New Study of Online Learning – Enrollments Edge Over 6 Million Students!

Dear Commons Community,

The number of students taking at least one online course in American colleges and universities grew substantially for the ninth straight year, according to a new survey from the Babson Survey Research Group.   However, “belief among academic deans and faculty that the quality of online education is at least as good as the face-to-face alternative continues to grow in grudgingly small increments” says the survey.

The new survey, conducted by my colleagues, Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman, is the ninth iteration of an annual poll of academic administrators about online learning.

Online enrollments grew 10 percent, as the number of students taking at least one online course (“online” defined here as a course where most or all content exchanges and class meetings occur virtually) crept past six million. It was the smallest bump in enrollments since 2006, and less than half the growth online programs saw last year (21.1 percent).

Meanwhile, views on the quality of online education compared to traditional courses have shifted by only 10 percent over the last eight years. In 2003, the first year the Babson group and Sloan-C conducted the survey, 57 percent of academic leaders estimated that learning outcomes in online courses were equal or superior to those of face-to-face courses. This year, the figure was 67 percent.

These same academic leaders suggest that professors have also been slow to completely come around on online education. Since 2003, the proportion of respondents who agree that their faculty “fully accept” the “value and legitimacy of online education” has edged up from 30.4 percent to 32 percent.

A new feature of this year’s survey was a series of questions on open educational resources (OER).

The majority of respondents see OER as having the potential to reduce costs, however, it would be beneficial if there was a single OER clearinghouse.


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