2022/23 UK higher education students digital experience insights survey findings
The digital experience insights survey for higher education students took place between October 2022 and April 2023. Participating universities were able to select their own survey period within these dates, typically a three to four week window.
There were 27,131 respondents from 40 different universities. 25 of these were based in England, seven in Scotland, six in Wales and two in Northern Ireland. These 40 organisations represent 13% of all higher education providers in the UK.
The highest number of responses from a single organisation was 3,882 students (11% of their total student population) and the mean number of responses was 678 per organisation (on average 4% of the total number of students in each organisation that participated). However, nine of the 40 organisations contributed fewer than 100 responses.
A survey indicating the digital experience of further education learners is run simultaneously and results can be found on our 2022/23 FE learners 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 students in higher education explored some of the key aspects of learning using digital technology. Students continued to receive positive benefits from the digital technologies provided as part of the learning and teaching experience in universities. Most students experienced at least some form of learning using digital technology and it is clear that it now forms an integral part of the HE learning experience. Universities generally provided a good online learning environment and satisfaction with online learning is now higher than it was before the pandemic. However, the reality of the hybrid learning experience is that the many positive roles technology plays are accompanied by persistent negative aspects that disadvantage or hinder the ability of some students to learn.
Student preferences for learning using technology are variable, and organisations should continue to offer and improve the range of platforms and modes of learning that can cater to these preferences. Some key elements, such as the quality and timeliness of online learning resources should be addressed. Organisations also need to assess the support offered for students throughout the academic year for a range of digital skills relevant to their course and digital capabilities relevant to their future workplaces. Digital and data inequity remain major issues for many students, who struggle with private places to work, with reliable internet connections, mobile data costs, and with access to digital devices and tools. These issues have become more problematic since last year’s survey, and are likely only going to become more acute with the continuing cost of living crisis. Within their capabilities, organisations should look at how they can address some of these issues.
Organisations have a significant amount of work to do in improving how they make students aware of data collection practices as many students were unaware of how their data was collected and used. Students also tended not to be involved in the decisions about their digital experience. However, the student voice should be valued: our survey highlights their positive and negative experiences and their thoughts on the use of digital technology. By responding to the issues they raise, organisations will be able to provide a more responsive and supportive learning environment for them. In turn, they will be able to more equitably develop the skills and knowledge they need to succeed beyond university.
Access to technology devices and tools for learning
- To support their learning, 94% of students used a laptop and 71% used a smartphone. Around a quarter used a tablet device or a desktop computer
- Students tended not to use peripheral devices such as microphones/headsets (21%), cameras/webcams (19%), additional screens (11%) or VR devices (1%)
- Most students (88%) were not provided with help from their organisation to buy or loan devices or peripherals
- 57% of students took advantage of assistive features or tools included with software. The most commonly used features were captions (28%), spelling or writing support (26%) and screen readers (17%)
- Most students (57%) were not offered support to use these features
The online learning environment in higher education
- Students were generally (81%) positive about the quality of the online learning environment (with a rating of best imaginable, excellent or good) and only 5% considered the environment to be below average
- The vast majority (89%) of students were provided with at least some online teaching, including live streams (49%), recordings of live sessions (76%), or pre-recorded content (70%). Most students were provided with access to online assessment or testing platforms (60%). Perhaps surprisingly, less than half of students (49%) stated they had access to a virtual learning environment and 27% were provided with applications to support collaborative learning or other activities
- When asked about what areas they would like their university to invest in, students preferred upgrades to platforms and systems (35%), provision of specialist software (25%), more computers/devices (15%), and investment in digital content (14%) and IT support (11%)
- 61% agreed that their organisation supported them to use their own devices, 71% agreed that they were supported to access platforms and services off campus, and 66% agreed that they were supported to communicate effectively online
- Only 38% of students understood how their university collects and uses their data
Learning realities and learning preferences
- Students were positive about the quality of their course’s online learning provision (80% rated the quality as above average: best imaginable, excellent or good; only 5% rated the quality as below average). This is now higher than the pre-pandemic high (77%)
Students preferred to learn flexibly and in a range of locations:
- Most used technology for learning at home (88%) or on campus (79%), but a significant number of students learned in public spaces such as cafes (40%) and at work (18%). Very few students only learned on campus (1%) or only at home (10%)
- Classes tended to be mainly (64%) on campus (10% mainly online, 26% a mix)
- This broadly matched students’ preferences for taught classes: 53% preferred mainly on campus teaching, 11% preferred mainly online and 36% preferred a mix
