Online Nation: Five Years of Growth in Online Learning

The Sloan Consortium just released its fifth annual report titled Online Nation: Five Years of Growth in Online Learning in October 2007. Like the reports published in the previous four years, the 2007 study is aimed at answering the fundamental questions about the nature and extent of online education. Supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the study reports the state of online learning in U.S. higher education and it is based on responses from more than 2,500 colleges and universities. The following is a summary of the report:

How many students are learning online?

Online enrollments have continued to grow at rates far in excess of the total higher education student population, yet at slower rates than for previous years.

  • Almost 3.5 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2006 term; a nearly 10 percent increase over the number reported the previous year.
  • The 9.7 percent growth rate for online enrollments far exceeds the 1.5 percent growth of the overall higher education student population.
  • Nearly 20 percent of all U.S. higher education students were taking at least one online course in the fall of 2006.

Where has the growth in online learning occurred?

Virtually all types of institutions of higher education have shown substantial growth, but with some clear leaders.

  • Two-year associate’s institutions have the highest growth rates and account for more than one-half of all online enrollments for the last five years.
  • Baccalaureate institutions began the period with the fewest online enrollments and have had the lowest rates of growth.

Enrollment Change

Why do institutions provide online offerings?

Improving student access is the most often cited objective for online courses and programs. Cost reduction is not seen as important.

  • All types of institutions cite improved student access as their top reason for offering online courses and programs.
  • Institutions that are the most engaged in online education cite increasing the rate of degree completion as a very important objective; this is not as important for institutions that are not as engaged in online learning.
  • Online is not seen as a way to lower costs; reduced or contained costs are among the least-cited objectives for online education.
  • The appeal of online instruction to nontraditional students is indicated by the high number of institutions that cite growth in continuing and/or professional education as an objective for their online offerings.

What are the Prospects for Future Online Enrollment Growth?

Approximately one-third of higher education institutions account for three-quarters of all online enrolments. Future growth will come predominately from these and similar institutions as they add new programs and grow existing ones.

  • Much of the past growth in online enrollments has been fueled by new institutions entering the online learning arena. This transition is now nearing its end; most institutions that plan to offer online education are already doing so.
  • A large majority (69 percent) of academic leaders believe that student demand for online learning is still growing.
  • Virtually all (83 percent) institutions with online offerings expect their online enrollments to increase over the coming year.
  • Future growth in online enrollments will most likely come from those institutions that are currently the most engaged; they enroll the most online learning students and have the highest expectations for growth.

What are the Barriers to Widespread Adoption of Online Education?

Identification of the most important barriers differs widely between those with online offerings and those who do not offer any. Current results replicate our previous studies in identifying faculty acceptance and the need for more discipline on the part of students as the most common concerns.

  • Academic leaders cite the need for more discipline on the part of online students as the most critical barrier, matching the results of last year’s survey.
  • Faculty acceptance of online instruction remains a key issue. Those institutions most engaged in online do not believe it is a concern for their own campus, but do see it as a barrier to more widespread adoption of online education.
  • Higher costs for online development and delivery are seen as barriers among those who are planning online offerings, but not among those who have online offerings.
  • Academic leaders do not believe that there is a lack of acceptance of online degrees by potential employers.

Barriers

To read the full report of Online nation: Five Years of Growth in Online Learning, you can download your free copy at http://www.sloan-c.org/publications/survey/pdf/online_nation.pdf. (31 pages)

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About Steve Yuen

I am a Professor Emeritus of Instructional Technology and Design at The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, United States.
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2 Responses to Online Nation: Five Years of Growth in Online Learning

  1. Amy Thornton says:

    Online education is growing rapidly. Online education provides flexibility for students that are trying to further education while working full-time and taking care of a family. I don’t think that I would be pursuing my master’s degree right now, if it weren’t for the ability to take some of my classes online.

    I am amazed at how fast online learning has grown over the last 10 years. Here at Southern Miss, we began offering online courses in 1998 with 2 online courses. Now, in 2008, this semester we have 237 fully online courses and 288 courses that are using online as a supplement. That’s a total of 525 (that are reported…there could be more) using some online component for their course. These numbers continue to grow every semester.

    I don’t think that online learning is for everyone. The learner has to take responsibility for their own learning experience and it requires them to manage their time without some one standing over their shoulder telling them what to do. It requires more self-discipline. Some learners like or need the face-to-face interaction. Although with new tools available that incorporate video, it is becoming easier to simulate that face-to-face interaction in an online environment.

    There is always the debate as to whether online learning is of the same quality of traditional learning. I think it can be, but it takes more effort on the part of the faculty and students to make it work. I believe that faculty should be given training before asked to put their course online.

  2. guoqiangcui says:

    Personally, I do believe that online learning is an integral part of distance learning. Distance learning has been growing for many years, from the original correspondence study to nowadays online learning. With the rapid development of technology, the online learning certainly has its great potentials. The ease of online learning is apparent to all: you can get access to your course learning anytime and anywhere; you can communicate easily and freely with the instructors or peers; you can view your course as many times as you want. The various benefits of online learning it become a very useful way to have lifelong learning. As is mentioned in the article, most of the online learning is carried out by universities and colleges, and many people would regard this as a new way to get education and find a good job. There are a lot institutions are offering online courses for degree, but I think one of the problem is that there is hardly any standard to judge which one is good enough so that you can get the quality education. And many employers would not recognize and accept and degrees offered by some online institutions. But I still believe that in the near future the online degree will be as recognized as the normal degrees offered by universities and academic institutions will work hard to put forward the good and widely accepted online degree education. Online teaching and learning has become and will grow to be one very important part in education.

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