Online Higher Education Gaining Traction Despite Naysayers

Despite disapproving views on online learning in the UK, that attitude is changing as online learning offers universities the chance to compete on a global level.

The student cap is being lifted, allowing universities the opportunities to take advantage of online learning and compete on an international level without struggling to meet capacity.

However, the real driving factor here is the opportunity to take on a large share of students on a global level who are searching for a world-class degree.  According to the OECD, the number of people who hold college degrees will grow from 129 million to 204 million by 2020.

In the US, almost 7.1 million students are currently enrolled in at least one online course, according to the Babson Survey Research Group.  There is some discrepancy over that number however, with the US Education Department reporting the number somewhere around 5.5 million.  Either way, it is suggested that over half of all US students will be enrolled in an online course by 2018.

More important than statistics however, is the sentiment over the value of an online education.  The Babson report discovered that 74% of those who completed the survey believe that an online education is as valuable or more valuable than a traditional education.  That sentiment is seen as 75% of US universities now offer online courses.

And those online courses are filling up fast.  At Indiana University Northwest, lecturer for the Department of Communications Alicia Wright reports that the online courses fill up faster than the traditional ones.

“We were surprised by that,” she said. “I’m trying to get everyone in the department to learn about it and teach these classes. In the communications department, it’s a hard sell but it’s actually what the students want.”

However, many students who sign up for the online courses do not realize the amount of work involved, and the fact that most of that work is self motivated causes the courses to have a high drop-out rate.

Despite this, the benefits are there.  Students unable to attend school on campus can still obtain an education and professors do not have to constantly be on campus repeating lectures.

“It’s a needed alternative because I would see students taking the class with infant babies and they couldn’t come to campus or they have conflicting work schedules.”

A new study from Clemson University reports differently, finding that students who took traditional courses reported higher perceived learning gains than those who took the same course online.  That finding was especially true of African-American students.  The study suggests that faculty who teach online courses “may need to incorporate innovative instructional designs that enhance student-faculty interaction in online courses.”

“The statistical results indicate that faculty should develop strategies to ensure that online courses provide similar learning gains as traditional face-to-face courses by utilizing instructional approaches and educational technologies to strengthen online distance education,” stated Lamont A Flowers, lead author on the study.

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