You have /5 articles left.
Sign up for a free account or log in.

A robot hand holds a digitized globe against an orange background.

Students continue to prefer in-person and hybrid learning over fully remote instruction, but professors prefer in-person instruction by a significantly greater margin.

Photo illustration by Justin Morrison/Inside Higher Ed | Getty Images

More than four years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, students’ perspectives on digital learning continue to differ significantly from those held by college instructors and administrators. But now, the disparities are evident not only in students’ preferences regarding online classes, but also in their usage and opinions of artificial intelligence.

A new report by the strategy consulting firm  Tyton Partners, in partnership with Turnitin, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Lumina Foundation and Macmillan Learning, found a stark disconnect between students’ and instructors’ preferences for how they learn. The results are based on a survey of about 1,600 students, 1,800 instructors and 300 administrators during the 2024 spring semester.

While more than half of professors selected in-person learning as their favorite modality for teaching, only 29 percent of students prefer learning face-to-face, the 2024 “Time for Class” report found. A similar share of students, 28 percent, said they favor hybrid learning, a mixture of face-to-face and online learning—which marks an increase of six percentage points since 2023. Meanwhile, the percentage of students who prefer asynchronous online learning has decreased.

“Though the online classes were extremely flexible, [students] are starting to appreciate the value of being in the classroom, engaging with instructors, engaging with their peers,” said Ria Bharadwaj, a principal at Tyton Partners.

Students with increased flexibility needs, such as student parents, were less likely to report a preference for in-person instruction.

George Veletsianos, a professor of learning technologies at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, said the findings align with other research about learning modalities, signaling something that researchers have asserted since 2020: Online learning is not going to disappear, even if there is continued interest in other modalities.

“Fully online learning is supportive of individuals who have flexibility needs … in-person instruction creates inflexibilities. You have to be at a particular place at a particular point in time,” he said. “Online and hybrid instruction is not going away.”

Professors’ least favorite modality—HyFlex, which refers to a course offered both in-person and online, such that a student can choose how to attend—was preferred by just one percent of faculty but more than 10 percent of students.

Students’ AI Use Surges Ahead

The survey also revealed a growing discrepancy among how students, instructors and administrators use and view generative artificial intelligence (AI). The share of students who say they use generative AI at least once per month rose from 43 percent in spring 2023 to 59 percent this spring. And while more and more instructors and administrators are also using the technology, this year’s rates still lag behind, at 36 percent and 40 percent, respectively.

Veletsianos found it noteworthy that six in ten students use generative AI at least once a month.

“It seemed lower than one would expect, based on the hype that surrounds the tools,” he said. “[But] talking to my students, it kind of seems on par with what I’m hearing anecdotally … at present, this technology doesn’t seem to be a technology that people gravitate to for issues they might have.”

Bharadwaj cautioned faculty and administrators not to fall too far behind their students in their understanding of AI, as they must be knowledgeable about such tools to adequately create and implement guidelines.

“You cannot make policies about some of these tools without understanding how they work,” she said. “Your students are using them; they’re not going to stop using them.”

According to the report, the number of institutions that now have an AI policy has jumped from just three percent a year ago to 24 percent in spring 2024.

Students are also much more likely to pay for generative AI than their instructors, with 44 percent of regular student users shelling out for the technology, compared to just 13 percent of faculty. Younger professors and those with larger class sizes are more likely to have paid versions, the survey found.

Meanwhile, more professors say AI has created additional work for them (34 percent) than believe it has decreased their workload (8 percent); they report now spending extra time monitoring for academic dishonesty and creating new assignments designed to combat cheating.

Bharadwaj said students largely report using generative AI for tasks that not every professor would consider cheating, such as asking ChatGPT to search something on the internet—much like they might use Google—or having ChatGPT reword a paragraph. Less than 10 percent said they’ve asked ChatGPT to write an assignment for them wholesale.

Despite students’ affinity for generative AI, they are less convinced that they will use the tools for their future careers than instructors and administrators are; students are also less likely to believe it’s the college’s job to teach them about AI.

Catherine Shaw, managing director at Tyton Partners, said that is likely because they don’t believe there is much their institution could teach them about AI.

“They’re not waiting for their institution or their instructor to show them how,” Shaw said. “They’re racing ahead.”

Next Story

Written By

More from Academics