The Latest Trends in Online Education

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I have written regularly about the growing interest in online education throughout higher education. It has certainly become a major emphasis at AMC and will likely become even more important in the near future.

One of the best sources of keeping up with the trends in online education is the annual report conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group. The eleventh annual report was published a few days ago and provides insightful data about the attitudes towards online education and the role it plays in the higher education landscape.

This report, entitled “Grade Change: Tracking Online Education in the United States”, is a national study. All active, degree granting colleges and universities are invited to participate. Of the 4,726 colleges and universities invited to participate, the analysis reflects the responses from 2,831 institutions (59.9%). Because so many of the non-responding institutions are very small in size, the analysis in this report represents 81.0% of all higher education enrollments. Here are some of the major findings:

-     In Fall, 2012, there were 7.1 million online enrollments. This means that over 7 million college students took at least one online course. These enrollments represent 33% of total higher education enrollments (21.3 million). This reflects a 6.1% growth from the prior year (an increase of over 411,000 students).

-     66% of the responding institutions identify online learning as “critical” to their long term educational strategy. This is slightly lower than last year, but this slight decline actually reflects the consistent number of institutions that still have no online courses or programs. For those who have any online education, the importance to the future has remained high with over 70% reporting that it is “critical”.

-     A majority of chief academic administrators believe that the learning outcomes for online education are “as good as or better” than those for face-to-face instruction (74%). While this is slightly lower than last year (77%), the decrease again reflects the consistency of the views of those who do not offer any online instruction.

-     Regarding the future of online education, the results were somewhat mixed. When asked whether or not a majority of college students would be taking at least one online course within the next five years, 90% of the respondents thought this “likely” or “very likely”. However, close to one-third of the respondents believe that concerns about the relative quality of online instruction will remain.

-     A majority of respondents (68.9%) believe that it takes more discipline on the part of students to successfully complete online courses. What is interesting in this finding is that those who felt the most strongly about this issue are institutions offering associate degrees. Yet, these are the institutions with the most positive views about online education in general and have the highest online penetration rates. Clearly, their belief in the need for more discipline is not a deterrent to offering these programs.

Online education is not only here to stay, but represents a growing presence in higher education. Whether a single course, part of a hybrid program, or a complete degree program, more and more students are choosing to enroll in online education if this option is made available to them.

The time to oppose online learning is past. Our responsibility is to make sure online courses meet the academic standards of our institutions in terms of content, learning objectives, academic rigor and assessment. This is our future and we must take it seriously.

 

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

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