Budget cuts, rising tuition and the cost of human capital are pushing more colleges and universities to embrace online course options that are proving just as alluring to students as traditional on-campus programs.
Over the last 15 years, online education has evolved and expanded to become a popular option for higher education.
Millions of students are now enrolled in at least one online class. And while opinions of online education are still somewhat mixed in the academic community, studies have surfaced that suggest that perception is shifting in favor of this method of learning.
According to a survey by the Online Learning Consortium of 2,800 academic leaders released in 2014, 74% of leaders say the learning outcomes in online education are the same as or superior to face-to-face classes. The creation of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has made online learning that much more popular, but many in the survey believe MOOCS are not a sustainable way to offer online courses.
A U.S. Department of Education report in June 2014 showed 5.4 million college students – or about one in four — were enrolled in online education courses in 2012, the latest academic year studied. Those students were almost evenly split between those taking at least one online class and those enrolled exclusively online.
The numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics do not include students taking MOOCs.
Benefits of an Online Education
Online courses offer students a long list of benefits. Some of the typically mentioned examples include convenience and flexibility, a more comfortable learning environment, a variety of programs and courses, the option to continue work while taking classes, avoiding a commute, attending any university regardless of its location and enhancing technical skills.
For individuals with families and careers, online learning is sometimes the best chance at continuing their education and improving their credentials for career advancement.
The popularity of online education has not slowed and is expected to grow. The enrollment rate in online education courses has continued to increase despite the fact that higher education enrollment, except in private, nonprofit schools, has fallen or showed a miniscule increase since the fall of 2011.
Educational leaders expect a blended model of classes taken online and on-campus to be the norm by the year 2020. With the growth of high-speed cellular networks and the increasing use of mobile devices, online education is also predicted to gain traction outside the United States. As it reaches a global scale, students will have access to a range of course subjects in just about any language.
By leveraging their online coursework, students become continuous learners. They will even be able to start their careers sooner, entering the workplace as they finish their degree through online classes.
Moving into their career, having the ability to work easily in an online setting will prove valuable for students. Traditional credentials are becoming more diversified, causing employers to increasingly accept certifications from online platforms for their current employees. As a result, some amount of online coursework may become commonplace for much of the workforce down the road.
As more online degrees are earned, they are becoming more widely accepted by employers in the professional world. In some instances, it’s even considered an advantage when employers consider a candidate’s personal discipline. Balancing a full-time job and a family while earning a degree speaks to that person’s ability to organize their life in a fashion that fresh graduates from traditional campuses may not be able to mimic.