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How COVID-19 Impacted Student Preferences

Nov 10, 2021 5:48:38 PM / by Adam Miller

Over the last few years, online programs have made a strong impression on students everywhere, institutions everywhere look to make the classroom more accessible geographically. From the popularity of online MBA programs to certificates available at the student’s convenience, it was only a matter of time before higher ed faced an imperative to embrace hybrid learning.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way students viewed higher education forever. While the country may be reopened, students don’t necessarily want everything going back to the way it was. In some cases, students hope certain changes resulting from the pandemic will never change.

According to Ivy.ai’s Future of Higher Ed Report, 77 percent of recent college graduates stated they utilized distance learning at their institution. In the same respondent group, 37 percent said the online learning experience needed improvement. It’s important to keep in mind that these graduates have spent as many as three semesters in an asynchronous environment and some have joined a remote workforce straight out of college. Given that many professions have adapted to remote work faster than academia, graduates are observing what they may have lacked while attending their institution.

However, the desire for online classes was not born from the pandemic. While these students evaluated their options for higher ed, they viewed online learning as an essential part of their decision-making process. Sixty-one percent of graduates said that access to online learning influenced their willingness to attend an institution. 

This was especially true for community college graduates, who were substantially more emphatic about this requirement compared to four-year students. Forty-five percent of community college students said they strongly agreed that online learning influenced their decision to attend an institution compared to 23 percent of graduates at four-year public institutions and 13 percent at four-year private institutions.

Although community college students showed the strongest interest in online courses, the majority (58 percent) of graduates from four-year public institutions still desired that option when making a decision. Now that students in Generation Z and Generation Alpha have learned remotely through at least one year of their life, it’s safe to assume these numbers will continue to rise among future freshmen classes. It’s only a matter of time before students desire more opportunities for self-serve learning, including chatbots in the classroom.

For current higher-ed students, the benefits of learning remotely are self-evident. Students realized the advantages of online programs through extended freedoms to travel while using on-demand learning platforms and the overall flexibility in lifestyle which remote learning offers. Institutions should embrace these newly found freedoms by creating a more hybrid learning environment that allows students to take larger lecture hall classes remotely while making the on-campus experience a pleasant one.

Whether a student prefers to learn in the mountains or by a scenic pond on campus, institutions need to help the student succeed where they feel most comfortable. It’s no surprise then, that one in every three students believes that better Wi-Fi, in addition to green building technology would’ve provided a better on-campus experience.

Students identified technology issues as one of the biggest obstacles to their success. Twenty-seven percent blamed spotty internet on campus while one out of every four students pointed to a lack of technological availability. 

Working without resource limits may be a key to success. The survey results indicate, for students to fully optimize their desired learning experience, higher-ed systems must be seamless and always available. For example, spotty Wi-Fi causes much more than temporary annoyances, a failure in connectivity deeply impacts student success. Creating a suitable technological infrastructure that allows students to learn where they are greatly increases the odds a student will thrive in school. The days of connecting to online resources in over-stuffed libraries, and crowded student unions are a thing of the past. The current generation of students demands a variety of options to connect with their institutions, anyplace and anytime they choose.

Inside the classroom, administrators need to invest in clean building technology so that students are less likely to get sick when they meet in person. The Winter of 2020 had the fewest number of flu cases ever. While mask-wearing contributed to much of that decrease, the additional air filtration and ventilation in buildings also helped in lowering the number of illnesses. As students return to the classroom, institutions need to implement best practices when it comes to clean air and other sustainable measures that can improve student health indoors.

Many describe the return to in-person classrooms as going back to normal, but the truth is, going back isn’t an option. Administrators and professors will need to work hand-in-hand with students so they can transition back on-campus without losing aspects that students enjoyed while learning remotely. 

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Adam Miller

Written by Adam Miller

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