Online Learning Report Shows Long-Term Higher Education Trends

Throughout the past decade, online learning in higher education has grown and matured as much as other segments of the education technology space, taking shape and gaining popularity as access and internet quality have grown.

However, not everything in online higher ed is on an upward trend.

Babson Group, a survey research group based out of Babson College, recently released the latest of 13 annual reports on elearning in higher education, Online Report Card: Tracking Online Education in the United States. The report includes information on 2015 trends collected from thousands of responses from institute officials and data from the National Center for Educational Statistics Database.

Below are some key takeaways that illustrate what institutions and their leaders think about online learning over the last decade, examining how the industry will develop as students prepare for a more digitally integrated educational system.

How many students are enrolled in online courses?
As of late 2014, 5.8 million students are taking online learning courses at some level, with about half enrolled completely in a distance or online degree program. About three fourths of undergrads who take online courses are enrolled in public universities and colleges.

Do institutions and leaders have long term strategies and how does online learning compare with in-person models?
The number of academic leaders who view online learning as the same or superior to in-person instruction is at 71 percent, down from 77 percent in 2013. However, this drop has come almost exclusively from schools who have not incorporated online learning into their curriculum yet, and therefore have not tested digital instruction methods firsthand.

This study’s largest recorded drop was in the percentage of institutes “saying online education is critical for their long-term strategy.” The predominant trend for this decline was that it came from institutes with less than 1,500 students. The report states that this is not a new trend, because smaller institutions often don’t have the resources or enough students interested to start an online program.

What about blended learning?
Although academic leaders who have not incorporated online learning into their curriculum are hesitant to explore its uses as a completely digital program or course, there is a consistent 42 percent interest in blending online and in-person activities in a course. This makes sense as more universities are relying on software like Canvas or programs like Skype to interact and engage their students beyond the classroom.

How does geographic demographics play a role in online course designs?
About 75 percent of academic leaders answered that their courses were designed for current students or students within their geographic region.

Are MOOCs becoming more popular?
Since 2012, there has been a slow increase in institutions that use MOOCs as an open resource for people outside their university. It now rests at 11 percent from 3 percent in 2012. Although there have been exceptions, few higher education institutes have created a platform for institute-wide open resources, as over half don’t have any plans to develop them in the future. There are still about 28 percent of institutions that are undecided.

Read the full report in Online Report Card: Tracking Online Education in the United States


Nate Leese

Nate Leese

Nate Leese is an Emerson College senior journalism student focusing on long term photography projects and visual media. Growing up a third culture kid he enjoys learning about relationships between cultures during times of change.