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The State of Online Education

Grade Change has made its eleventh annual report on the state of online learning in U.S. higher education. The survey was designed, administered and analyzed by the Babson Survey Research Group, with the data collection conducted with the College Board. Using more than 2,800 colleges and universities in this study, they were able to answer some fundamental questions about the state of online education in the USA.


How many students are learning online?

This report conducted has found that online enrollments have increased at rates exceeding those of overall higher education. Whether or not these trends will continue is unknown, however the evidence suggests that the number of additional students taking at least one course online continued to grow, but the rate of overall enrollment was found to be the lowest in a decade.


  • The number of students taking at least one online course increased by over 411,00 to a total of 7.1 million.

  • The online enrollment growth rate of 6.1% was the lowest recorded in this report series

  • The proportion of higher education students taking at least one online course is at an all time high of 33.5%

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Though the growth rate may be slowing, it is still many times larger than the growth rate of the overall higher education student body.The increase of 1.6 million students taking courses online in 2002 to 7.1 million in 2012 shows a compound annual growth of 16.1%.


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Are Learning Outcomes in Online Comparable to Face-to-Face?

The reports in this area have consistently found that a growing majority of chief academic officers rate the learning outcomes for online education to be just as good as it’s face-to-face competitors.


  • The percent of academic leaders rating the learning outcomes in online education to the same or superior to those under face-to-face instruction has grown from 57% in 2003 to 77% in 2012.

  • The proportion of academic leaders who believe the learning outcomes for online education are inferior to those of face-to-face instruction has increased from 23% last year to 26% this year.

  • Academic leaders at institutions with online offerings remain positive about the learning outcomes for all online courses; all of the observed decreases can be attributed to leaders at institutions without online offerings becoming more negative.


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It’s important to note that these findings are based on personal opinions of chief academic officers, and not all of these are based on concrete data findings.

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Comparing the responses from institutions finds that the results mirror those observed in the previous year. Almost 25% believe that online outcomes are superior, 20% believe they are inferior, with the remainder being neutral about the difference in learning outcomes between the two delivery methods.

What the future holds for Online Learning

Leaders in academia believe that the number of students taking online courses will continue to grow. There are other aspect of online learning that cause a difference in opinions.


  • 90% of academic leaders believe that it is “Likely” or “Very Likely” that a majority of higher education students will be taking at least one course on line in the next five years.

  • ⅔ of chief academic officers believe that there will be a substantial use of student directed, self paced components in future online courses

  • Less than ⅓  of academic leaders believe that there will no longer be concerns over the relative quality of online courses.

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Opinions of academic leaders were consistent for the two survey years (2011 and 2013). The exception here was the issue of perception of the quality of online instruction.

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Via Grade Change


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