Research

College Students: 'Please Personalize My Learning'

Digital technology in post-secondary learning is here to stay, according to a new report. Eight in 10 college students surveyed said that the use of tech improves their grades (81 percent), lets them spend more time studying by increasing the accessibility they have to their materials (82 percent) and improves their efficiency (81 percent). A comparable number (80 percent) said they find that their instructors are "effectively" integrating digital learning tech into their courses. Where technology isn't as useful as an academic tool, according to students, is helping them improve their "soft skills," such as interacting with others or working in groups; only 46 percent agreed with that statement.

Those results come from "Digital Study Trends: Student Habits," a survey done on behalf of McGraw-Hill Education by Hanover Research among 3,311 current college students, most of whom have used digital technology from McGraw-Hill.

The proportion of students who said they prefer classes that use digital learning technology is on the upswing. Whereas 56 percent of students in 2015 reported that as their preference, the count was 61 percent in 2016. Those who said the presence of tech in the class made no difference dropped from 33 percent last year to 25 percent this year.

Students said they would like to see greater use of personalization. Eighty-nine percent agreed that digital learning tech "should respond and adapt to my unique way of learning." Eighty percent also reported that the tech "should be more individualized." And 70 percent stated that it "should feel as tailored to me as my social media feeds."

Technology is better right now at helping students feel more engaged with their course materials (reported by 71 percent of respondents) than with their professors and teaching assistants (58 percent), their institutions (51 percent) or their fellow students (45 percent).

Interestingly, students said they find their laptop computers "extremely" helpful to their studies more often (62 percent) than they do their instructors (32 percent) or fellow students (19 percent). Textbooks that lack an online or digital component are found to be less useful than any other academic resource (designated as "not at all helpful" by 13 percent), followed by the smartphone (12 percent).

Respondents said they were more likely to use laptops to study (91 percent) than smartphones (60 percent), desktop computers (38 percent) or tablets (32 percent).

The types of digital learning tech that students are mostly likely to use have evolved over the last three years. Whereas this year 53 percent of students said they're likely to use lecture recordings, only 35 percent said the same in 2014; likewise, while 51 percent of students are drawn to the use of online discussion forums and social media for studying this year, in 2014 only 33 percent said the same.

The most popular use of tech for studying is online practice quizzes and adaptive learning software, reported by 79 percent of respondents. In fact, half said they believe those forms of tech have had a "major effect" on their grades and 36 percent said they had at least a "moderate" impact. The use of a learning management system and performance data or feedback were the next two forms of tech with the greatest positive impact (either major or moderate) on grades, referenced by 79 percent of respondents.

"While college enrollment has climbed in recent decades, graduation rates remain low, and educators across the country continue to work to identify new ways to increase student success," said Sally Shankland, president of McGraw-Hill Education's Higher Education group, in a prepared statement. "High-quality digital learning technology has proven to be one of the most effective tools for driving success in higher education, and it's extremely encouraging to see that students are recognizing those benefits."

The full report is available with registration on the McGraw-Hill Ed website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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