Physical home learning environments for digitally-supported learning in academic continuing education during COVID-19 pandemic


Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, digital technologies for distance learning have been used in educational institutions worldwide, raising issues about social implications, technological development, and teaching and learning strategies. While disparities regarding access to technical equipment and the internet (‘the digital divide’) have been the subject of previous research, the physical learning environment of learners participating in online learning activities has hardly been investigated. In this study, the physical-spatial conditions of learning environments, including technical equipment for distance learning activities and their influence on adult learners in academic continuing education during initial COVID-19 restrictions, were examined. Data were collected with an online survey sent to all students enrolled in an Austrian continuing education university, together with a small number of semi-structured interviews. A total of 257 students participated in the survey during the 2020 summer semester. Our findings provide insights in two infrequently-studied areas in learning environment research: the physical learning environment for online learning and the learning environment in academic continuing education. The study illustrates that students in academic continuing education have spacious living conditions and almost all the equipment necessary for digitally-supported learning. According to gender and household structure, significant differences were found regarding technical equipment, ergonomic furniture and availability of a dedicated learning place. In their learning sessions during the restrictions, students reported low stress levels and positive well-being. The more that they perceived that their physical learning environment was meeting their needs, the higher were their motivation and well-being and the lower was their stress. Their learning experience was further improved by the extent to which they had a separate and fixed learning place that did not need to be coordinated or shared with others. The study contributes to the literature on creating conducive learning environments for digitally-supported online learning for adult learners.

Learning Environments Research
Stefan Oppl
Stefan Oppl
Professor for Technology Enhanced Learning

My research interests include technology-enhanced learning, socio-technical systems design and HCI