2016 in review: what we learned about online education

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!

Student survey revealed! Here’s how we’re doing…

questions-1Schools of the future have arrived, and LB iLearn is on board! With our use of innovative online education models to make credentials attainable for non-traditional students, we employed a rigorous course development process for competency-based framework.

Funded by the Department of Labor, Linn-Benton Community College was selected for a project to facilitate post-secondary educational completion for an underserved population of learners. Demographics targeted within the stipulations of the DOL grant included TAA-eligible, veteran, and dislocated workers who need to compete in Oregon’s growing industry sectors.

Based on labor market data, such sectors include healthcare- and business-related fields, which is why all of our certificate and degree programs fall into those categories. We seek to increase the number of qualified, employable candidates in our community by providing career-oriented education designed to jumpstart careers.

It has been almost two years since we began accepting students, and in recent months have seen our first graduates! In an effort to stay abreast of our successes and opportunities, a third-party survey group has asked our students how we are doing. This is what they had to say:

Why choose online instead of on-campus learning?

Research shows that a large population of online learners nationwide are either working professionals or adults who have families. To no surprise, survey results reflected this to be true for LB iLearn students as well. Nearly 64 percent of respondents said their decision to enroll online instead of in traditional classes was “other obligations including children and jobs that prevented them from taking traditional courses during the day.”

Why choose LB iLearn Online?

There were several reasons students chose LB iLearn for their educational needs, but there were two reasons given more than others. Our unique non-term structure in which students can enroll any Wednesday of the year and are not bound to a term schedule was a deciding factor for about 45 percent of respondents who liked “the ability to complete courses/programs at their own schedule/pace.” “The ability to finish courses/programs completely online” was the second most common reason for another 34 percent of students.

How good is the quality of course content?

For as long as online education has existed there has been debate about its quality and effectiveness. With the advent of adaptive analytics in recent years, overall quality has improved drastically, and, in some instances, has improved learning outcomes with its personalized platform. Of students surveyed, over 71 percent said course content was of “high quality” or “very high quality.” As for the difficulty of course content, nearly 76 percent said it was “just the right level of difficulty for the course level.”

Is the software easy to use?

We understand that online learning can come with some anxiety stemming from “what ifs” such as software malfunctions and navigational issues. This can be especially true for students who may not be as comfortable troubleshooting as many of today’s youth are. We thought about this and chose to use a software called Canvas, which is designed for ease of use. Of student respondents, about 74 percent reported Canvas as “easy” or “very easy” to use.

Does the curriculum help you learn content needed to pass courses?

Creating curriculum that not only prepares students for the job in which they are training for, but that also uses real-world examples to help comprehend what they have learned can be difficult. It’s called competency-based learning, and we worked hard to incorporate relatable curriculum to retain necessary content. It seemed to pay off, because over 81 percent of students surveyed said the curriculum helped them learn content either “effectively” or “very effectively.”

Do LB iLearn programs prepare you to get a job?

Our goal is to help students learn skill sets to become employed. We believe student success contributes directly to the success of our community. When asked if “LB iLearn courses or programs will help you get a job” nearly 70 percent of respondents felt courses were either “very useful” or “critical” to their job training.

In our years to come we will continue to ask the students we serve how we are doing, because education matters to us, and we want our students to live better and learn better.

Community partners identify needs of next-gen workforce

imagesFor a better workforce we must first understand the needs of employers and employees. In a rapidly changing world, both employee and employer must fit into the new workforce culture, and LB iLearn is reaching out to local professionals to understand what those needs are.

This month, LB iLearn sat down with our Community Partners Committee to discuss workforce trends and employability needs. Our partners consist of representatives from nonprofit organizations, for-profit corporations, and government agencies in the realm of employment services, retail, manufacturing, and youth services.

As each representative had a chance to talk about what they are seeing in their corner of the workforce, common needs began to emerge. All members agreed about these needed adjustments or advancement in training and development of employees. And, as an institution offering career-oriented certificates and degrees, we were listening.

Basic Computer Skills

The committee spoke of unnecessary time consumption when it came to training employees how to use basic computer software, and their ability to troubleshoot such technology without help. Trained employees with the confidence and skills to do these things on their own are considered a valued asset.

Next generation employees are expected to know things such as Microsoft Office, Outlook and Excel as part of their basic job description. Also, “the tricks that Millennials grew up with,” as one committee member said, such as using no mouse, security and password management, shortcuts and navigation, are important in the digital age. Employees who take the extra step to ensure they have these skills will find themselves at the top of a hiring pool.

Soft Skills

Soft skills are a basic foundation of personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively with others. Committee members have observed that promoting such skills is often lost in an effort to focus on more procedural practices. But, in the workplace communication is key, and ineffective communication skills can make or break the success of an employee—no matter how well they know a procedure.

The committee identified the need to enhance training programs that focus on communicating with supervisors, conflict resolution, critical thinking, and productivity. Productivity holds a larger scope including self-motivation and time management. These qualities, the committee felt, are imperative for the modern employee who is expected to network with many types of people from all over the world. Personal differences cannot come between effective communication and problem solving.

Employability

Finding a job is the first step; keeping that job is the next step. Basic employability skills such as punctuality, engagement, accountability, and overall work ethic were also a concern of our community partners. Their observations are that many employees seem to struggle with the balance between doing what they want to do and doing what is right for their employer.

The truth is, employees will be asked to be somewhere they don’t want to be, at a time they don’t want to be there, or to do a task they don’t want to do, in a timeframe they don’t agree with. But, these are struggles each generation had before them, and most likely each will have after them. Knowing how to be a “good” employee goes beyond just showing up with a smile. In a workforce that has an influx of new applicants, such as Millennials, it’s important to not just do the minimum, but to do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done. Such employees are likely to be the ones who see professional advancement in the future.