In this study, we conducted a thematic analysis of the views and perspectives of university students about online learning, specifically regarding their interpretations and experiences of the transition from traditional face-to-face courses to online teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. The sample included 209 undergraduate and postgraduate students who were invited to complete five tasks, i.e., a free association task, answering open questions about the advantages and disadvantages of online learning, providing suggestions for improving online learning, and sharing a personal experience lived during this period. Some of the main themes extracted from the data refer to the negative aspects of online learning mentioned by participants in relation to its disadvantages, such as health and psychosocial problems (e.g., stress, anxiety, decreased motivation, isolation/loneliness, and apathy) and learning process problems (e.g., misunderstandings, a lack of feedback, additional academical requirements, a lack of challenge, and disengagement). Other recurrent themes refer to the positive aspects of online learning associated with its benefits: comfort and accessibility, economy (saving time and money), and psychological and medical safety. The personal experiences during COVID-19 shared by our respondents were organised around four main themes (positive, negative, ambivalent, and transformative experiences) related to students’ adaptation to the educational context generated by the pandemic. Based on these findings, practical recommendations for universities and researchers are discussed.


© 2022 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

Cite as

Curelaru, M., Curelaru, V. & Cristea, M. 2022, 'Students’ Perceptions of Online Learning during COVID-19 Pandemic: A Qualitative Approach', Sustainability, 14, article no: 8138. https://doi.org/10.3390/su14138138

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Last updated: 07 July 2022
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