Why authentic student support is pivotal to the online student experience

Strong student support systems were key to maintaining Swinburne Online's overall student experience rating in 2020.

31 May 2021

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, higher education providers around the world were forced to rapidly adapt to online service delivery. Given the swift pivot from on-campus to online in the middle of the 2020 academic year, it’s not surprising that many Australian universities saw a decline in satisfaction towards the overall student experience.

The QILT Student Experience Survey (SES) for 2020 revealed that positive responses towards the quality of the educational experience were down to 68.4 per cent, a 10 per cent decline from the previous year. This is an area which usually holds steady in annual QILT surveys, hovering between 78 and 80 per cent.

While the latest QILT survey has many enlightening insights into the challenges faced during 2020 what the survey results don’t capture is a delineation between on-campus students who moved online due to the pandemic, and students already studying built-for-purpose online courses.

Since launching as Swinburne Online 10 years ago, OES has championed the student-centric experience, and has enjoyed high student satisfaction ratings compared to the national average (88.9 per cent vs 78.4 per cent in 2019). In 2020, while other Australian universities dropped 10 per cent, Swinburne Online maintained their overall experience rating at 88 per cent.

This above average student satisfaction ranking can be attributed to a range of existing support systems in place such as a tertiary qualified team of student support experts, cutting-edge Learning Management Systems (LMS), Customer Relationship Management systems (CRM) and other data inputs to identify the student needs. OES has continued to deliver on the intrinsic student need to feel engaged, connected and understood. With extended hours 7 days a week, students are able to reach OES’s support services across multiple channels. For Swinburne Online, this has led to a 5 per cent increase in student retention.

In a recent survey, 150 Swinburne Online students were asked about their level of satisfaction towards their Student Advisors, a team who offer support and assistance for all students. 91.64 per cent of students rated the overall Student Advisors support as positive. Another 91 per cent of students found the support and advice from their Student Advisors helpful and reassuring while completing their online studies at Swinburne Online. Written feedback from the students included:

“I prefer engaging with a person either face-to face or having a personal conversation. The advisors I have encountered have been patient and respectful with answering the most basic questions. The after-hours service minimises the stress of work/study balance and makes the online study experience feel less isolating.”

“A student advisor made me feel comfortable and confident when starting with my online course. I was encouraged to contact them anytime I had a question. The conversation was very reassuring, and I felt like I was supported in my online journey with Swinburne.”

“Knowing I could call the advisors whenever I wanted was a huge help. I never felt isolated in a problem.”

As we recover from the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the pressure has been on for all higher education providers to find responsive and efficient solutions to ensure a positive student experience.

COVID-19 has amplified student expectations and demonstrated that while a student’s challenges are often unique to their specific situation, all are looking for round the clock, personalised support. To ensure the higher education sector rebounds from COVID-19, and to maintain a strong and successful cohort of graduates in the years to come, student support is key.