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Online Education

November 9, 2006

The Boston Globe published a piece today summarizing a Sloan Consortium report (pdf) about online education. Here are some interesting facts from the Globe‘s overview:

– “Roughly one in six students enrolled in higher education — about 3.2 million people — took at least one online course last fall, a sharp increase defying predictions that online learning growth is leveling off.”
– “The Sloan Consortium . . . estimates that 850,000 more students took online courses in the fall of 2005 than the year before, an increase of nearly 40 percent. Last year, the group had reported slowing growth, prompting speculation the trend had hit a ceiling.”
– Growth occurred “at schools ranging from doctoral institutions to those offering associate’s degrees to for-profit colleges.”
– “Many universities are investing heavily in online learning, hoping the model will prove more economical than traditional classes, thus expanding their reach. A recent survey . . . found 50 percent of consumers who expected to enroll in a higher education program said they would prefer to get at least some of their instruction online.”
– “About 80 percent of online students are undergraduates, and they are generally older and more likely to be working and have families. But only about half are pursuing online degrees.”
– “One reason online enrollment may be growing is that the difference between traditional and online classes is blurring. It’s not unusual now for traditional classes to post syllibi and homework assignments online or to have class discussions in group forums. Some classes take place more than 80 percent online, which makes them count as online courses for the Sloan survey.”

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There’s more in the Globe article and on the Sloan site, so do check them out. One thing generally missing from this piece, and others like it, are oppositional voices. These voices need to be given more space in evaluations of online programs and courses. What are the most common complaints? What do teachers think of these programs? This topic has arisen here before (see the comments especially), but many issues remain unresolved due to a lack of data. – TL

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