The COVID-19 pandemic forced an abrupt transition to fully online learning in universities that typically provided campus-based teaching. We examined the learning experience of undergraduate and postgraduate students during this transition at a UK university. Qualitative surveys and interview responses revealed both direct effects of the transition to online learning and indirect effects caused by the COVID-19 induced lockdown. Direct effects related to interaction and communication altered study-related opportunities and digital tool use. In all cases, students expressed a range of views, for example, with some reporting greater opportunities and others fewer. However, there was a clear consensus that the online learning had brought greater flexibility for students. For indirect effects, students noted altered time available for study, challenges and benefits to studying at home, greater monotony and required autonomy as well as altered priorities, concerns about employment, finances and career prospects. These reflections on students’ experiences of online learning can inform academics and education providers to design appropriate strategies in order to better facilitate and support students’ education via fully online or blended learning approaches.