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A study published today reveals the demands, perceptions and needs of new and potential higher education students regarding online learning at universities and colleges.

The report, 'Student perspectives on technology - demand, perceptions and training needs', explores the expectations and demand for online provision from future students, and what training they might need in order to use it effectively.

The report's main findings are:

  • students prefer a range of possible learning methods, rather than one or two prescribed options, and flexibility is very important to them
  • proactive engagement with students and co-ordinated efforts by higher education institutions can markedly improve standards and accountability
  • there are varying levels of ICT competence among lecturers and staff, and this can have an impact on students' learning experiences
  • students commonly requested more ICT skills training, particularly around using and referencing online resources.

The research was done by the NUS. It was commissioned by the Online Learning Task Force (OLTF), which was set up by HEFCE to help the UK higher education sector maintain its position as a leader in online learning.

Aaron Porter, National President, NUS, said:

'Technology is an integral and valued part of university education, with this research showing that over three-quarters of students believing that it has improved their learning experience. Students are hesitant towards using their mobile phones and PDAs as part of their learning, with 37 per cent agreeing and 35 per cent disagreeing.'

Describing the training needs of staff and students, he went on to say:

'The vast majority – 81 per cent – of students described themselves as "self-taught", highlighting the importance of supporting students to help improve their understanding and offer targeted training. The research also emphasised the benefit of having well trained staff, with many students highlighting the varying competence of lecturers' skills and 21 per cent thinking lecturers need additional training.'

The OLTF is chaired by Dame Lynne Brindley (Chief Executive, British Library), and includes members from universities, the NUS and private sector representatives. The OLTF will consider the report recommendations as part of its final report to HEFCE, the Government and the higher education sector, due to be published in early 2011.

Another piece of research that the OLTF will take into account is the recently published 'Study of UK Online Learning'.