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The student experience: scholarly perspectives

When we take an holistic and a student-centred approach to thinking about the student experience, we need to recognise that the process of studying and learning at university is not only about gaining theoretical knowledge and transferable skills. Student experience is also connected with issues of personal growth and social development, both of which can have a positive influence on students’ academic training or experience (Barnett, 1992).

Taking inspiration from the list of perspective suggested by Baird & Gordon (2009) the student experience can be conceptualised in a variety of ways:

  • ‘All life experiences of all students while they are students’: This is including the experience (in general terms) of all students learning in an institution.
  • ‘All experiences of an individual while a student, which includes wider life experiences’. This refers specifically to the experience of one student, but includes everything that happens to them during their studies.
  • ‘All experiences of an individual student while in their identity as student’. This refers to the experience of an individual student while they are students (i.e. it will not include their other life experiences such as a part-time job, or performing sports, hobbies etc.).
  • ‘The experience of facets of university experienced by a student’: This means that the focus is on specific elements such as teaching, support, facilities etc.; however, it allows to analyse identifiable features of the experience associated with a clear sense of belonging to the institution.
  • The ‘consumer’ view of experience, in which aspects of the services provided are considered (for example administrative procedures, catering, accommodation, IT etc).

While all these are based on the idea that student experience can be captured, either as a concept, or based on what individuals or the whole student population experience, others argues that we can not identify the student experience as a holistic or universal concept.

“Student experience(s) are unique for each individual, across the range of contexts through which students engage as part of their university studies: there is no such thing as the student experience.” (Radloff, Coates, James, & Krause, 2011, p. 35).

In fact, even for students registered in different degree programs within the same institution, it is common that students experience completely different patterns of teaching and assessment that determine the nature of their interactions and perception of their respective environments.

Reflection point

To move beyond perspectives and to look at what student experience means in practice, we need to consider the common goals that characterise all students deciding to enrol on a university course at a particular institution.

Three common goals for students are:

  • personal development and transformation through learning
  • direct future benefits in terms of employability, social standing and contributions to society and communities
  • a match or fit between the student and the university in terms of areas of study or institutional/ departmental culture (i.e. becoming a professional: a doctor, a lawyer, a scientist etc.).

The student experience in a MOOC

You are authentically experiencing being a student in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course).

The student experience in a MOOC may present these issues:

  • participants (in most cases) do not pay to enrol
  • participants might not intend to follow the MOOC from start to finish
  • participants may not want to complete assessments
  • there are many assumptions about the target audience and level of the material.

Talking point

Identify two factors which have had the most impact on your personal student experience (as a learner in this FutureLearn course) as you undertake this course.


Baird, J., & Gordon, G. (2009). Beyond the Rhetoric: A framework for evaluating improvements to the student experience. Tertiary Education and Management, 15(3), 193–207. https://doi.org/10.1080/13583880903072976

Barnett, R. (1992). Improving Higher Education. Buckingham: SRHE. Open University Press.

Harvey, L., Burrows, A., & Green, D. (1992). Total Student Experience: A First Report of the QHE National Survey of Staff and Students’ Views of the Important Criteria for Assessing the Quality of Higher Education. Quality in Higher Education Project. Retrieved from

Krause, K. L., Hartley, R., James, R., & McInnis, C. (2005). The first year experience in Australian universities: Findings from a decade of national studies. Centre for the Study of Higher Education, University of Melbourne Melbourne. Retrieved from http://www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au

Radloff, A., Coates, H., James, R. & Krause, K. (2011). Report on the development of the university experience survey. Higher Education Research. ACER, CSHE and Griffith University. Retrieved August 13, 2012 from http://works.bepress.com/hamish_coates/79

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This article is from the free online course:

Introduction to Enhancing Learning and Teaching in Higher Education

UNSW Sydney