Distance Ed’s Second Act (CHE)

MAY 24, 2016

Now that the MOOC hype has died down and almost no one is arguing that those free online courses will upend the traditional university, are we instead entering a period where online education is having a real impact on the core of higher education? Not just for the for-profit outliers and not just for distance-education titans like Rio Salado College and Liberty University, but for the mainstream? While I would not argue that fundamental change has already occurred, there are some signs of a turning point.

The Babson Survey Research Group, which has tracked online college enrollment for the past 12 years, reports growth from 9 percent of U.S. students taking at least one course online in the fall of 2002 to more than 28 percent in the fall of 2014. The overall growth has slowed recently, but the drastic decrease in for-profit enrollment masks two very interesting numbers:

  • Sixty-seven percent of students taking online courses do so at public institutions.
  • The number of students at public and private nonprofit colleges who took at least one online course rose by 26 percent in just two years (2012-2014).

Online education is no longer the province of a small subset of colleges and professors. We are well above the 16-to-20-percent level in Everett Rogers’s technology-adoption curve that indicates a shift into the mainstream. As I described in a previous article, the characteristics of people trying out a new approach (primarily professors in this discussion) change significantly after the technology moves beyond the innovators and early adopters. You start getting people who are more cautious and even skeptical about the outcomes and who need more holistic support to make the jump. We are seeing signs that more and more professors accept that online education is inevitable, even in traditional institutions, and is appropriate for a growing number of nontraditional students and a growing number of disciplines.

[full post here.]

About Ryan C. Fowler

Ryan is a curricular fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington D.C. He also teaches at Franklin and Marshall College and Lancaster Theological Seminary.
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