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Tracking Online Learning from Mainstream Acceptance to Universal Adoption

Tracking Online Learning from Mainstream Acceptance to Universal Adoption

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This past week, Quality Matters and Eduventures released their annual survey of Chief Online Officers. The Changing Landscape of Online Education (CHLOE) survey has been conducted for a few years. This year’s is titled CHLOE 7: Tracking Online Learning from Mainstream Acceptance to Universal Adoption.

The very short executive summary of this report could be reworded as “after years of promoting online education to those willing to try it, colleges embraced online education thanks to the pandemic.” Online learning officers at more traditional institutions appear to cite the traditional refrain that most students will resort to in person classes or hybrid rather than moving to 100 percent online. However, when asked to predict the modes in which students would be taking courses in 2025, the COOs (Chief Online Learning Officers) predicted that only four percent of traditional-aged undergraduates and one percent of adult undergraduates and graduate students would take courses exclusively on-ground. Their forecasts for those taking exclusively online courses in 2025 were 2 percent of traditional undergraduates, 9 percent of adult undergraduates, and 17 percent of graduate students.

The COOs were asked several questions related to student engagement and forms of support at their institutions. More than half of them indicated that meeting the anticipated demand for online courses will require realignment of institutional strategy and priorities. During the pandemic, low-online enrollment schools (low-OE, less than 1,000 online students) closed the gap in online faculty support with high-online enrollment schools (high-OE, more than 7,500 online students).

Approximately half of all institutions report that they have quality standards for online courses, but nearly two-thirds lack any process to ensure complains with those quality standards. More than a third (34%) of all schools lack student outcomes standards and nearly the same amount (27%) lacks standards for student support.

One question asked the COOs how much interest in online classes did the pandemic create. The responses are summarized in the chart below. Given that approximately 75 percent indicated “a bit higher (10-20%)” or “much higher (>20%)”, this should be instructive to institutions’ future planning.

pandemic boosted students' online interest

Not surprisingly, more than half of COOs at community colleges selected “much higher.” During the pandemic, everyone had to go online for a period. Community colleges that had hesitated to go online likely heard from their working adult students that online suited them better than driving in traffic to make to an in-person, on-campus class.

The COOs projections for 2025 show that the mode of instruction and attendance has changed. While figure 3 below argues for more blended programs, there are very few predictions that any of these programs will be attended fully on-campus.

projection of student distribution by delivery mode

Perhaps the slide that demonstrates the changes in perceptions is Table 1 from the report and reproduced below. Eduventures and Quality Matters show the reported attendance from IPEDS for campus-based, hybrid, and online only. Based on the COOs forecasts for 2025, online will increase but hybrid will be the dominant mode instead of campus based.

enrollment by modality

With all the pressures on traditional higher ed to offer their degree programs at lower prices, this type of a market shift could add to the pressures by causing students to ask why they should pay for online/hybrid when they’re not receiving the traditional campus-based experiences. As a caveat, however, it is important to note that the respondents to this survey were Chief Online Officers and not Presidents or Deans.

There are many more figures and tables in the report that provide insights to where colleges and universities plan to go with centralized, integrated, or outsourced services. In Figure 5 below, it’s obvious that there are no departments serving online students that are totally distributed just like there are no departments that are 100 percent centralized.

centralization vs distribution of online student services

In reviewing this figure and the ones related to it, it’s good to see that colleges and universities are recognizing the importance to centralize online student services. This is particularly important if the COOs 2025 predictions of a much greater hybrid student population than ever before.

If you work for an institution with growing online enrollments and are interested in benchmarking against other institutions or are generally interested in trends in online learning, I highly recommend reading this report. There are many more figures and tables representing existing practices in student and faculty support and quality standards.

Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston was appointed to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity by the U.S. Secretary of Education in 2019. He also serves as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), as a Trustee of The American College of Financial Services, as a member of the board of Our Community Salutes - USA, and as a member and chair of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.

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