What Technology Does Student Needs For Online Learning

With technology playing a larger role in education, we asked 11 college educators how they used technology in their classrooms.

Maryanne Roller

Earlier this year, the Financial Times reported that “digital learning is being heralded as the future for universities, and for their students.” But what does that actually mean? And how does digital learning fit into the evolving needs of the student?

In the FT article, Damian Lyons-Dawson, professor of a new management practice at Manchester Business School, explained that students of today “will have demands very different to the demands of 30 years ago.” The article cited the “vast advances in technology, including digital video conferencing, the use of large-scale data collection to deliver customised learning and cloud-based computing.”

Lyons-Dawson added that “while online learning is often referred to as a new alternative to face-to-face teaching, the reality is quite different.” He said that “…I think face-to-face training will always be very important, but the relationship that students have with their tutors, the notion of teamwork, the need for ‘student education’…I think the digital learning concept is just an umbrella term.”

How does that “agenda” really translate? “The big question is: what is the relationship?” Lyons-Dawson said. “What sort of learner are we talking about?”

It turns out that technology—from real-time class discussions online to technology-powered assessments and virtual classrooms—allows educators to help students learn in different ways:


Teachers are able to present the content much quicker and smarter than they ever could before.

“I’ve got students who are using tablets to follow us around the classroom. Other times I’m saying something about New Zealand, and they might pull out an app and have an instant two-minute quiz,” said Lyons-Dawson. “The idea is to make it relevant to what is being taught.”

Take new Physics master student Karl-Heinz Trapp, who came to Manchester to take part in the Robotics and Perception (RAP) project—a new course in robotic manipulation. He was one of 50 students in the RAP class.

“Before the RAP course, I wanted to take a workshop on robotics,” Trapp said. “I really enjoyed it—I liked that the lesson progressed in small steps. The project led to me taking a new course on mechanical engineering. Now I would have been stupid not to take up the class.”


Much of today’s online learning comes from constantly evolving digital assessment tools that enable teachers to ensure students are hitting their objectives.

“Digital learners thrive in that environment because it really gives you a chance to have continuous feedback on each individual student—to make sure they are achieving the outcome they want,” said Lyons-Dawson.

Raphael Payan, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Florida, says that because students study online, they respond well to online assessment.

“Many traditional online students prefer to use technology because there is a cost benefit to them,” Payan said. “The nice thing is that the cost benefit to the institution doesn’t take as much.”

For example, students using online assessment tools typically use them to take exams. However, Payan said they also use them to build their self-assessment, “to solve problems in an environment that facilitates communication with instructors.”


Students go to face-to-face courses, such as the ones delivered by Manchester, because they want to meet the instructors face-to-face and they also want to build relationships with them.

“They are seeing that the tutors in the face-to-face setting are stimulating conversation and connecting with each other,” Lyons-Dawson said. “They know that the information being shared with the students is driving collective learning.”

It turns out that the best way to meet online students’ needs is to integrate them into an ongoing, interactive, collaborative ecosystem within the classroom.

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