First-Gen College Students Lead the Charge in Online Learning Adoption, New Survey Reveals

2023 CIN Student EdTech Survey Also Shows Tech Fatigue and Unequal Access to AI Tools Pose New Challenges

SALT LAKE CITY, Nov. 07, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The College Innovation Network (CIN), a grant-funded initiative spearheaded by WGU Labs, today published the results of its 2023 CIN Student EdTech Survey. The third annual survey provides new critical insights into the role technology plays in facilitating equitable access to quality higher education. The survey finds both opportunities and challenges in the tech-enabled future of higher education – particularly for first-generation college students.

The survey, which included 3,143 students from nine diverse community colleges, private and public four-year universities, and online, not-for-profit colleges across the country, found that an impressive 84% of students have access to necessary digital devices, and 78% enjoy reliable internet access, signaling a shrinking digital divide. However, a growing concern is “tech fatigue:” Almost 60% of students indicated a need for a break from educational technology. And notably, first-generation students are less acquainted with advanced AI tools like ChatGPT. 

The CIN Student EdTech Survey identified four key takeaways for institutions to improve the student EdTech experience:

  • First-generation college students exhibit a nearly 10% higher inclination towards online learning. This demographic, often facing numerous economic and social barriers, views technology as a conduit to more accessible and flexible education, underscoring the necessity for tech-driven educational models. 
  • While tech access and digital literacy are advancing, two-thirds of students express tech fatigue. Addressing the AI access gap between first-generation and continuing-generation students is imperative.
  • Over 80% of students affirm the effectiveness of online courses. However, a preference for in-person learning persists, highlighting the need for quality enhancements in digital education.
  • 80% of students, particularly first-generation learners, affirmed that technology eased access to crucial educational supports like tutoring and mental health services. However, actual utilization remained low, underscoring the need for increased awareness and better engagement strategies. 

“We are encouraged by the overwhelmingly positive sentiment toward tech-enabled learning, especially from first-generation students,” said Omid Fotuhi, Director of Learning Innovation at WGU Labs. “This is an encouraging signal toward the democratization of higher education.”  

The 2023 CIN Student EdTech Survey highlights an imminent tech-driven educational future. The insights gleaned underscore the urgency for higher education institutions to craft a tech-integrated educational landscape as inclusive as it is innovative, ensuring every student, irrespective of their background, has an equitable pathway to quality education.

“To fully realize the potential of advanced tools like AI in shaping the future of education, we must address challenges like tech fatigue and disparities in access for all students,” Fotuhi said. “Integrating comprehensive, tech-enabled strategies is essential to ensuring an inclusive, equitable, and effective learning environment.”

For a full analysis of the survey findings and actionable strategies to improve student experiences with EdTech, please visit

About the College Innovation Network
The College Innovation Network (CIN) at WGU Labs is a network of higher education institutions committed to addressing the core challenge of promoting belonging and engagement in the modern higher education environment. We’re leveraging technology to build highly engaged learning communities from enrollment through graduation — and beyond. CIN supports educational institutions by identifying areas of need, implementing effective education technology for students, and demonstrating impact through research.

About the CIN EdTech Survey Series
CIN is in a unique position to learn about the student and faculty experience with EdTech by leveraging the diversity of institutions within the Network. The CIN EdTech Survey Series is an annual survey series administered across the Network with the goal of generating valuable insights to help institutions understand how faculty, administrators, and students experience EdTech. These insights can be applied to improve faculty and student experiences, and ultimately bolster the impact of EdTech across the sector. Queries about CIN can be addressed to 

About WGU Labs
WGU Labs is the nonprofit EdTech consulting, incubation, research, and design arm of Western Governors University, where our mission is to identify and support scalable solutions that address the biggest challenges in education today. For more information, please visit



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