It’s that time of the year for me geek out over the annual report released by the Sloan-Consortium, Learning On Demand: Online Education in the United States, 2009. Sloan publishes one such report each year and here are a few startling revelations, highlights, and my own reflections in italics.

As of fall 2009:

  • The US saw a 17% increase in online enrollments in higher ed over the previous year, outpacing the the 12% increase announced in the ’09 Sloan-C survey (which stunned folks).
  • The 17% increase in online enrollments becomes even more startling when we compare it to the measly 1.2% growth overall for higher ed (!).
  • While the participating colleges and universities indicated that they had witnessed an increase in all their offerings (all methods of delivery) due to the economic downturn, all institution types agreed that the strongest demand is for more new AND existing online courses as well as online programs.
  • Despite the enormous student demand and strong enrollment growths, college and university executives continue to demonstrate a flimsy, at best, correlation between the importance of online learning and the strategy of their institution. This is a point that I hope is rung clearly throughout our nation. I believe there is a strong, clear disconnect between college and universities leaders and the heart and soul of online learning. Online learning is not IT. Online learning is not a strategy to increase dwindling budgets. Online learning is a new, innovative educational landscape that enables institutions to reach more students and different students in new and exciting ways. But it also requires institutions to encourage, motivate, inspire, and support faculty to learn new and sometimes challenging but sometimes amazingly refreshing and rewarding ways of cultivating learning experiences for our students. If this earth-shattering shift in education that has already begun to revolutionize learning around the globe is dismissed as “not strategically important” at your institution, perhaps it’s time to refresh the skills of those at the helm. In fact, it becomes concerning to see our country miss out on such opportunities for global learning when our workforce and overall national economy is thirsty for innovative ideas from 21st century-bred leaders with the ability to collaborate, present, lead, motivate and negotiate virtually and face-to-face with multi-generational and culturally diverse teams. This is our mission, this is our job as faculty, administrators, staff in higher education. And this is the texture of the online learning experience…if one approaches it strategically. Is that not critical to the success of our country, let alone your institution, your future? If this isn’t a missed opportunity, I don’t know what is. And nobody is screaming about it. SCREAM WITH ME.
  • An exclusion from this year’s survey, which is painful to me, is the helpful visual that illustrates which types of institutions are carrying the online enrollments. In past years, I recall learning (and I’ve cited this countless times, as I believe it’s crucial yet completely marginalized) from the Sloan survey that more than 50% of the online enrollments occur at 2-year institutions. I don’t see this information included anywhere in the report which I’m quite saddened by. It was the one helpful statistic that I could lean on to leverage the significant role that community colleges are playing in the online learning landscape. Now it’s gone. Instead, this year’s report simply notes that 82% of the enrollments occur at undergraduate institutions which, to me, dilutes the role of community colleges and inflates the role of 4-year universities. I realize this was not an intentional edit on the part of the Sloan-Consortium, but I do hope they understand how valuable the more specific data provided in earlier years is to community colleges.
  • The report also delved into the intriguing question of retention. The respondents were asked, “Is Retention of Students Harder in Online Classes?” Now, keep in mind the respondents for the survey were executives who, according to the survey, aren’t terribly strategic about online learning. So, I’m questioning how informed they are about retention issues in online classes. Nonetheless, I digress…what I found particularly interesting about the response was the breakdown of the respondents “by institution type” (AH HA…they DID collect this info!!) that specifies which institutions acknowledge retention in online classes to be an issue. Take a look at the institution type that has the highest percentage of agrees:
Is Retention of Students Harder in Online Classes?

  • This retention graphic above shows that 36.7% of Associates respondents agreed that retention of students is harder is online classes, while just 19% of 4-year institutions agreed which is a staggering gap in the two types of undergraduate institutions. To me, this statistic alone justifies the importance of researching the trends of online learning at CCs and 4-year institutions uniquely, when possible. Community colleges and 4-year institutions serve two very unique student bodies and teaching online classes at these two different types of institutions raises different issues and requires different strategies for success. I believe understanding where the majority of the enrollments are occurring is a significant item to highlight in a Sloan-C report and now I’m left wondering … has it shifted?
  • Faculty development/distance learning programs within institutions will also be intrigued by the additional question woven into this year’s survey that investigates whether or not faculty are provided training to teach online and if so, what are these methods? Unfortunately, the results of the survey reveal a less than shocking mish mash of internal and external training programs and informal/formal mentoring programs (which, to me, begin to get suspicious of like “faculty help each other and just don’t get paid for it” types of “training”), they’re still interesting. Here is the graphic that breaks down the results by institution type.
Type of Training for Faculty Teaching Online

Thanks Sloan-Consortium and Babson Survey Research Group for another installment of online data fun!

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3 Comments

  1. Michael – Thanks for the companionship in my virtual 'scream.' It's always nice to hear from you. I hope others join in to share support for this perspective. We need to move on this gap. It's critical to future of higher ed and the competitiveness of our country in this global economy.

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