Understanding Post-COVID Learners

Over the past 18 months, we’ve been flooded with information about our students’ anxiety, their shaky or lacking Internet connections, and everyone’s Zoom fatigue. But what do we really know about the post-pandemic learner? One thing we can assume is that the pandemic learning experience will most certainly shape the way students view their educations moving forward.

To gauge students’ thoughts about their educational futures, The Chronicle of Higher Education performed a survey of 400 high school students and 400 college students to discover how institutions and instructors should reach and teach post-pandemic students. The findings contradict many previously held assumptions about remote learning.

Overall, the results show that students’ beliefs about virtual learning have changed over the course of the pandemic. Both graduating high schoolers and current college students say they now expect their future education to include some degree of remote learning. When given the choices of online, face-to-face, or hybrid learning models, in-person classes remain the preferred method of learning. However, even students who would rather take face-to-face classes say colleges and instructors deliver “quality online education.” In fact, nearly 70 percent of the respondents consider online learning a positive or somewhat positive experience, and almost two-thirds said they would take online courses after the pandemic.

Perhaps most interesting were data that showed that more than one-fourth of both high school and college students say they prefer online learning over face-to-face—this despite the fact that online learning still claims last place of the three choices of how to learn. In fact, over half of students surveyed would still attend college in the fall even if all classes were online.

Another interesting finding concerned what students expect from a college education. The survey found that students consider college critical to becoming competent using technology they will need for future jobs. What’s more, they believe institutions are the key to learning those skills.

Not surprising to many instructors, the survey also discovered that students are not as adept at using technology as colleges have believed. What’s more, post-pandemic students expect colleges to teach them the skills in which they feel deficient, including giving effective presentations, learning to use a computer for work, dealing with computer technology issues, and using Excel proficiently.

A prime takeaway from this timely survey is that although students may think that colleges are doing a passable job with remote learning, many experts disagree that this has been the case. But because students increasingly require flexibility in their educations and schedules, colleges and instructors must continue to upgrade online programs, the researchers conclude.

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