Online Education has exploded in the last ten years and its allure is still on the rise. Why is online education so popular? For one, not only does it provide more flexibility for current students, but it also gives people who would otherwise reject the possibility of higher education a chance to learn and expand their knowledge base and further their careers.

According to a recent study by The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), online education plays a large role in colleges and universities across the country. From the year 2000 to 2008, there has been a 12% increase in the number of undergraduate students who took at least one online class, while the existence of 100% online degree programs increased from 2-4%. This number continues to climb as more schools provide online options and more full-time online schools surface.

According to the report, the benefits of online education are numerous:

  • Flexibility of studying from home without commuting
  • Students can attend the college of their choice even if they are not located in close proximity
  • Flexibility of completing studies on students’ schedules
  • Mature students who have families and job responsibilities find they can study on their own time and would not be able to attend school if it weren’t for the flexibility of online training.

According to a recent study by the NECS, Learning at a Distance: Undergraduate Enrollment in Distance Education Courses and Degree Programs, enrollment in distance education courses or degree programs is attractive to an older crowd.

The popularity of distance learning programs is highest in the “over 30” group.

  • Disabled students can attend classes without worrying about accessibility issues.

Distance Learning Preference

The former NECS report also pointed out that students were more likely to take advantage of distance learning if they were enrolled in specific degree programs. About 27% of students who enrolled in a computer science program took advantage of online learning, 7% more than the general student population. Additionally, about 24% of business majors enrolled in web-based courses.

University Expansion

Universities are also seeing a surge in the number of students who are enrolling in online classes. Rutgers University experienced a 17% increase in online enrollees between 2010 and 2011. According to Rutgers’ newspaper, the Daily Targum, the surge of online education participants has not increased their class size since the school continues to add more options for web-based classes. The average class size was 19 students in the fall of 2010 and this number actually decreased to 18 by the fall of 2011, even though online education participation has advanced.

Washington State University has also reported a larger audience for their web-based classes. The university is in the process of expanding its online programs to give out-of-state students who wish to attend the university the chance to participate in various studies at the school.

Into the Future

The popularity of online learning has only begun to expand and many academic officials believe this expansion will likely continue for the next ten years. According to a study performed by the Pew Research Center, 15% of college presidents polled stated that a majority of their students are enrolled in online classes. About 50% also stated that they believe over half of their students will enroll in web-based learning in the next ten years.

The results of these studies portray how online learning has and will continue to become a common thread in most colleges and universities. Though it is apparent that traditional face-to-face learning will always be available to the masses, for those who need more flexibility or even the opportunity to further their education, online education can provide the means to expand their horizons.

“Online education provides additional opportunities. It gives people greater opportunity for flexibility, for experiential learning, for illustrating things in multiple ways, such as visualization.” Diana G. Oblinger, president of Educause

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