Students seeking online degrees are more like traditional on-campus students than in years past, a new study reveals. The 2013 Online College Students Report, co-authored by The Learning House, Inc. and Aslanian Market Research, notes the demographics of students surveyed in the 2013 report more closely resembles that of traditional students than in 2012.

Among those surveyed in 2013, 18 percent reported their “highest level of education when initially considering enrolling” as a high school diploma, compared to 6 percent in 2012. Among undergraduates, this number more than doubled, from 12 percent in 2012 to 31 percent in 2013.

These numbers, along with a corresponding decline in students reporting three or more years of college prior to enrolling in an online learning program, seem to suggest that the demographics of online learners is shifting. The study notes that many programs were originally intended for adults returning for graduate degrees.

Today, younger students are embracing an online learning model and foregoing a traditional college experience altogether. The study’s authors note that the 2014 data collection is needed to verify their hypothesis that more and more online learners resemble traditional college campus students.

Distance learning has undergone a dramatic transformation from the days of correspondence classes to today’s MOOCs (massive open online courses). Students today are faced with myriad choices ranging from pursuing their entire postsecondary degree in a traditional, in-person campus setting to an entirely online program in which they never set foot on the actual college campus.

A paper entitled “Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States,” published jointly by the Babson Survey Research Group and Quahog Research Group, LLC, reports that in 2002, approximately 1.6 million students were taking an online course, or 9.6 percent of the total enrollment in postsecondary education. Ten years later, that number jumped to over 20 million students or 32 percent of enrollment.

Enrollment in at least one online course surpassed 6.7 million in the fall of 2011, according to a press release and report from the Sloan Consortium. That figure marks an increase of 570,000 students over the previous year’s study. And while online learning was once viewed less favorably by professors and administrators, today’s faculty appear to accept that online learning can be as rigorous as classroom-based learning.

According to The Sloan Consortium paper, 77 percent of academic leaders cited in the study as saying that student outcomes are the same as or better than traditional classroom instruction, both students and faculty appear to be embracing online learning. Another paper, Research on the Effectiveness of Online Learning, also states that fully three-fourths of faculty surveyed indicate that online learning is as good or better than traditional classroom programs.

Given these statistics and the information previously cited from the 2013 Online College Student Report, both student and faculty perceptions of online degrees may be permanently shifting.


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