ALL BARK, NO BITE?: Babson Research Group has released its eleventh annual report, Grade Change: Tracking Online Education in the United States. The survey, supported by Pearson and the Sloan Consortium, finds a mixed bag of academic leaders across higher ed institutions with regard to online learning. Compared to 2012 responses, fewer administrators agree that online learning is critical to their institution's long-term strategy (66%), and fewer disagree (10%) -- perhaps hinting at an increase in neutral observers as the online learning craze subsides.
Online learning activity in higher education shows modest improvement. The overall number of students enrolling in online courses has increased year over year by over 400K, though the annual growth rate has dropped from 6% to 9%. This drop in growth is compounded by retention fears: 40% of academic leaders believe retaining students is a greater problem for online courses than it is for face-to-face courses. Babson reports the total number of online learners at 7.1 million, though industry consultant Phil Hill feels that number is closer to 5.5 million as outlined in the longitudinal data from NCES' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.
Nearly 2 out 3 higher ed leaders believe it's "very likely" that a majority of college students will be taking at least one online course in five years' time, even though the same proportion believes MOOC credentialing adds confusion to higher education degree offerings. What's apparent is that MOOC-building institutions are a rare find. Only 5% of responding institutions currently have MOOC offerings and 33% have no plans of offering in the future.
Whether or not higher ed students are achieving better learning outcomes through online learning remains an area for further research. Tom Loveless, a Hoover fellow, member of the Koret Task Force on K–12 Education, and surprising critic of blended learning, pointed out last week at the Hoover K-12 Blended Learning Conference that the most rigorous academic analysis to-date (this report) finds K-12 online learning no better than face-to-face. Until further notice, we're hedging our bets that this effect (or lack thereof) extends to the higher ed space.