A survey indicating the digital experience of higher education students is run simultaneously and results can be found on our 2022/23 HE students report page.
Through Jisc’s digital experience insights service, organisations can gain valuable data to inform strategic, operational and digital investment decisions, evidence year-on-year improvements and demonstrate return on investment. Organisations that take part have access to their own data to assess their unique situations as well as benchmarking data. Full information about the digital experience insights surveys is detailed on our information page.
Our 2022/23 digital experience insights survey for learners in further education explored learners’ experiences of using digital technology, including the environments in which they learned and the support offered to them by their organisations. Most learners were enabled to learn using digital technologies, and they did so both on and off campus. However, a large minority did not engage with the wide range of digital technologies that may have been offered to them as part of their learning and they encountered several barriers that prevented them from engaging equitably.
Colleges generally provide good online learning environments. However, digital and data inequity is a growing problem. Many learners still do not have suitable devices for learning. The survey results show that a worryingly large number of learners felt that they had no safe or private place to work in. Learners also experienced a range of issues with problematic devices and digital infrastructure, most notably with unreliable wifi and mobile data costs. Internet connectivity issues have become more acute since last year’s survey and is far more of a problem on campus than off campus and should be addressed as a priority.
Learner preferences for learning using technology, predictably, are varied, so organisations should look to continue to offer a range of experiences using digital technology – supporting learners who want to primarily learn online and off campus to do so where appropriate, and supporting on campus learning experiences for others. Colleges should assess the support they provide for digital skills development. In our survey, just over half of learners agreed that guidance about the digital skills required for their course was provided by their organisation. However, most learners reported that they had not been offered help in a wide range of digital competency areas. This included support for learning using online platforms, and basic IT skills. Organisations also have work to do to improve how learners are made aware of how their data is collected and used, and in involving learners in decisions about their digital experience.
Learners generally remain positive about how digital technologies enable them to learn in ways and places that suit them. By addressing the more problematic and persistent issues learners encountered and raised in this year’s survey, colleges can seek to provide a more supportive and responsive learning environment. This will help to deliver the more positive possibilities of learning using technology and help to stop the negative aspects from preventing learners to reach their course and future career goals.
Access to technology devices and tools for learning
- Smartphones (75%) and laptops (66%) were the most commonly used devices used by learners to support their learning, although only 5% solely used a smartphone. 45% used desktop computers and 28% used tablet devices
- Few learners used peripheral devices like microphones/headsets (10%), cameras/webcams (6%), additional screens (5%) or VR devices (1%)
- A quarter of learners were given help by their organisation to loan or buy devices for learning
- Only 32% of learners used assistive tools or features included with software. Of these, spelling and writing features (14%) and caption tools (12%) were the most commonly used
- Around two-thirds (67%) were offered support to use these features
The online learning environment in further education
- Learners were generally positive about the online learning environment offered to them (73% rated this as the best imaginable, excellent or good), only 4% rated the online learning environment as below average
- Just under a quarter (23%) of learners reported that no technologies from a long list of a wide range of technologies were provided to support their learning. Less than half (41%) were provided with either live streams or recordings of lectures/classes or pre-recorded content and resources. Other features offered to support learning were less common, including virtual learning environments (33%), online assessment or test platforms (37%), dashboards for tracking learner progress (30%), e-portfolios (14%), applications to support collaborative activities (19%), and augmented/virtual/extended reality (AR/VR/XR) technologies (2%)
- Most (58%) learners agreed that their organisation supported them to use their own devices, 69% agreed they were supported to access platforms and services off campus, and 63% agreed that they were supported to communicate effectively online
- When asked about what areas they would like their college to invest in, learners preferred upgrades to platforms and systems (32%), more computers/devices (29%), provision of specialist software (21%), and investment in digital content (10%) and IT support (8%)
- Less than half of learners understood (46%) and were comfortable with (49%) how data was collected and used by their college. 19% did not understand how their college collected and used their data
Learning realities and learning preferences
- Learners tended to learn using technology at home (92%) or on campus (80%), and almost a quarter (23%) worked in public spaces like cafes. 10% learned while at work and 5% in student accommodation
- Classes mainly took place on campus (81%) and very few learners experienced mainly online teaching (1%). 18% experienced a mix of on campus and online teaching. This broadly aligned with learner preferences for taught classes (71% preferred mainly on campus teaching, 24% a mix and 5% mainly online)
