Higher education reaches new online thresholds

Online education is breaking new ground, but some are wondering whether it can sustain momentum.

Online education has rapidly evolved within the last decade, and Babson College’s Survey Research Group has been tracking these developments in great detail. This year’s comprehensive report revealed several impressive milestones along with several potential obstacles to the continuing popularity of the paradigm.

An online upswing
According to Babson researchers, 6.1 million U.S. students were enrolled in an online higher education course, representing nearly one-third of all university students. This 10 percent online growth rate exceeds the 2 percent overall growth in the student population. Several programs are outperforming this impressive mark as well.

“There is a wide variety in rate of growth in online enrollments among different colleges and universities, and also among different programs within the same institution,” Babson Survey Research Group co-director I. Elaine Allen noted. “For example, fully online health sciences programs show higher growth than online programs in other disciplines.”

Babson found that two-thirds of chief academic officers are now convinced that online learning options are critical to their long-term institutional strategies, suggesting that attitudes are shifting in a positive direction. Approximately the same margin of academic leaders now believe educational outcomes are the same or somewhat superior online, with the facilitation of more personalized learning schedules among the most attractive value propositions.

Cautious optimism
Although the research did support an increasingly favorable view of digital enhancements within the higher education community, there are still several stumbling blocks standing in the way of exclusively online courses.

While some have suggested that massive open online courses (MOOCs) could represent the next frontier or education, today’s academics are not necessarily so convinced. Just 28 percent of survey respondents told Babson that they see the MOOC model as a sustainable strategy for delivering educational experiences.

Lower retention rates were cited by nearly 75 percent of chief academic officers as an obstacle to the growth of online learning programs, as it could further compromise interactive elements of the educational experience. Teachers were also concerned about a potential lack of classroom control in virtual environments, with 89 percentidentifying student discipline as an inhibitor of additional growth.

What tools and technologies can help address these issues and further online education? How can physical and virtual classrooms be blended for an optimal educational experience? Let us know what you think in the comments section below!

Kate Beckham

Kate has been lighting up the blogosphere for over 5 years, with a keen interest in social media and new malware threats. When not sitting at a café behind her Mac, you’ll usually find her scouring the racks for vintage finds or playing guitar.