By Dr. Elizabeth Tice, Ph.D.
The continued growth of online and distance learning has been driven by student demand, technology, a troubled economy and demographic changes. Its rapid expansion is closely tied to the growth of technology, the Internet and other new ways of delivering knowledge to more students beyond the previous boundaries of place, time and expense.
In recent years, traditional schools have begun to add online curriculum. Community colleges are adding online courses both to meet student demand and to control education costs. Students are driving demand everywhere, starting in middle school.
Earlier Adoption of Online Learning
Online universities have begun collaborating with school districts to accelerate the adoption of online education in middle schools and high schools. For instance, in San Diego County, Ashford University worked with the Office of Education to launch a new online algebra course in early 2011. Hundreds of students are now benefiting from the pilot program.
Online College Enrollment Growing at a Faster Rate
The 2011 Sloan Consortium study from Babson Survey Research Group, “Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States 2011,” reported that higher education enrollment grew by 0.6 percent in 2010. In contrast, online college classes grew by 10.1 percent. More than 6.1 million students were enrolled in at least one web-based class in the fall 2010 semester, with online enrollment now representing 31.3 percent of total enrollment. From 2002 to 2010, online learning has grown at a compounded annual rate of 18.3 percent, versus just over 2 percent for overall higher education.
The Perception of Quality in Online Higher Ed
Perceptions of quality are on the increase as well. According to the Sloan study, 67 percent of respondents said online college classes were “the same or superior” to face-to-face classes, up from 57 percent in 2003.
Continued advances in technology will enable universities, high schools, and middle schools to better connect with students in new ways. Course materials can be updated 24/7 and delivered via smart phones, computers and tablets rather than waiting for expensive updates to be printed and stocked in the traditional bookstores. New devices and free applications help students access classes from almost anywhere (recent Ashford graduates include members of the armed forces completing degrees while deployed in Afghanistan). Social media platforms encourage group participation and networking at all hours, creating a sense of community and connection with the faculty.
What the Future Holds for Online Education
In summary, online education will continue to grow because of its many advantages: in technology; rapid development of innovative curriculum; a broad array of accessible faculty; and an increasing variety of choices for students to advance their careers through college education under circumstances of their choosing.
This continued growth and increased sophistication of online education at all levels will provide major benefits to students, the economy, traditional and online schools, and society in general.
Dr. Elizabeth Tice is president of Ashford University, offering undergraduate and graduate degree programs online and on-campus in Clinton, Iowa. With an annual enrollment of more than 90,000 students, Ashford University is defining the modern college experience by combining the heritage of a traditional campus with the flexibility and effectiveness of online learning.
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