The Sloan Consortium has released their annual report on the state of online education in colleges and universities. Not surprisingly, online education continues to increase both in terms of students taking for-credit courses and the number of universities becoming more involved in the field. Key findings include:
- More than 6.7 million college students took at least one online course last year, an increase of 570,000 over the previous school year (and 32% of all college students)
- 2.6% of universities are now involved in MOOCs, with another 9.4% actively planning to be
- 77% of academic leaders rate the learning outcomes in online education as the same or superior to those in face-to-face
- The proportion of chief academic leaders that say that online learning is critical to their long-term strategy is at a new high of 69.1%
Perhaps the most surprising finding (on the face of things, at least) was that:
- Only 30% of chief academic officers believe that their faculty accept the value and legitimacy of online education - a rate is lower than recorded in 2004
While it might be surprising to see a declining rate of support from faculty for online education, another research report (from Inside Higher Ed and the Babson Survey Research Group) gives some insight as to why this is the case. They found that:
- 80% of administrators viewed online education with more excitement than fear, whereas only 42% of faculty felt that way
- 66% of faculty members believe that the learning outcomes for an online course are inferior or somewhat inferior to those for a comparable face-to-face course; and yet, for faculty who teach at least one course online, this number drops to 39%
Experiences of colleges and universities suggests that faculty who engage in online education are both more positive about online education overall and supportive of greater moves into online education, whereas those that do not see it fearfully (and potentially as a threat to their positions). The lesson learned for independent schools is that as they engage in online education it will be increasingly important to help faculty have the opportunity to engage in online learning themselves. It will not be enough (though may be a good start) to support individual pioneers, and may require (depending on the culture of the school) faculty to engage.
In my work with the Online School for Girls, I have seen some anecdotal evidence of great success in schools that have offered (or even required) faculty engagement in online education — through professional development or teaching courses themselves. And, it is certainly the case that the most engaged independent schools in online learning are the ones where faculty members have experienced online education (teaching or taking) the most.