Pew Research recently conducted a survey in spring 2011. The survey consisted of a telephone survey using a nationally representative sample of adults ages 18 and older; and an online survey done in association with the Chronicle of Higher Education polling presidents of two-year and four-year private, public, and for-profit colleges and universities. The findings make a strong case for colleges and universities to embrace the online learning environment.

Among those who have graduated in the past decade, the figure rises to 46%. Adults who have taken a course online have a somewhat more positive view of the value of the online learning format: 39% say a course taken online provides the same educational value as one taken in person, a view shared by only 27% of those who have not taken an online course.

Traditional universities consider new approaches

With the continuing problems of rising costs and unsatisfactory graduation rates, innovative web-based approaches to higher education are being piloted around the state of Texas winning over students and even faculty and administrators.

Kristin Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the University of Texas at Arlington expressed her enthusiasm for online learning:

A “Online and blended learning is something that we have done very well. It’s particularly been successful in the nursing, education and health professional fields, where professionals pursuing advanced degrees creates a market demand.”

She noted that it’s not just tech-savvy students who are interested in online learning.

“We have many students who, because of course scheduling, might take most of their classes in a face-to-face environment, but they might take an art history class or a government class or a criminal justice course online,”

Ross Strader, the associate director of the Open Learning Initiative, has conducted research of online learning vs. traditional learning using a statistics textbook. Strader’s research has shown that students who do the course entirely online can achieve the same results as those who take a similar course in a traditional manner. However, those who combine his materials with classroom instruction — what’s known as “blended learning” — have higher rates of success.

Public Perception of Online Learning

Surprisingly, the public appears to have a more skeptical view of online learning than the college presidents; although some surveyed had never taken an online course, those who had still believed that online learning was inferior to in-class instruction.

Here is a summary of key findings from the Pew Research Study:

  • The Value of Online Learning. Only 29% of the public says online courses offer an equal value compared with courses taken in a classroom. Half (51%) of the college presidents surveyed say online courses provide the same value.
  • The Prevalence of Online Courses. More than three-quarters of college presidents (77%) report that their institutions now offer online courses. These courses are more prevalent in some sectors of higher education than in others. While 89% of four-year public colleges and universities offer online classes, just 60% of four-year private schools offer them.
  • Online Students. Roughly one-in-four college graduates (23%) report that they have taken a class online. However, the share doubles to 46% among those who have graduated in the past ten years. Among all adults who have taken a class online, 39% say the format’s educational value is equal to that of a course taken in a classroom.
  • The Future of Online Learning. College presidents predict substantial growth in online learning: 15% say most of their current undergraduate students have taken a class online, and 50% predict that 10 years from now most of their students will take classes online.
  • Digital Textbooks. Nearly two-thirds of college presidents (62%) anticipate that 10 years from now, more than half of the textbooks used by their undergraduate students will be entirely digital.

It’s clear that colleges and universities see the value in online learning. It appears that over the next decade they need to educate the public regarding its value as they incorporate more online learning with traditional learning. Blended learning using classroom instruction and online resources is clearly a valuable educational tool that colleges and universities can use to cut costs and attract more students.

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