Distance learning courses: what do students really think?


Since October 30, 2020, in the context of this second period of confinement, French students have been forced to follow distance education. This situation gives rise to contrasting reactions, combining praise for the adaptability of universities and criticism of maintaining this method of teaching. The media echo the suffering of the students.

Following the executive’s announcement of a resumption of face-to-face classes in February , the Conference of University Presidents expressed their incomprehension about this decision and launched an appeal to put an end to this constrained distance. as soon as possible, also emphasizing the difficulties encountered by students, and particularly those enrolled in the first year of the license.

In the interview given to the online media Brut , Friday, December 4, Emmanuel Macron finally mentioned a gradual resumption of courses on university sites in early January.

Called upon as teacher-researchers, specialists in educational digital issues, we wanted to question the training conditions of students.

As teachers, we have noticed that various master’s students who have lost their “job” declared themselves in difficulty to continue their training, others told us that they had returned to live with their parents. Still others reported suffering from isolation but a minority, often in retraining, work-study, older, and / or far from the place of training, saw certain advantages.

As researchers, we have carried out a research project on digital uses in the distance teaching activity, from qualitative and quantitative data collected during the first confinement in spring 2020, and the current context echoes our work.

It is from this dual concern, between research and training, that the desire to send a questionnaire to students at the national level was born.

The challenge of concentration

Combining the sciences of education and training and the sciences of information and communication, this research aims to understand how students experience this period and try to maintain their activity to meet the expectations of their university education.

In this context, on December 3, we distributed a questionnaire comprising 90 questions, distinguishing four axes of analysis relating to their individual situation, their course attendance during this period, the organization of their personal work and finally their point of view. view on this constrained distance education.

As of December 15, the study already recorded 6,320 responses, mainly from women (67%), for 33% of men, ten points above compared to national statistics. The age range ranges from 18 to 20 years (44.33%) and 20 to 25 years (48.3%). 41.7% of respondents study in the Science and Technology sector, 22.9% in the Arts, Letters, Languages ​​and Human Sciences sector, 23% in STAPS.

The panel breaks down into 42.2% scholarship students and 57.8% non-scholarship recipients, a figure slightly higher than those provided by the ministry (37%). Most of the responding students live alone (85.5%) and live during this period of confinement with their parents (51.1%).

74.6% of the students questioned follow all of their courses at a distance. For 95.2% of them, the courses take the form of videoconferences, to be followed live synchronously. They are 75.3% to say they are diligent.

The majority of them (66.7%) consider that the digital tools and services provided by the university are satisfactory. However, 41.4% say they cannot stay focused for more than 1 hour, or 2 hours for 28.1%, while, for 52.6% of students, the frequency of classes is more than 8 classes per week, this gap weighing on learning.

Feeling of isolation

From a material point of view, 51.1% of students consider their conditions acceptable to follow distance learning courses, but 9% say they are in a precarious situation. The difficulties encountered during this period mainly concern the organization of their personal work, the understanding of course content and the lack of interactions with other students (50.2%).

In fact, students estimate, for 54.9% of them, that personal working time has increased during this period. Before the switch to distance learning, 66% of students surveyed felt that they took the most time to follow courses, now 70.5% of them believe that it is personal work that takes them most of time.

Moreover, the majority of students raise the problem of a lack of interactions with other students and their teachers as well as a feeling of isolation. 74.5% of students believe that they have much less interaction during lessons with other students than when they were studying face-to-face.

We can thus note that 56.9% say they do not participate in group work or do not organize themselves with their peers to work together outside of class. As a result, 61.2% of them feel that distance education decreases exchanges between students. This feeling is all the more true among new baccalaureate holders enrolled in the first year of higher education: 71.2% of these new students feel isolated.

Finally, 68.7% of students say they interact much less with their teachers. These first results open avenues for reflection on the role and modalities of interactions in distance learning.

Organizational difficulties

The context of distance education in this period also seems to have an impact on how students feel about their diploma or the pursuit of their studies. 71% are less effective in a distance education context compared to face-to-face.

Thus, 57.5% of the students questioned think that the context of health crisis and its constraints disrupt their ability to continue their studies. Finally, let us note that for 46.1% of respondents have the feeling that their diploma will be of less value this year.

The first trends that appear through the responses of the students concerned therefore suggest that distance education, as implemented, is experienced as a predominantly burdensome situation. The lack of contact with teachers and sharing of experience with others, often sources of motivation, seem to weaken in one way or another the personal situation of students, thus questioning the impact on learning.

These first trends also pave the way for a particular focus on the specific situation of new baccalaureate holders, disciplinary sectors, but also students with disabilities or special needs, a reality that will not escape our investigation, making also echoed the adaptations implemented by teachers.

This research is continuing and the questionnaire is still accessible to all students wishing to share their point of view on this situation.

Author Bios: Sophie Gebeil is a Lecturer in Contemporary History and Perrine Martin is a Lecturer in Educational Sciences both at Aix-Marseille University (AMU)