Report: Online learning growth continues, but opportunities for improvement remain
- Large colleges are more likely to report growth in fully online courses (84%) compared to mid-size (60%) or small (48%) institutions, according to a new report, The Changing Landscape of Online Education (CHLOE 3), which surveyed 280 chief online officers at a mix of public and private two- and four-year nonprofit and for-profit colleges. Growth in blended courses lagged that of fully online offerings but was proportionally higher at smaller institutions.
- One reason for the wide gap between large and small colleges growing their fully online offerings is that the online learning market is becoming "increasingly crowded" and small colleges may be deterred from scaling up, the authors note.
- The survey also found "widespread interest" in alternative credentials but few colleges investing heavily in them. Additionally, online courses continued to be mostly asynchronous and mimic classroom-based approaches. However, the use of instructional designers is shown to have a "positive impact on student performance," the authors write.
Overall, enrollment in fully online courses grew 10% from spring 2017 to spring 2018, according to CHLOE 3 data. However, one-third of chief online officers interviewed said fully online students performed worse than their campus-based peers while half said they performed about the same. The performance concerns were highest at community colleges.
The report notes other differences in fully online course adoption and performance across institution types.
Enterprise institutions, which enroll more than 7,500 students and are heavily focused online, reported 6% online enrollment growth from spring 2017 to spring 2018, though 14% of respondents saw declines. This group was described as likely to "adopt robust and scalable policies" around course and program development, outsourcing and quality assurance.
At four-year regional public colleges, more than two-thirds of online students take a mix of face-to-face and fully online courses while one-third are in online-only classes. This segment saw fully online enrollment increase 7.3% during the year-long period tracked. It also had the best success with online student performance, as 94% of respondents indicated their online students performed equal to or better than campus-based students.
Regional four-year private nonprofit colleges saw 7.8% growth in overall online enrollment and was rated as the "most strongly committed" of all five institution types to growing online-only programs. Low-enrollment four-year public and private colleges, meanwhile, had an overall online enrollment increase of 12% from spring 2017 to spring 2018. However, the jump was weighted toward spikes at some of those institutions, as only 45% of programs reported an increase.
Similarly, online enrollment growth for small and mid-sized two-year colleges increased an average of 6.3% for the year but was concentrated among 55% of the institutions that reported gains. The report noted that despite being early movers on distance education, this group remains resource-strapped.
Beyond growth in online learning, the report found more interest in alternative credentials and the use of third parties for help developing online courses. Respondents ranked "faculty plus optional instructional design support" as the most common arrangement, with no large institutions saying their faculty work independently to develop online courses.
The report offers evidence of other broad changes in online education. Among them, more colleges are working with third-party service providers to develop and support online programming but want flexibility in those arrangements to bring some of those capabilities in-house. Additionally, emerging educational models such as competency-based education are gaining traction but require a change in regulation for wider adoption.
Earlier this year, online learning groups put forth policy briefs that ask for more flexibility with online learning regulations as the Ed Department and other industry stakeholders work out new rules for college accreditation.