Tracking Trends in Online Education

A January 2013 report commissioned by the Babson Research Group and the College Board titled, Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States, explores the ways in which the recent explosion of online courses and degree programs has affected the higher education landscape. Researchers surveyed Chief Academic Officers from more than 2,800 colleges and universities in the United States and discovered some emerging trends in CAO’s perceptions of online education, and their plans for the future of online courses at their institution.

Student Enrollment in Online Courses

Student enrollment in online courses has steadily increased between 2002 and 2011. In 2011 6.7 million students were enrolled in an at least one online course, that is about 32% of the entire student population, up from participation by only 10% of enrolled students in 2002. This demonstrates a dramatic increase in enrollment in online courses. (Allen & Seaman, 2013, pp. 17-19)

Staff and Faculty Perceptions of Online Classes

Currently, 77.0% of the Chief Academic Officers surveyed believe that the learning outcomes in online education are equal or superior to face-to-face education. Three-fourths of the Chief Academic Officers surveyed reported they believed that online classes are “as good as or better than” traditional campus based classes while only 23% believe they are “inferior or somewhat inferior”. The study found CAOs at universities without online offerings are five times more likely to view online classes as inferior; the more online offerings a university has, the more likely their CAO is to believe online classes are as good as or better than classroom based courses. Interestingly, despite some disagreement over the quality of online courses, 69.1% of CAOs agree that “online learning is critical to the long-term strategy of my institution.” (Allen & Seaman, 2013, pp. 24-26) 


Only 2.6% of universities surveyed reported offering MOOCs, 9.4% have concrete plans to offer them in the future, and 55.4% are undecided as to whether they might offer them. Large universities with doctoral programs are the leading advocates of MOOCs with 9.8% of these programs currently offering Massively Open Online Courses, and 21.4% reporting they plan to offer MOOCs in the near future. The study also found institutions currently offering online programs are most likely to be offering or planning to offer MOOCs. (Allen & Seaman, 2013, pp. 8-15)

Online courses and degree programs will undoubtedly play a major role in the future of education. Students are embracing online courses in growing numbers, and many academics perceive these courses as high quality learning experiences for students. While there is still some uncertainty surrounding the strategic and educational benefit of offering free online education to the masses, a general interest in this concept is evidenced by larger doctoral universities willingness to invest in MOOCs. 



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