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How Has Online Learning Impacted International Students?

By Chloe Lane

Updated August 6, 2021 Updated August 6, 2021

Sponsored by the University of Law

COVID-19 led to a rapid shift to online learning at universities around the world. As the pandemic struck, many international students were unable to travel overseas to their universities and instead had to study online in their home countries. 

As live and pre-recorded online lectures replaced in-person lectures, how has this switch to online learning affected international students and what might the future look like for online learning post-COVID?  

The recent QS UK International Student Survey (ISS) collected responses from 105,083 international students across 191 countries. These students are either studying at UK universities or are looking to study in the UK in the upcoming year. They gave us an insight on how they’ve found the switch to online learning since the pandemic started and how it might impact their studies in the future.  

Positive response to online learning in the UK 

When asked how effective students thought the delivery of online learning in UK universities was, the result was overwhelmingly positive.  

Just over half (52 percent) of students surveyed believed that their university had been either ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ effective in delivering online teaching throughout the pandemic. Just eight percent of students said their university’s online learning was not at all effective.  

So, could online only degrees be a popular option in the future? It seems some students would consider it. Around one-third (31 percent) of prospective students said they would consider studying their degree entirely online if it meant they could pay lower tuition fees. However, this came with a lot of uncertainty, with 34 percent unsure whether they would take up this offer and the remaining 36 percent unlikely to.  

The flexibility of an online degree was one aspect that seemed to be very attractive to potential students. Nearly two thirds (65 percent) of all prospective students said that they could balance work more easily if they were studying online.  

It appears that this flexible element of studying abroad is what international students value most about an online degree.  

However, this is not to say that studying online hasn’t had its drawbacks.  

Harder to ask questions online  

Despite the high levels of satisfaction with online lectures, 65 percent of students surveyed said they prefer face-to-face learning, while only 23 percent preferred online learning.  

One of the reasons for this may be that international students found it harder to ask questions online than in a face-to face lecture.  

Many online lectures now feature a chat box, which allows students to easily ask questions directly while the lecture is taking place. When asked what the most important feature of an online lecture was, many students (59 percent) said this online chat box.  

However, the UK International Student Survey revealed that 57 percent of students would still prefer to ask questions to a lecturer in a face-to-face setting, rather than an online setting. Only 14 percent of students said they found it easier to ask questions in an online lecture.  

The second most valued feature in an online lecture is the option to take part in interactive exercises, with 52 percent of prospective students selecting this option. Interactive exercises, such as quizzes, breakout rooms, and polls, have helped students better engage with online lectures.  

In general, live lectures were a lot more popular than pre-recorded lectures, with only 28 percent of students preferring lectures to be pre-recorded. This is most likely because live learning makes it easier for students to interact with the lecture and get involved in activities.  

Studying at night 

However, for some international students, the time differences in their home country mean it isn’t possible to attend live lectures, making it even harder to ask questions and engage with lectures. In fact, 55 percent of international students said that they have had to attend live online lectures at night due to time zone differences. 

A recent survey of higher education professionals conducted by QS found that 55 percent of universities had introduced flexible timetables to allow students who were studying remotely to attend lectures at a reasonable hour. This is something many other universities hope to address in the future.  

Talking to other students online 

Getting to know other students on your programme can be incredibly valuable. Studying with friends and discussing aspects of your course you’re finding difficult can help you better understand the course material and have a much more well-rounded university experience.  

However, 57 percent of the international students surveyed found it harder to interact with other students online compared to in person.  

This may change in the future as lecturers become more accustomed to online teaching. It’s expected that over time, lecturers will structure their lectures differently to help students to get to know each other. As online learning advances there might also be additional tools to supplement this.  

How have you found online learning? Tweet us @topunis.  

Image: Unsplash 

This article was originally published in June 2021 . It was last updated in August 2021

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Written by

As Content Editor for TopUniversities.com and TopMBA.com, Chloe creates and publishes a wide range of articles for universities and business schools across the world. Chloe has a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Reading and grew up in Leicestershire, UK. 

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