Online Degree Programs May Change Higher Education’s Future
Are online degree programs the next big thing in higher education? In partnership with several higher education leaders, The Babson Survey Research Group conducted survey to answer this question.
The answer is yes, at least to a degree. The results indicated that online degree programs are changing the way higher education is perceived.
Online degree programs today
According to the most recent information from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics, 27.7 percent of undergraduate and 32.7 percent of graduate students take at least some portion of their courses in an online platform.
The Babson Survey indicates year-over-year growth in these numbers of 3.9 percent. Nonprofit institutions saw the most growth at 11.3 percent. Study co-author Elaine Allen noted that growth has been documented each year for more than a decade.
The increase in the percent of students enrolling in online classes is especially significant considering the general trend in higher education, which has shown a decline in college enrollment for the past four years.
While students may be more enthusiastic about the ability to further their academic career with online classes, the survey has seen a decrease in the number of academic leaders who identify the online learning environment as being critical to future growth and development.
This indicates a disconnect between the student body and the administration. However, even with the statistical drop, the study still shows more than 60 percent of the academic leaders identify the online learning platform as important.
The history of online degree programs
Online learning is a fairly new concept, but distance learning is a concept that can be traced back to the 18th century. The first distance learning course was established in Boston in the earlier part of the 1700s. It was based on correspondence.
Correspondence courses continued to grow in popularity and evolved to utilize available technology. In 1922, radio programming was integrated with remote learning. In 1968, television also became part of distance learning.
The creation of the internet and the introduction of the technology to the general population allowed another advancement in how education can be made available to students. Within a generation, online degree programs have become fully integrated into the educational landscape. Students today are largely unaware of the lengths to which students in the past were forced to travel for an advanced degree.
The future of online degree programs
The scope of online degree programs is poised to expand in the coming decade as advances in artificial intelligence (AI), adaptive learning, virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR) continue to develop and become integrated in the academic world.
Some of the nation’s leading universities have begun to brace for a future where virtual reality is expected by students and a requirement for future employers. Last fall, Harvard hosted an international group of thought leaders in the industry to help quantify the coming role AR/VR would have in education and the world. In February, the group announced the opening of an AR/VR studio to help students integrate these technologies in their academic and entrepreneurial efforts.
A recent report from Tyton Partners has demonstrated the growth and demand for adaptive learning technology in higher education. The study indicates a slow but increasing adoption rate as stakeholders could see the potential benefit to students and organizational methodologies.
One of the most significant changes in adaptive learning is the way it has changed how teachers interact with students. The technology gives teachers the power to create individualized educational pathways for students as they struggle or excel.
Another powerful ally in establishing online degree programs as the norm is the increasing digitization of the world’s texts. There are texts such as historic documents that were once reserved for individuals with access to special collections that can be accessed by anyone online.
EDUCASE Review projects that by 2020, a collaborative circulation system and digital library will have the ability to update analog collections to digital formats that will be shared by universities around the world.
As institutions of higher education increase the rate at which they adapt to the new interconnectivity of online classrooms, it is likely that other emerging technologies will gain a firmer foothold and increase exponentially.