Further education and training (FET) students in direct provision, lone parents, Traveller and Roma learners, and those with disabilities were more likely to face barriers while learning remotely.
The latest annual report from the National FET Forum found they struggled with access to devices, mental health, and motivation.
The report includes input from more than 2,000 FET learners on their experiences of education during the pandemic.
Many who took part found the remote learning environment challenging due to issues such as limited space, lack of suitable devices for learning, poor or unreliable internet access, and home caring or childcare responsibilities.
This is despite some learners reporting that remote learning was more convenient and allowed for more flexibility.
Learners in direct provision were particularly likely to struggle with their mental health and experience challenges with motivation. Traveller and Roma students were less likely to be able to access the course they wanted and struggled with motivation and mental health issues.
Learners with disabilities particularly struggled with motivation due to the lack of structure, and non-native English speakers felt less supported to learn remotely.
Lone parents were less likely to have suitable space to learn and accessing necessary IT devices and software was a particular concern for them.
Overall, the majority of students who took part in the survey agreed that they were able to access the course they wanted, felt supported to learn remotely, had a suitable space to learn remotely, and had access to the necessary devices and software.
Those taking part in the study agreed that the Education and Training Boards (ETBs) prioritised and supported their mental health and wellbeing during remote learning, and endeavoured to stay in touch with them.
However, more than half of those taking part in the survey agreed that they struggled with motivation or a lack of structure when learning online, and their mental health was affected by the Covid-19 crisis:
Those taking part in the survey pointed out that further supports are needed in the areas of mental health, digital skills, and online learning, assessment, and progression.
This year’s report is of particular importance considering the huge impact that Covid-19 has had on the learner experience, according to Andrew Brownlee, chief executive of SOLAS: