Why College-Age People Prefer Online Bystander Intervention Education

Online Bystander Education | Campus Safety Training

Posted on 14 April 2015 |

According to White House reports, one in five women are sexually assaulted during their years in college. Obama’s “It’s On Us” campaign advocates for bystander intervention programs as an essential part of campus safety and VAWA training to reverse this trend, emphasizing that community members must learn to speak up and intervene when they see signs of violence or assault.

When student safety educators provide college safety courses on how to intervene if someone witnesses campus violence, in-person bystander education workshops are one of the common delivery methods. But we wanted to see whether an online training program was preferred over the traditional in person workshop, so we conducted an online survey of over 1,000 people from across the U.S. to find out if the delivery method impacted their learning choices.

We found that most people want an accessible way to learn how to help reduce university violence, and that college-age respondents, in particular, prefer the convenience and comfort of online bystander intervention training.

Time and Travel A Major Obstacle to Attending Bystander Education Workshops

Among those with some interest in bystander education workshops, the vast majority (71 percent) reported barriers, both practical and other, to attending student safety training in person. Time commitment and travel were the top obstacles to workshop attendance, cited by 26 percent and 19 percent of respondents respectively.

Obstacles to Bystander Education GraphRespondents cited other concerns as well, with many respondents reporting emotional and/or psychological obstacles to workshop attendance. Thirteen percent said social anxiety was the top reason they would avoid a face-to-face student safety and bystander intervention workshop, with another 12 percent saying that the subject matter would be uncomfortable during a workshop and that would deter them from attending.

Majority Prefer E-Learning Over In Person Bystander Education

While there are significant barriers to in-person workshops, we found people still wanted to learn more about the topic. In lieu of face-to-face workshops, what learning methods did they prefer?

Sixty-two percent of those we surveyed cited a preference for an online bystander education. People were mostly likely to go online to read articles or watch videos to find out more about the role of bystander intervention in reducing assaults on campus. Printed materials were cited less often, with 15 percent of respondents saying they would rather read a book on bystander education.

Preferences for Bystander Education GraphOnly 13 percent said they would prefer to go in person to attend a bystander education workshop. Another 10 percent of respondents said they preferred to ask someone they knew about this aspect of campus safety training.

Online training programs appear to be a better match for current preferences. Moreover, if you look at what’s holding potential participants back (e.g., time, travel, emotional discomfort), you can see how online training videos, for example, could provide convenience and privacy and thus address those obstacles directly.

College-Age Prefer Online Articles and Online Training Videos at a Higher Rate

When we isolated college-age respondents and looked at their preferences, an even greater percent preferred bystander education training in an online environment. Seventy-three percent said they most preferred either an online article or an online training video.

College Age Preferences for Bystander Education GraphA smaller number of college-age respondents (12 percent) said that they would chose to read a book on the subject of how intervening in witnessed violence could impact campus safety. Finally, the percent of college-age people who depended on interpersonal methods, such as asking a friend (10 percent) or attending an in-person bystander education course (5 percent) was lower than in the overall population. It is notable that such a very small percent of college students wanted to attend an in-person workshop, a fact that is critical for those violence prevention educators creating a student safety curriculum on college campuses.

In conclusion, our study found a mismatch between one of the most common methods for educating college students on bystander invention techniques and other student safety training topics (i.e., in-person workshops) and the preferences of that demographic. This may indicate a lag time between educational methodologies and the way people prefer to learn today. Though researched less often as a delivery method, our study shows the potential of online training programs to reach interested parties who want a convenient and safe environment to learn about campus violence prevention.

Research Methods

Campus Answers conducted a two-question online survey of preferences for bystander education workshops, with over 500 respondents responding to each question, or 1113 total respondents. We defined college-age respondents as those between the ages of 18 to 24, which made up about sixteen percent of our overall sample. Finally, our study focused on those with some interest in bystander education, which means we removed and did not count respondents who would never be willing to learn about the topic.


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