Learning design - the quality of teaching materials, assessment strategies and workload - offers the most significant contribution to overall student satisfaction, research concludes.
A study among 60,000 Open University students, combined with interviews with academic staff, found that students who were 'more satisfied with the quality of teaching materials, assessment strategies and workload were significantly more satisfied with the overall learning experience.
The long-term goals of learners and the relevance of the qualifications or modules to their professional careers was also an important factor influencing student learning satisfaction.
However, researchers from the Open University, commissioned by QAA to explore how student satisfaction data is used to improve quality assurance and enhancement, identified five challenges including:
* how to provide feedback to staff in a format that can be easily understood
* how to ensure that academics act upon the students' voices
* how to provide synthesized feedback to senior management.
A second, complementary piece of research, undertaken by researchers at the University of Kent and also published by QAA, gives examples of practical changes put in place by universities as a result of considering National Student Survey (NSS) data.
Senior staff at four UK universities, with responsibility for teaching and learning and/or the student experience, revealed that universities have 'revisited and improved timetabling systems', 'renewed their focus on teaching and learning' and 'replaced subjects and, at times, personnel whose NSS scores keep falling'.
Ian Kimber, QAA's Director of Quality Development, said: 'The introduction of tuition fees, financed by student loans, has heightened the significance of students' satisfaction and the importance of using data, whether it is from the NSS or gathered by the universities themselves, to inform practice. This type of data is also being considered as a metric for the proposed Teaching Excellence Framework, and the links between learning design and student satisfaction identified in this research could add a further dimension to its application in this context.
'What is interesting is that the findings suggest that success in NSS ratings is achieved when institutions prioritise improving the student experience and let the NSS take care of itself, rather than employing various tactics to promote the surveys.
'For those wanting to drive up the quality of their students’ experience, these twin research projects offer a new perspective on how student satisfaction data can be used to effect change.'