The Instructional Technology Council (ITC) conducted a survey about the state of online education in 2014 and published the findings in 2015. What they found is that over the course of the previous ten years, online education exploded in popularity both with students and institutions, although the growth rate slowed over time.
In general, the online education story is very positive. According to the ITC data, between 2004-2014, over 5.5 million students were able to enroll in higher ed programs they would have been unable to attend had they not been offered online. Mobile learning and improvements in online teaching methods have both improved the student experience, and online education delivery is no longer seen as “experimental.”
But the story has some challenges, and you may be seeing hints of these issues in your own classes:
- Because of the rapid growth in online courses, more students are being reached by higher ed than before. This means there is a higher proportion of first-time college students in online courses. These students tend to be less prepared and more subject to adjustment problems than students whose parents went to college. Although this challenge is not unique to online courses, it is acute because the environment is inherently challenging with its increased need for technological skills.
- Even though we are accustomed to thinking of “today’s students” as being the “technological generation,” in fact, computer and internet access remains a challenge for a significant proportion of online students. It is critical to keep these students in mind when designing your course. For example, limiting or eliminating downloaded files in your online course will help those students who access your material from a public library or other computer that does not allow downloaded items.
- Even with the increased number of intervention programs for online students, online courses still have lower retention rates than face-to-face courses. This is a reality that varies by course, but if your course tends to have a high drop rate, there may be design issues that IDT can help you address. You can also consider increasing the enrollment cap on your course to offset the early-term drops.