By looking at students’ attitudes, habits, and behaviors, we can better understand—and address— their needs.

Given the prevalence of digital learning solutions, we wanted to take a look at how, and how frequently, students made use of these tools.

To do so, we turned to two recent polls conducted by our colleagues at Below, we share the results, as well as some tips that help both you and your students get the most out of your course.

How much time do students spend with digital learning tools?

The amount of time spent on assignments is not the sole indicator of students’ success. However, it is one indicator of how much effort a student is willing to put into the course. Thus, if you look at how much time students spend in your course’s learning solution, you can have a relatively good sense of their level of engagement.

To this end, we looked at students’ answers to the question: “How much time per week do you spend using your digital learning tools?”

College students: How much time per week do you spend using your digital learning tools? - Cengage LearningIt does appear that the largest percentage of students (43% total) spend at least six hours a week studying with their courses’ digital solutions. Of the students, 14% said they use the digital tools for six to eight hours per week, and 29% spend eight or more hours per week.

Another large portion, 29%, use their course’s digital tools from three to six hours per week. Taken together, these numbers indicate to us that most of a class full of students will be putting forth the effort to succeed (or, at the very least, pass).

The smallest percentage of students (11%) said that they use their courses’ digital learning tools “less than one hour per week.” We found this surprising; if digital materials have been assigned, it’s likely that instructors intended students to spend more than just one hour per week using them. However, to be fair, this may also depend on the courses they’re taking; perhaps the classes are not as reliant upon digital tools as are others. Even so, such students may need to be introduced to, or reminded of, the value of what’s available to them.

Do you want to learn more about the amount of time your own students spend in your online resources? Many provide you, the instructor, with . Some, like MindTap, also allow students to check their progress. If you, or they, see that they’re logging in for a minimal amount of time, you may wish to address this and keep an eye on their progress in your class. On the other hand, if they’re spending a lot of time in the system, but their grades aren’t improving, you might also reach out and see if they need additional clarification or assistance.

The digital study tools that students use most frequently

Given that many students spend a good portion of their study time using their course’s digital tools, it also pays to look into which of these tools they find most effective.

In another recent poll at CengageBrain, over 450 students responded to the question “Which digital feature do you utilize most for school?”

Digital learning tools: top features used by students - Cengage LearningWith 28% of the student vote, “quizzes” came out on top. This makes sense: instructors typically assign quizzes (and thus they’d be a frequently-used resource among students). However, even if they’re not graded, quizzes can play an important role in students’ learning and retention of course material.

Of the students, 19% said that “flashcards” were their most-used tool. Here, too, we understand students’ logic: flashcards are popular study tools for those all-important tests and quizzes. In addition, they’re also handy: it’s easy to flip through flashcards, making them an ideal resource when students have just a few minutes to review course concepts between classes, appointments, and work shifts.

“Homework” was the third most popular use of digital tools, at  18%. Like quizzing, the fact that homework is by and large assigned (and required) surely must account for the strong student response. But of course, homework is more than just “busy work” for a course; well-designed assignments enable students to practice applying what they’ve learned, while also thinking critically about the material.

Less popular, but still notable, features included note taking (13%), reading (9%), organization & time management (4%), and multimedia assigned by the instructor (4%). In the case of most of these responses, it’s clear that students do find value in these tools. However, the majority may find them useful but not most important; or, they may simply have other ways of completing these tasks (such as the use of print textbooks, notebooks, and planners).

The least-used features included “performance and grade tracking” (2%), “collaboration with instructor” (1%), and “collaboration with other students” (1%). Though it’s understandable that these might not be the most used features of digital learning tools, they’re still valuable, as they can help students know where they stand in the course, and also facilitate their engagement with their instructors and fellow students.

Ways to enhance your students’ experience with digital learning solutions

You’ve invested a significant amount of time in planning, setting up, and implementing your course. Now, help students make the most of the experience by putting these three tips into place!

Ensure that students are aware of, and know how to use, your course’s digital solutions. Call their attention to the functions beyond completing and submitting assignments, such as checking on their own progress through the gradebook or progress tracker, communicating with you and other students, or keeping up with coursework through the notification system.

Want to provide students with an on-demand orientation to the solution? Check to see if your publisher offers how-to videos, like the ones hosted on Cengage Learning’s YouTube channel.  You might also create your own screencast or video, giving students a brief tutorial on a specific aspect of the tools you’re using in your course.

Require or assign point value to all activities. Unfortunately, many students will skip activities or readings if they aren’t explicitly assigned or required. Therefore, if you believe that a certain resource has great value to students’ experience in your course, assign it and attach points to its completion. Even if the points are minimal, students will come to recognize that they, too, should see the value of the material as it relates to your course.

If you’ve assigned a video, follow it up with a question that prompts students to think critically about what they’ve just watched. If you’ve assigned a simulation or another type of active-learning experience, ask a short-answer question that requires students to reflect on what they learned and observed. You might also create a reading quiz. This could help both you and your students check their understanding of the material.

Make it engaging. Consider how you can make the most of the dynamic and interactive functionality of your course solutions. Craft discussion-board questions that prompt thoughtful responses, and be an eager participant in those discussions yourself! Share videos, simulations, interactive maps, and other resources that help students visualize course concepts. Include polls that give a quick glimpse into students’ perspectives on the topics you’re covering.


Using digital learning tools can make your course more engaging… and fun! Consider what else you might do to integrate more digital tools into your teaching.

Need more reasons to explore a new learning solution for your course? Review our recent series, “Why Digital?,” for ideas and recommendations.


How do you incorporate digital tools into your teaching? What digital learning tools are your students’ favorites? Share your responses in the comments.