‘COVID sucked the soul out of all things decent’:

A qualitative exploration of student experiences of online education in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic


  • Karen McKenzie Northumbria University
  • Chloe McGlynn
  • Lana Finneran
  • Clara O'Shea


COVID-19, students, online education, qualitative


The COVID-19 restrictions had a significant impact on higher education in the UK, with the majority of teaching moving to online delivery. We conducted semi-structured interviews with 16 students who were studying at universities across the United Kingdom in order to explore student experiences of digital teaching in the wider context of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Thematic analysis was used to analyse the results. Two key themes with associated themes were identified. The first theme explored students’ experiences of the move to e-learning, the support that was offered, and the perceived impact on their academic performance. The second theme explored the wider impact on students, in relation to opportunities for work experience, social relationships, future prospects, and mental health. The results illustrated that the sudden move to online learning left many students feeling disengaged from their learning; worried about their future prospects, socially isolated and experiencing poorer mental health. Implications for the provision of online education are discussed