Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the experiences of tertiary students learning oral presentation skills in a range of online and blended learning contexts across diverse disciplines. Design/methodology/approach – The research was designed as a “federation” of trials of diverse online oral communications assessment tasks (OOCATs). Tasks were set in ten courses offered across all five faculties at University of Newcastle, Australia. The authors collected and analysed data about students’ experiences of tasks they completed through an anonymous online survey. Findings – Students’ engagement with the task was extremely positive but also highly varied. This diversity of student experience can inform teaching, and in doing so, can support student equity. By understanding what students think hinders or facilitates their learning, and which students have these experiences, instructors are able to make adjustments to their teaching which address both real and perceived issues. Student experience in this study highlighted five very clear themes in relation to the student experience of undertaking online oral communications tasks which all benefit from nuanced responses by the instructor: relevance; capacity; technology; time; and support. Practical implications – Using well-designed OOCATs that diverge from more traditional written assessments can help students successfully engage with course content and develop oral communication skills. The student experience can be used to inform teaching by catering for different student learning styles and experience. Student centred approaches such as this allows instructors to reflect upon the assumptions they hold about their students and how they learn. This understanding can help inform adjustments to teaching approaches to support improved student experience of learning oral communications tasks. Originality/value – The importance of learning oral communication skills in tertiary education is widely acknowledged internationally, however, there is limited research on how to teach these skills online in a way that is student centred. This research makes a contribution toward addressing that gap. © 2016, © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.