- Preferences for learning are skewed slightly more towards inclusion of at least some online approaches: 45% preferred mainly on campus learning, 14% mainly online and 41% a mixture
However, students experienced a range of difficulties in learning using digital technology, both on campus and off campus:
- 58% of students experienced some sort of issue that made it difficult to learn
- Over half (54%) struggled with wifi connections, with problems almost equally experienced on (33%) and off (32%) campus
- Around a third (34%) of students had problems with mobile data costs
- A quarter found it difficult to access university systems off campus and just over a quarter (27%) struggled with no suitable computer or device
- A significant number of students (36%) had no private area to work either on (23%) or off (16%) campus, with 19% of students feeling they had no safe area to work
- Only 44% of students agreed that they had the chance to be involved in decisions about their digital experience (15% disagreed)
Experiences with digital technologies in learning
Students engaged with a wide range of activities using digital technology as part of their learning:
- Most engaged with online course materials (85%) and online lectures (70% live, 82% recorded) and most undertook digital assessments (55%) and quizzes (56%) as part of their learning. Less common were the more interactive activities such as collaborating online (31%) and online text-based discussion (24%). Very few (3%) engaged with emerging AR or VR technologies as part of their learning
Students were asked about the online learning resources provided to them as part of their course:
- 49% of students agreed online learning resources for their course were engaging and motivating (11% disagreed), 58% agreed that they were at the right level and pace (8% disagreed), 78% agreed that learning resources were accessible (3% disagreed), and 62% agreed that they were made available in good time (8% disagreed)
In a wide range of areas, students generally agreed that digital technologies aided their learning:
- 83% of students agreed that using digital technologies is convenient (3% disagreed), 67% agreed that it allows them to contribute in ways they prefer (7% disagreed), 71% agreed that it helps them progress in their studies (4% disagreed) and 62% agreed that it allows them to be assessed fairly (6% disagreed). However less than half (44%) agreed that digital technology made them feel part of a community (20% disagreed)
Students were asked to expand upon what they felt 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 convenience offered by online lectures
- The ability to access resources and course content easily
- The ability to work flexibly when and where it suited them and the savings provided by online technology (eg reducing the need to travel to campus)
- The ability to communicate and interact with peers and lecturers
- The improvements afforded to mental wellbeing (eg reducing anxiety when interacting with others and working in more comfortable environments).
Negative aspects included:
- Frustration with elements of online lectures (eg audio/video quality, lack of interaction)
- Online tools reducing the social and interactive elements of learning and the university experience (eg discussing or clarifying concepts with others, getting timely feedback)
- Reduced ability to become part of a meaningful university community when relying on digital technology
- Wifi issues and unreliable devices on campus (eg slow desktop computers) as well as unreliable online learning platforms (eg lack of available content for some courses and modules, poor or inconsistent navigation, and authentication problems)
- Contributing to wellbeing issues such as lack of motivation and the ability to focus, feelings of loneliness, and other health issues such as eye strain, fatigue and postural problems.
Support for digital skills development
- Students generally (71%) rated the support offered to learn effectively as above average (best imaginable, excellent or good). Only 7% rated the support offered as below average
- However, when looking more closely at the support offered to students in a range of digital skills areas, percentages were surprisingly low. The only area where more than half (58%) of students said support had been offered was around plagiarism. Less than half (46%) were offered support for learning online and 36% were offered basic IT skills support. Percentages were low in a range of other support areas: specialist software (26%); digital assessments (21%); data analysis (21%); behaving safely online (20%); data security (18%); information, data and media literacy (16%); coding/scripting (14%); online publishing (10%); and, managing social media and webpages (8%)
- Just over half of students (54%) agreed that guidance about the digital skills required for their course was provided by their organisation (11% disagreed). Only 36% agreed that assessment of digital skills and training needs was provided, 42% agreed that time was offered to explore new digital tools and approaches, 28% agreed that formal recognition or accreditation for digital skills was provided and 39% agreed that digital skills development for future employment was provided
- Most (61%) students turned to other students for help with online and digital skills. Other sources of support included: online videos and resources (54%), lecturers/tutors (50%), friends and family (35%), IT staff (30%), library/learning resources staff (29%), and teaching and learning staff (13%)
Students were asked what one thing their organisation could do to help them to use digital technologies effectively. Responses were diverse but students wanted:
- More opportunities to develop their digital skills (eg basic training as well course-specific and workplace skills throughout the academic year)
- Improved IT support
- Better user experience on online learning platforms and improved availability of course and support resources
- More support for using a variety of software and applications (eg general productivity tools as well as specialist software)
- Improved wifi and hardware provision
- Access to both on campus and online lectures, with better audio and visual quality where lectures are streamed or recorded
- More opportunities to interact with tutors, lecturers and support staff online.