We Are Living in the Age of Online Learning

Online learning is changing the face of education.

Earlier this week a former teaching colleague invited me to breakfast at one of our favorite eateries. We enjoyed catching up and chowing down on Breakfast Samplers, with extra bacon. Because bacon makes everything better — even funerals.

 

In between bites this young fellow wanted to discuss my opinion of the potential for online learning and teaching. Where are we headed and what are the benefits? I'm not entirely certain why younger people continue to ask my opinion about things. The older I become, the more confused life seems.

 

In any event, between bites I talked about the spreading popularity of online education and referenced a Learning House report, the Online College Students 2016: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences. The report shows an impressive increase in online learning and the changing demographics of online students.

 

Learning House queried 1,500 past, present, and prospective online college students about their demographics and reasons for pursuing an online education. Their responses show some interesting trends. For example, cost can lead to a reluctance to enroll in school, but it can be overcome with minor scholarship incentives, as little as $500 in most instances.

 

What came as no surprise was the finding that the percentage of students pursuing online computer science and IT degrees has more than doubled since 2014, from 9 percent to more than 20 percent. Additionally, the average age of online students is really declining. In 2016 the average age was 29, down from 36 just two years ago.

 

The main reason for the age drop is directly related to an increase in the number of younger students signing up for online courses. Since 2012, the number of online students in the 18-to-24-year-old demographic has more than doubled.

 

Online learning is changing the face of education.

A big slice of credit for the increase in online learning goes to the universality of smartphones and tablets being used for studying. According to McGraw-Hill Education's 2015 Digital Trends in Higher Ed report, students have eagerly embraced the benefits of being mobile. The findings showed that:

 

? 81 percent of students surveyed use their mobile devices to study.
? 50 percent of students surveyed say that mobile devices save them time.
? 62 percent of students surveyed say that their devices help them feel better prepared for class.
? 77 percent say that their devices have helped them improve their grades.

 

Mobile devices are also changing how instructors teach. A solid 80 percent of respondents felt that their instructors "demonstrated proficient or excellent integration of technology into their courses." The study also showed the prevalence of e-books in online courses.

 

And now that the Department of Education is requiring that all educational works funded with federal money be openly licensed by 2018, students are expected to see a cost savings for e-books of approximately $134 per course. A not insignificant sum for a full-load of classes.

 

It is amazing to see the growth of online learning. The National Center for Education Statistics, a section of the U.S. Department of Education that studies educational trends and statistics, reports that 5.4 million students, almost 26 percent of the college student population in the U.S. "took at least one online class." Additionally, 2.65 million, 12.5 percent of all college students, took online courses exclusively.

 

Many factors are driving the increase in online learning. Two of the biggest are convenience and flexibility for both part-time and full-time students. Nontraditional and working students also consistently report that they find online learning a better fit for their busy schedules. Other advantages are cost savings and the ability to finish programs sooner.

 

The internet has changed forever the way students learn at all levels of education. And my pancake palaver didn't even get to the exploding (and explosive) impact of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

 

Institutions from community colleges to law schools are adding more online course options. The staid and buttoned-down image of expensive higher learning is fading fast. Online learning is rapidly showing its value and convenience for students of all ages and interests.

 

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About the Author
Calvin Harper

Calvin Harper is a writer, editor, and publisher who has covered a variety of topics across more than two decades in media. Calvin is a former GoCertify associate editor.