The online education movement: What can we learn going forward?

online education, The online education movement: What can we learn going forward?
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online education, The online education movement: What can we learn going forward?

Workers looking at the monthly statistics

As universities and colleges continue to offer more and more online education classes in today’s uncertain world, everyone continues to face a great deal of fear and anxiety. 

Students are left wondering, “Will I graduate on time? How will my college experience change?” While professors anxiously wonder, “Will I be able to adequately support my students? Will students engage in online learning in the same way?”

Luckily for everyone, online education isn’t a new concept. There is a lot of researched data out there on what types of programs create successful outcomes for students and staff. 

So, what can students and school administrators in the current trenches of online learning teach us about best practices? 

Best Colleges helpfully surveyed online students and school administrators recently about their experiences in online education. This blog post will take a look at the data from Best Colleges’ 2020 Online Education Trends Report to highlight the top statistics and actionable takeaways to consider when designing online learning courses. 

What do online students think about online learning? 

An overwhelming number of online students love it: 

  • 94% feel they received a positive return-on-investment
  • 80% think their online program is equal or better than an in-person program 
  • 95% would recommend online learning to others 

(Best Colleges, 2020)

This data provides us with a lot of reassurance about online learning. Students are reporting that they generally enjoy their online programs and feel like they’ve made a positive impact in their lives. They also highlight that online learning can be every bit as effective as in-person classes. 

Top takeaway: Students are strongly in favour of online learning. 

Why do students choose online education?

Three-quarters of online students choose this form of education for pragmatic reasons:

  • 52% of online students choose the program because of other work and life commitments
  • 22% study online to access employer incentive or partnership programs
  • Only 5% choose their online learning institution based on reputation 

(Best Colleges, 2020)

Interestingly, school reputation played a very minor role in students’ choice of institution. This may change as we see more institutions move online, but institutions are probably better off focusing on improving the flexibility of their programs and employer partnerships than banking on their reputation. With travel bans, flexible programs may also be able to attract international students. 

Top takeaway: Students want flexible, career-focused programs. 

What challenges do online students have?

The top challenges for online students are essentially similar to the challenges experienced by students at traditional bricks and mortars institutions. All students, online or in-person, worry about their finances. Similarly, all students can experience unexpected life events. It should come as no surprise then that these two concerns came out on top when already graduated students were asked about the roadblocks they experienced while completing their degree:  

  1. 35% worried about paying for school without huge debts.
  2. 20% struggled with unexpected personal life events 

(Best Colleges, 2020)

For institutions moving online, these concerns highlight that online students still need institutional resources outside of the classroom, such as a student liaison office, counselling and/or a student success center. 

Institutions also need clear procedures around student deferrals and student accommodations for when unexpected personal life events interfere with their studies. These concerns also suggest that students need help navigating their finances so they need intuitive online resources detailing tuition payments and financial aid. 

Top takeaway: Students still need financial support with online learning and access to online student success resources outside of class for unexpected life events. 

Are there student concerns unique to online learning?

The 2020 Online Education Trends Report highlighted some students concerns less commonly found in traditional programs:

  • 25% of online students express concern about the quality of the program.
  • 15% worry their program lacks interactions with instructors and peers

(Best Colleges, 2020)

By using best practices in elearning course design, institutions can address concerns about quality and facilitate additional interactions between students and instructors to overcome this issue. Quality can be addressed through robust assessments and digital portfolios. Most learning management systems (LMS) allow for video conferencing between students and teachers. Instructors can also assign group projects to encourage peer interactions. 

Top takeaway: Institutions should look at elearning best practices that include robust student-instructor interaction. 

Where do employers fit in?

Online learning has an ambivalent relationship with employers. Here’s some of the ways employers factor into online education trends:

  • 77% of online learners enroll to fulfill their career goals 
  • 22% of students are part of an employer partnership/incentive programs 
  • 72% of institutions launch new programs based on in-demand skills
  • 21% of students are still concerned that employers’ feel online education is inferior 

(Best Colleges, 2020)

Even though many employers incentivise online learning programs, we still see a concern that potential employers will stigmatise candidates based on their choice to pursue elearning. We can hope with more programs going online employer perception of online education will change for the better. However, a focus on portfolios may also help online students prove the value of their online program to potential employers. 

