Is academia
stuck in a rut?


When we examine current research outputs, the academic paper leads the pack and has done for over 350 years.

Though it has been digitised and can be accessed online, the paper still follows the same structure of text, figures, methodology and findings that it always has; not much has evolved in the way we present academic papers, despite changes in learning styles.

Our survey has identified that there is a strong desire and need for more varied formats that appeal to different learning styles and preferences of consuming (and presenting) information inside and outside of academia, which poses the question as to whether academia is indeed stuck in a rut?

There is a gap between the needs of academics and those of the next generation of learners.

Alongside teaching, academics are under pressure to secure funding, carry out research, and publish often in high impact factor journals. Meanwhile, students attend university to gain qualifications, skills and experiences that will set them up for the future.

There have been calls for innovation within teaching, but the traditional lecture has largely dominated the scene. Teaching approaches have been forced to change during COVID-19, with academics adapting lectures for remote students, and providing digital and interactive content.

The needs of researchers are very different from the needs of students. Innovations that help teaching are often counterproductive for research

...Academic in the UK

We are yet to learn the changes within higher education that will remain post-pandemic, but it is clear from our research that students are hungry for a more varied learning experience.


Information & learning preferences outside of academia

The top three most popular ways that academics/students consume information outside of academia.

Results in tabular format
Channel Academics % Students %
Internet websites 78 62
Online newspapers/magazines 63 33
Traditional books 55 44
YouTube 46 61
Social media 54 57


While online channels, social media and YouTube are significant for both groups, students are more drawn to digital content than academics who prefer traditional media such as books and newspapers.

In China, where they have their own social media platforms, most students (78%) and academics (59%) favour social media learning. Meanwhile, traditional books are particularly popular for academics in Australasia (70%) and Europe (66%), as well as for students in Brazil (72%) and India (49%).

See a regional breakdown of the results


Research & learning at university

Which of the following content forms do you currently use to present your research? (academics)
Which of the following content forms do you currently use to help you with your learning and/or research at university? (students)

Results in tabular format
Content Academics % Students %
Journal articles 92 33
Books 42 51
Training courses 27 21
Social media 25 33
Structured abstract 23 22
Open research data 20 27
White papers 16 17
Scholarly highlights 16 16
Case study simulation 15 20
Written interviews 13 19
Policy briefs 12 12
Infographics 9 17
Blogs 9 15
Lay summaries 5 12
Early stage synopsis 4 12
Augmented reality 2 8


In the context of higher education, students and academics gravitate to similar content types but to varying degrees. Academics are far more likely to choose journal articles over other formats. Students are principally drawn to traditional books, but open to a wide range of content forms for learning and research.

When we drill into less traditional content forms, preferences start to widen. Students have a high appetite for video and animation (29% students vs. 8% academics), quizzes (23% students vs. 5% academics), book apps (19% of students vs. 4% academics) and audio & podcasts (17% students vs 4% academics).

In their quest to learn, students are more likely than academics to simplify content using annotated articles (21% of students vs. 10% of academics) and infographics (17% of students vs. 9% of academics). Students also prefer content that is made more interesting and digestible through games (12% of students vs. 3% of academics), de-jargoning software (10% of students vs. 1% of academics) or cartoons (10% students vs. 1% of academics).

Next section: Are research papers fit for purpose?

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Choose the right home for your research across our journals, books, teaching cases and open access options. Follow our guides and find the right resources to help you submit, publish and promote your work. 

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