If the first thing you imagine when you think of “college” is a cavernous lecture hall with a commanding professor and chalkboards up to the ceiling, you may have watched Good Will Hunting one too many times. The truth is that today’s learning experience is more varied. While those intimidating lecture halls still exist, there are more and more students who are choosing to enroll in online programs, either full- or part-time, or in online courses to supplement their face-to-face learning. To meet the needs of those students, more and more institutions are adopting the technology and providing the support necessary to help them succeed.
The following seven experts in online learning adoption and growth have each worked tirelessly on studies that provide unique insight into the state of online learning in higher education.
Dr. Elaine Allen Professor of Biostatistics & Epidemiology, UCSF, Co-Director, Babson Survey Research Group
Published in 2013, Changing Course remains a seminal piece in the study of online education and its adoption rates. The study was co-authored by Dr. Allen and Dr. Jeff Seaman, who was previously interviewed on this site. Though the statistics are a few years old at this point, when conducted 32% of higher education students were taking at least one course online. There were a number of important takeaways from this more than 30 page report. Some of the most notable include the fact that “a majority of chief academic officers at all types of institutions continued to believe that lower retention rates for online courses are a barrier to the widespread adoption of online education.” As the adoption of online learning has only spread since 2013, retention remains a challenge but institutions are working to address those issues.
In 2013, Dr. Allen was awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Director’s Award for Research on Online Education due in part to her participation in this particular study.
Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States
Richard Garrett Chief Research Officer, Eduventures
As Chief Research Officer at Eduventures, a higher education consultancy, Richard Garrett was an integral part of bringing the inaugural CHLOE survey to life. CHLOE is an acronym for the CHanging Landscape of Online Education and the survey results address a wide range of topics from adoption to course development.
In terms of enrollment, the CHLOE survey found that more and more institutions are offering and enrolling students in fully online distance learning programs, particularly at the graduate level. For all online programs, those participating in the survey reported a 9% year-over-year growth in enrollment. It is interesting to note that community colleges have seen less growth in online course enrollment, with the study suggesting this may be due to multiple factors including a strong economy and the local focus of these types of schools. The current CHLOE survey results include data from the 2016 school year. As this is the first year of the survey, we can expect to see interesting comparative results in coming years from Eduventures.
In addition to his work at Eduventures, Garrett is also a Director at the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, which is a higher education think tank focused on the global implications of online learning.
The CHLOE Survey
Patricia Reid Ed.D., Director, Instructional Innovation, University of Cincinnati
When we think about the adoption of online learning, we may often think about which institutions choose to adopt which learning platforms first. However, once that technology is implemented at a school, there is still the issue of faculty adoption of the technology to tackle. In her most recent piece for EDUCAUSE, Patricia Reid explores what adoption challenges higher education faces among faculty and how to overcome them.
In her article, Reid suggests that there are five discrete categories representing barriers to faculty adoption:
- process issues
These categories are explored further in Reid’s earlier publication, Categories for barriers to adoption of instructional technologies.
Reid goes on to suggest that the perceived barriers to adoption are not always clear, even to those faculty who are resistant to the technology. In Reid’s experience, it is instructional designers who are uniquely positioned to grease the adoption wheels of new learning technology, from teaching faculty how to use it effectively and collaborating with both instructors and administration on its application.
Reid’s article pulls details from both the University of Cincinnati Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility and the Purdue University Instruction Matters: Purdue Academic Course Transformation project, in both of which she played a key role.
Supporting Faculty Adoption of Technology: What Can We Do?
Russell Poulin Director, Policy & Analysis
Terri Taylor-Straut Senior Research Analyst, WCET
As a follow up to Changing Course, Drs. Allen and Seaman worked alongside Russell Poulin as well as Terri Taylor-Straut to produce the Online Report Card in February of 2016. Poulin worked specifically on the section of the report that tracked enrollment in online learning courses. The report found that distance learning enrollment has increased over the same span of time that overall enrollment in higher education has dipped. Notably, public institutions have the largest portion of distance education students, with 72.7% of undergraduate and 38.7% of graduate-level distance students while enrollment rates and private for-profit institutions are the only ones that have fallen.
Poulin and Taylor-Straut also worked together on the WCET Distance Education Enrollment Report 2016, which utilized U.S. Department of Education data to look at enrollment trends, prior to the compilation of the Online Report Card.
Poulin is the Director of Policy & Analysis at WCET, which is the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education Cooperative for Educational Technologies. As part of his role, Poulin coordinates WCET’s research on the management of online learning in addition to working on eLearning consortia issues, and consulting on the WICHE’s Adult College Completion Network. Taylor-Straut is a Senior Research Analyst at the same institution.
Online Report Card: Tracking Online Education in the United States
Dr. David Clinefelter Chief Academic Officer, The Learning House
Dr. David Clinefelter is the Chief Academic Officer at the Learning House, which is a proprietary cloud-based technology platform that helps colleges and universities create online degree programs and courses. As part of his work at The Learning House, Dr. Clinefelter co-authored Online College Students: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences. The study addressed both the growth in enrollment as well as the reasons that students decide to enroll in one online learning program over another. Some key takeaways from this comprehensive piece include:
- Tuition and fees are the top deciding factor for 31% of students when they choose an online program — the next closest is the reputation of the program, which is the top factor for just 13% of students.
- Students can also be encouraged to enroll in a specific program when they have details about the speed with which they can begin and complete their online degree programs — ⅓ of students are swayed by programs that offer classes year-round, accelerated courses (23%) and frequent start dates (20%)
- Nearly half (44%) of students conduct at least some of their program research on a mobile device, indicating the importance of mobile technology for universities looking to build enrollment.
- In 2016, 60% of students submit their application to a program within 4 weeks of beginning their search.
The report continues with a plethora of statistics on how students choose and enroll in online courses and programs, each of which can help to inform how universities may choose to adopt technologies.
Prior to joining The Learning House, Dr. Clinefelter was President at the University of Graceland, where he helped to develop an early accredited distance learning program in nursing.
Online College Students: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences
Karen Sibley Ed.D., Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and Dean, School of Professional Studies, Brown University
Ren Whitaker Director of Online Development, School of Professional Studies, Brown University
Student enrollment numbers are certainly important when discussing the adoption and growth of online education, but technology adoption by faculty is also critical. In their article for EDUCAUSE, Dr. Karen Sibley and Ren Whitaker go through the steps they took at Brown University to ensure widespread, effective adoption of the university’s online learning software.
At Brown, Sibley and Whitaker report an “adoption wave” of online learning technology among faculty, thanks to direct experience, learning from peers, and engagement practices. The adoption wave has been spearheaded by the university’s online development team. The pair faced initial resistance that was likely similar to many established institutions like Brown — with such storied residential, traditional learning reputations, why should the faculty at Brown embrace new technology and online learning? To answer this, the online development team had to address how online learning technology actually improves the classroom experience for students, allowing them more time to marinate on complex subjects and giving faculty more time to engage in small groups. Technology adoption will continue to be a challenge at large institutions who have yet to fully embrace online learning, but it is possible with the right incentives and patience.
Prior to serving as Vice President of Strategic Initiatives, Dr. Sibley was the Dean of Professional Studies and the Dean of Continuing Education at Brown while Whitaker has worked in online training and course development for such varied institutions as Staples, Kinko’s and of course, Brown University.
Engaging Faculty in Online Education