New Study Reveals 7 Student Preferences for Online Learning

With online education becoming increasingly popular in higher academia – and currently by necessity during this time of COVID-19 and social distancing – waves of college professors and students are finding themselves navigating the unknowns of online instruction formats and platforms for the very first time. Yet little is known about what virtual classroom techniques students feel are most beneficial to their overall learning experience.

Dani Groton, Ph.D., and Christine Spadola, Ph.D., LMHC, assistant professors in the Phyllis & Harvey Sandler School of Social Work, are bridging this knowledge gap with qualitative data that reveals seven preferences social work students have when it comes to how they learn best online. The results of this study were recently published in the journal article titled “Variability, visuals, and interaction: online learning recommendations from social work students” in the August 2020 issue of Social Work Education: The International Journal (Routledge).

“In the absence of traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms, with whiteboards, handouts, small group discussion opportunities and other tactile learning aids, it becomes even more important for us to identify the course adaptations our students need us to make so they can grasp, engage and retain the content virtually,” said Dr. Groton, lead author.

The research was conducted using three focus groups of 25 graduate and undergraduate social work students who were interviewed about their virtual learning preferences. Drs. Groton and Spadola identified 12 thematic codes, and all three groups expressed these seven codes as being the most important to their e-learning experience:

“Even though we focused on social work students, we feel their feedback is not unique to their chosen field of study,” said Dr. Spadola, co-author.  “It is our hope that degree programs and higher ed institutions are able to use our data as a starting point for optimizing student e-learning experiences, and larger studies can be conducted to further investigate students’ ideal e-learning environments.”

This study was conducted as part of a research project funded by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine Foundation  (AASMF).