New technology is flooding higher education, thanks to a booming EdTech market. To better understand students’ experiences with EdTech, Our College Innovation Network (CIN) annually reaches out to college students with an EdTech survey. This year we sent the survey to 13,503 students from 6 institutions. Among this year’s student respondents:
- 37% reported that most of the EdTech they used was new to them
- Nearly 1 in 5 said it was hard to learn to use the new EdTech
- 30% reported encountering difficulties using or accessing necessary EdTech within the past year
Despite these struggles with EdTech — which we define as technology students use academically and socially at their institutions — students are adapting well to the new tech-enabled normal. Eighty-eight percent of students report that they can adapt to new technologies in their courses. And over two-thirds of students report feeling positive about increasing online course and program options across the higher education ecosystem.
As part of the survey, we asked students to briefly describe up to three problems they want to see EdTech solve. The 1,402 responding participants provided 1,700 open-ended responses to the question. We coded and categorized their responses to identify response patterns across respondents. (See the full methodology.)
Students’ responses showed that they see EdTech as a potentially valuable tool to improve their educational experiences and expand access to learning. At the same time, their responses show that EdTech can create its own barriers to students and has to get better to be more useful.
Across all the responses, the problems students wanted tech to solve fell into four broad categories.
- Category 1: Build a better user experience. Students want EdTech- both software and hardware - to be more user-friendly.
- Category 2: Create more opportunities for communication, engagement, and support. Students want EdTech to help them build social connections and engage with others, especially in fully online learning contexts.
- Category 3: Improve academic experiences through EdTech. Students want EdTech to improve their experience learning, particularly in online settings
- Category 4: Expand access to learning and tech. Students want EdTech to help make learning more flexible, easy to access, and affordable but, at the same time, want tech itself to be more affordable and accessible to ensure no one is left out of tech-enabled learning.
The route to more student-centered learning experience takes committing to a cycle of technology adoption, evaluation, and adjustment. The answers in this survey crack the door open, but they are hardly complete. We must continue to keep a watchful eye on where technology enables students and where it impedes them.
1. Build a Better User Experience
The survey results revealed that students are encountering problems with the operation of the technology software and hardware needed for their academic success.
Students overwhelmingly shared that the biggest problems they want EdTech to solve are issues with the technology — software and/or hardware — itself. Needing to set up multiple accounts, clunky login procedures, sluggish software that demands a lot of bandwidth, non-intuitive navigation, and limited tech support are just some of the many ways technology fails the user experience. The implications of creating a better EdTech user experience go beyond whether or not technology works. It is also about making a coherent and seamless experience for students as they work across multiple tools. Persistently poor user experience with technology will not only impede learning but can be yet another source of inequality as our surveys also show that students’ familiarity and comfort with technology (and likely their ability and willingness to manage awkward user experiences, is uneven across students.
- 43% of open-ended responses — the largest category of responses from students — called for an improvement to some aspect of the user experience.
- 24% of student responses within the EdTech user experience category mentioned technology issues for example Wi-Fi availability, connection quality, and bandwidth or hardware reliability and capability.
- 3% of student responses within the EdTech user experience category specifically called out technology support as a primary issue.
What students said
“I have had several difficulties with compiling a portfolio, web design, and other assignments requiring experience with technology. It would have been nice if the instructor was more helpful in answering problems with the technology in how to complete the assignment. I had to figure things out on my own, which was extremely time-consuming and difficult. I do not understand a lot about technology, and I don't feel that it should have been expected.” – Community College Student
2. Create More Opportunities for Communication, Engagement, and Support
Students expressed a gap in their ability to connect and engage with others through technology, especially in fully online learning environments.
Students responding to our survey were clear about their desire to connect more deeply with their peers, courses, faculty, and the broader campus community and pointed to technology as a tool to build those connections. Indeed, many respondents already use technology — largely social media applications — to make connections.
- 12% of open-ended student responses wanted EdTech to provide more opportunities for connection, communication, and engagement.
- 3 of the top 10 technologies students said they use to connect with peers are social media apps.
- 69% of student responses within the connection category specifically mentioned they wanted EdTech to help them communicate and connect with peers, professors, and others at their institutions.
What students said
“Discussion boards are a poor substitute for peer engagement in class. Required response posts rarely add anything meaningful. It’s too burdensome to require responses when the original posts by classmates vary in quality or are highly similar to your own post. Also, no one wants to be rude [and] tell someone they disagree.” – Community College Student
3. Improve Academic Experiences Through EdTech
Student respondents also indicated they want EdTech to improve academic experiences, particularly in online learning settings.
The survey revealed existing hurdles students experience while navigating online courses. Students’ open-ended responses also pointed at the quality of courses and the learning experience. Many felt that there was too much variation from course to course and professor to professor in how courses and content were organized on the LMS. Several students who were taking online courses suggested that more could be done to make these courses interactive and engaging. Students noted that both they and their faculty might benefit from more training to improve the ease and quality of their experience with Ed Tech.
- 11% of open-ended student responses concerned academic issues such as course quality, logistics, and experience.
- 7% of student responses in the EdTech user experience category highlighted the need for EdTech training for both students and faculty and for EdTech to be easier to use.
- 10% of student responses in the academic category concerned better online education and interactive learning.
What students said
“My favorite online class offered was an asynchronous course but with an optional weekly synchronous meeting with the professor for lecture and questions, in addition to pre-recorded video lectures by the professor. I learned the most and feel like I got the best value from that class.” – Community College Student
4. Expand Access to Learning and EdTech
Another trend that emerged centered on EdTech accessibility. Students identified access to education, EdTech tools, and technology infrastructure, as well as the cost of tech-enabled learning as current concerns.
Better access to resources and instructors in online courses, the cost of technology hardware and software, and attention to student-centered learning design are top of mind for students.
- 16% of open-ended student responses concerned issues with accessibility in education, access to education, and access to EdTech tools as a problem they would like to see solved by EdTech.
- 14% of student responses within this category listed the need for greater accessibility of EdTech such as hardware and tools for their courses.
- 11% of student responses within this category listed concerns of cost and financing of tech-enabled learning.
What students said
“Using EdTech has made it possible for me to earn my degree. I have a son in school, so working on my own schedule is preferred. Since I have an hour commute to and from campus, having to take specific classes in-person is difficult, and, in the future, it would be nice to give hybrid options for commuters.” – 4-year University Student
Students, of course, are closest to the problems and potential of EdTech. Yet it is clear from the survey results that their perspectives are often the least influential in EdTech decisions at institutions.
At the same time the landscape of tech-enabled learning is ever evolving and the results of this survey show only a sliver of the full picture. To distill meaningful insights and actionable steps, we need to examine this data more deeply and compare it to other research. As we continue to analyze the data from the survey and thread it with learnings from other parts of our work, we invite you to do the same by considering these questions:
- What aligns with the experience of your institution’s learners?
- What actions are you implementing to address these challenges?
- How can you increase student voice in EdTech decisions?
- What stands in the way of addressing these challenges?
- What requests can higher education leaders make of EdTech companies to address students’ concerns and preferences?
Exploring these questions and others can help shift the dynamic and lead to more engaging tech-enabled experiences for all learners.
Read the full EdTech Student Survey for a deeper understanding of what students want from EdTech in 2023.