FE students favour real-world help with digital skills

Jisc's survey of 37,000+ students (14,292 from further education) finds most turn to each other or staff for tech support, rather than looking online

Contrary to their oft-presumed digital know-how, FE students are more likely to ask each other for help with technology (32%) than search the web for tips and tutorials (only 14%). More reliant on staff than their higher education (HE) counterparts, a third (35%) of FE students turn to their lecturers first for digital advice, compared to only 8% of university students. 

Jisc claims its survey represents the largest ever sample of data showing how students use digital technology in education, and their attitudes towards it. 

In the report’s foreword, Universities Minister Sam Gyimah calls for action: “I want all educational leaders to look closely at this report and consider how they can improve their own provision through the effective use of technology. I also urge them to take full advantage of the expert advice and ‘on the ground’ support provided by Jisc to take a fully digital approach to issues such as curriculum design and the learning environment.”  

Don’t replace conversation with technology  

More than a third of FE students surveyed want technology to be used more on their course. 64% report to be more independent in their learning when technology is used, and over half (57%) agree that it helps them to fit learning into their busy lives. 

Fewer than half of students (47%) agree they can access health and wellbeing services online, suggesting that they might benefit from clearer signposting. They also claim that being online does not make them feel more connected with fellow students or lecturers.   

Ensure staff have the right digital skills 

The report also shines a light on the digital competencies of staff, with many students reporting frustration when lecturers struggle to use digital systems correctly, saying it wastes time and restricts access to digital resources. Learners do, however, report examples of excellent practice that they’d like staff to aspire to.  

Only half of FE students say that the software used on their course is industry standard and up to date, though almost three-quarters are satisfied with the digital offer provided by their organisation. 

Sam Gyimah concludes: “I call on all universities and colleges to work in partnership with their students to ensure they are providing the best possible education experience – one in which digital technology is fully integrated and offers opportunities for all learners to develop the skills they need to thrive in today’s fast-changing world of work.” 

Kirsti Lord, Deputy Chief Executive, Association of Colleges, said: “The Jisc report provides a hugely valuable insight into the digital experiences of students at their colleges. It’s heartening to see that FE learners value the support they receive from their lecturers, and the results show the supportive digital environment colleges provide their learners. It’s interesting to note that students often don’t have the level of digital skills that they’re presumed to, and it is fundamental that learners are armed with the skills that they’ll need to flourish in the digital workplace.” 

Sarah Knight, the report’s co-author and Jisc’s Head of Change (Student Experience), said: “It’s clear that staff need a prerequisite level of digital capability and ongoing development, to be able to support their students with the development of their digital skills. Our report recommends that organisations invest in signposting support for using technology for learning, encouraging students and staff to help each other with their digital queries. We also suggest the introduction of student digital mentors and champions, as well as investing in meaningful student engagement initiatives around their digital experience.