Students’ experience of online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic: a province-wide survey study

Lixiang Yan, Alexander Whitelock-Wainwright, Quanlong Guan, Gangxin Wen, Dragan Gašević, Guanliang Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

84 Citations (Scopus)


Online learning is currently adopted by educational institutions worldwide to provide students with ongoing education during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though online learning research has been advancing in uncovering student experiences in various settings (i.e., tertiary, adult, and professional education), very little progress has been achieved in understanding the experience of the K-12 student population, especially when narrowed down to different school-year segments (i.e., primary and secondary school students). This study explores how students at different stages of their K-12 education reacted to the mandatory full-time online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. For this purpose, we conducted a province-wide survey study in which the online learning experience of 1,170,769 Chinese students was collected from the Guangdong Province of China. We performed cross-tabulation and Chi-square analysis to compare students’ online learning conditions, experiences, and expectations. Results from this survey study provide evidence that students’ online learning experiences are significantly different across school years. Foremost, policy implications were made to advise government authorises and schools on improving the delivery of online learning, and potential directions were identified for future research into K-12 online learning. Practitioner notes What is already known about this topic Online learning has been widely adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the continuation of K-12 education. Student success in K-12 online education is substantially lower than in conventional schools. Students experienced various difficulties related to the delivery of online learning. What this paper adds Provide empirical evidence for the online learning experience of students in different school years. Identify the different needs of students in primary, middle, and high school. Identify the challenges of delivering online learning to students of different age. Implications for practice and/or policy Authority and schools need to provide sufficient technical support to students in online learning. The delivery of online learning needs to be customised for students in different school years.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2038-2057
Number of pages20
JournalBritish Journal of Educational Technology
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021


  • e-learning
  • learner attitudes/perceptions
  • primary education
  • questionnaire
  • secondary education

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