Top takeaway: Online education continues to carry a stigma both students and institutions need to continue to work against. 

What kind of online community do students have? 

The online programs surveyed by Best Colleges broke online learning communities down in these ways for synchronous programming vs. asynchronous programming. Synchronous programs include activities with a live, virtual instructor similar to traditional face-to-face classroom learning, while asynchronous classes are self-paced without any scheduled activities as a cohort.  

  • 49% have synchronous components, i.e., live, scheduled classes  
  • 65% of synchronous students visit campus
  • 51% take asynchronous classes, i.e., no live scheduled classes
  • 51% report never visiting campus in asynchronous classes 

(Best Colleges, 2020)

These statistics show an even breakdown between asynchronous and synchronous online courses. 

At Oppida, we strongly believe that organisations achieve better results when online course design includes robust interactions between learners and instructors. It’s an integral part of our philosophy to raise the bar in online education. Since online students report worrying about a lack of interaction, we suggest including interactions in your initial course design for the best results. 

Check out our blog, “Supporting university students in elearning” for other best practices in elearning to consider in your online course development process. 

Top takeaway: Students find value in both synchronous and asynchronous experiences. 

What challenges exist for institutions in launching a new course?  

Online education has similar challenges to those facing bricks and mortar institutions when launching a new course. School administrators highlighted these top concerns:

  • 65% are concerned about marketing new online courses.
  • 58% are worried about meeting program budgets.
  • 27% consider reaching profit goals important

 (Best Colleges, 2020)

With hiring freezes and fewer international students able to enrol during the current global circumstances, universities and colleges may find these challenges more difficult to face in the coming year. 

However, this situation presents an opportunity for universities and colleges to collaborate together to share the burden of marketing, resources and profits to create uniquely valuable online courses for students. These challenges aren’t going away, but the ability to scale online education across borders may help foster collaboration and partnerships between institutions. 

Top takeaway: Online education does not solve budgeting or management issues for institutions when launching new courses.  

What can we learn going forward? 

All of the statistics you read in this blog from 2020 Online Education Trends Report can be boiled down into these top takeaways. 

This survey showed students: 

  • love online learning 
  • want flexible, career-focused programs 
  • need help with finances 
  • value both synchronous and asynchronous experiences 

Universities and colleges should feel reassured by this data. They can implement successful online education programs for students that provide value and a great return-on-investment for their students. 

This data also shows student top concerns remain the same both online and offtheir finances and personal career path are their top priorities. Institutions need to make sure students can find resources for financial aid and career planning resources intuitively through their websites. 

Online education from the institutional side presents more challenges. 

  • Both students and institutions need to continue to work against the societal stigma still attached to elearning 
  • Budgeting and management issues remain top of mind for school administrators no matter the delivery medium 
  • Institutions may need to shift to best practices in elearning to support student success 

Fortunately, all of these challenges can be overcome through partnerships with employers, skilled school administrators, and instructional design training for staff.  

These statistics demonstrate that we have a way to go yet to overcome the successes and challenges of online education. However, the research also provides us with positive and actionable ways to move forward and build online education programs that foster success for both your students and staff.

online education, The online education movement: What can we learn going forward?

At Oppida, we believe in creating dynamic learning environments through learning management systems which engage with your learners on a deeper level. Whether you’re at project inception or you’re struggling knee-deep to manage content deliverables, Oppida will tailor learning design support for you. Setup a quick consultation with our founder Bianca Raby and discover how we can help you project manage, design, develop and enhance your online courses from any stage in the course’s lifecycle. Also, sign up for our FREE Designing Digital Learning Course to better understand how to design for digital.


Writer’s Bio

online education, The online education movement: What can we learn going forward?Jay is a K-12 Educator and Freelance Writer with a passion for learning about learning. You’ll find her trying out new teaching strategies in her classroom or reading about them online. When she’s not reading about teaching, she can be found hanging out with her toddler, preferably at the library.

Follow her on LinkedIn.


References

Best Colleges. (2020). Online Education Trends Report. Seattle. Retrieved from https://www.bestcolleges.com/research/annual-trends-in-online-education/

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