Alas it’s that time of year when we reflect on the successes of 2016. This year online education made some strides towards the future, and many people now believe this form of niche education has moved into the mainstream.
Here’s what this year’s data has shown us.
In the past, the average age of online learners has been those of a “nontraditional” status. However, the average age of today’s online student is decreasing. According to The Learning House and their fifth annual Online College Students Report, the percentage of online students aged 18 to 24 has doubled since 2012. Similarly, while the past has shown online education to be in high demand for parents and those with families, today’s learners are also more likely to be both single and childless, increasing 10 percent since 2013, according to the same report.
This year was filled with debate surrounding the concept of short-track training and has sparked many conversations. Many have questioned the traditional student path of taking general education classes for half their training and then receiving the training that directly corresponds to their career goals. As student debt continues to increase, many potential students are seeking fast-tracked training that teaches them exactly what they want to learn for their chosen career, saving both time and money. For many, online education has been the solution.
In 2016 about 3.5 million students enrolled in online programs, according to higher education research group Eduventures. This continues the trend of increased online enrollment, while at the same time, enrollment in on-campus classes has decreased. Some of this shift is speculated to be from students wanting credential and skill-building education that specifically translates into their career path. Further speculation in the shifting demographics of learners and the way they learn is the digital boom—where all things virtual are in high demand.
In August, a survey by Pearson research group asked learners, educators, and administrators within two- and four-year colleges and universities about their use of digital learning products. Even for those not teaching or learning solely online, 82 percent of those surveyed said they used digital learning products in the past six months, and 82 percent also said digital learning is the future of education.
As more schools create their own online programs to feed the need for distance learning, 57 percent of students from the Pearson survey said they think it’s the responsibility of the institution to help them make the shift from print-based learning materials to digital course materials. Eighty-four percent said digital materials are important in resolving system-wide challenges facing higher education today.
Although the debate continues among educators about the overall effectiveness of online education, when Pearson asked educators how they viewed the impact and importance of digital courseware 78 percent said they believe it benefits students. Eighty-seven percent also said digital materials are important in resolving system-wide challenges facing higher education, echoing what students said. Much of this is sparked by increased technology involving adaptive learning analytics that are personalizing education.
Due to continued demand for virtual learning, the 2016 Inside Higher Ed Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology asked faculty and administrators details about their use of technology. Their findings showed that faculty members are creating new opportunities with technology. Through experimentation with online education, for example, faculty members said they are able to serve a more diverse set of students and think more critically about how to engage students with course content.
According to the survey, faculty who taught online in 2016 rose to 39 percent, up from 32 percent in 2015. This increase suggests that faculty attitudes are shifting towards digital learning. In fact, 79 percent of faculty surveyed said using digital resources has helped them develop skills and practices that have improved their teaching in the classroom and online.
So, with all of this summed up about 2016’s trends in online education, this year ends much as it did in 2015: with optimism and signs of longevity.
Cheers to the New Year!