- Learners skewed slightly less towards the campus environment when thinking about learning preferences: 65% on campus, 7% mainly online, 28% a mixture
- Learners were positive about the quality of their course’s online learning provision (70% rated the quality as above average: best imaginable, excellent or good; only 6% rated the quality as below average). This is slightly lower than the pre-pandemic high in 2019/20 (when 76% rated the provision as above average)
However, most learners (53%) experienced a range of difficulties in learning using digital technology, both on campus and off campus, including:
- 20% had no safe place to work and 34% had no private area to work
- Most (56%) learners struggled with wifi, with problems experienced more on campus (45%) than off campus (17%)
- Over a third (34%) experienced problems with mobile data costs and struggled to access the systems they needed for learning (35%). Nearly a third (32%) had no suitable computer/device for learning
- Only 44% of learners agreed that they had the chance to be involved in decisions about their digital experience (10% disagreed)
Experiences with digital technologies in learning
Learners engaged with a wide range of activities using digital technology:
- The most common activity was online quizzes (65%), accessing course materials online (58%), and undertaking online research tasks (56%). Nearly half (45%) participated in live online lectures/classes. Collaborating online (15%) or engaging in online text-based discussion (14%) was uncommon and rarer still was the use of emerging VR/AR technologies (3%)
Learners were asked about the online learning resources provided to them as part of their course:
- 41% of learners agreed online learning resources for their course were engaging and motivating (11% disagreed), 52% agreed that they were at the right level and pace (6% disagreed), 71% agreed that learning resources were accessible (3% disagreed), and 60% agreed that they were made available in good time (4% disagreed)
In a wide range of areas, learners indicated that digital technologies helped their learning:
- 72% of learners agreed that using digital technologies is convenient (3% disagreed), 60% agreed that it allows them to contribute in ways they prefer (5% disagreed), 65% agreed that it helps them progress in their studies (4% disagreed) and 57% agreed that it allows them to be assessed fairly (4% disagreed). Less than half (45%) agreed that digital technology made them feel part of a community (10% disagreed)
Learners were asked to state what were the most positive and negative aspects of learning using digital technologies. Some of these contradict each other but this points towards a need to take different preferences for learning into account.
Positive aspects included:
- The ability to work flexibly on and off campus (eg using cloud technologies and platforms and tools to access learning resources)
- Savings of both time and money for some learners (eg reducing the need to travel to campus)
- More effective self-directed study sessions and the ability for learners to work in ways that suit their preferences, including using assistive technology tools
- More opportunities for interacting with classmates and tutors/lecturers and improved confidence to participate and share ideas;
- The ability to take exams, quizzes and assessments online, as well as the ability to get timely feedback from tutors/lecturers.
The more negative aspects included:
- Technical frustrations (slow devices, navigating learning platforms and systems, unavailable resources)
- Poor wifi connections hindering the ability to learn or complete tasks
- A reduced ability to engage with resources/classes (eg distractions, less supportive environment, less feedback offered)
- A lack of interaction and engagement for some, and issues with mental wellbeing (eg isolation).
Support for digital skills development
- Two-thirds of learners (67%) rated the support offered to learn effectively as above average (best imaginable, excellent or good). Only 7% rated the support offered as below average
- When looking more closely at the support offered to learners in a range of digital skills areas, percentages were very low. Less than half (45%) were offered support for learning online and for basic IT skills (46%). Percentages were even lower in a range of other support areas: behaving safely online (33%); avoiding plagiarism (30%); data security (23%); specialist software (19%); information, data and media literacy (16%); digital assessments (14%); data analysis (11%); managing social media and webpages (11%); coding/scripting (9%); and, online publishing (9%)
- Over half of learners (56%) agreed that guidance about the digital skills required for their course was provided by their organisation. 42% agreed assessments of digital skills and training needs were provided, 45% agreed that time was offered to explore new digital tools and approaches, 36% agreed that formal recognition or accreditation for digital skills was provided and 45% agreed that digital skills development for future employment was provided
- Most learners (54%) turned to lecturers/tutors for support with online and digital skills. Less common sources of support included: friends and family (39%), online videos and resources (36%), other learners (34%), IT staff (23%), library/learning resources staff (14%), and e-learning staff (13%)
Learners were asked what one thing their organisation could do to help them to use digital technologies effectively. Responses were diverse but learners wanted:
- A wider range of support and training opportunities in a range of areas (eg how to use learning platforms, online research skills, using productivity tools, online safety and wellbeing) and support for specialist software
- An improved hardware offering (eg more reliable and up-to-date devices)
- A larger range of resources for courses including videos and online tutorials
- A hybrid learning experience with teaching in-person alongside online recordings and digital resources
- Improved wifi coverage and signal strength on campus
- More feedback and assessment undertaken online (eg quizzes, and digital skills assessments).