By Brian Fleming, Senior Analyst
Historically, online degree programs have never attracted large numbers of “traditional” undergraduate students. The 2015 Eduventures Prospective Survey of over 20,000 college-bound high school students confirms that this is still very much the case, with 0% of respondents expressing interest in a wholly online undergraduate experience. A sizable number, however, said they were interested in programs that mixed on-campus learning with online courses. This finding, which Eduventures continues to track, supports our claim that there are new and viable alternatives emerging within “traditional” undergraduate education waiting to be explored, one of which is blended learning.
Who is driving demand for blended learning?
A deeper cut of our data reveals that the appetite for a blended experience is not a universal trend among traditional students. It is driven mostly by two very unconventional and historically at-risk segments of the otherwise traditional student market:
- Students planning to start at a two-year college and transfer to a four-year institution
- Students planning to take more than four consecutive years to graduate
Unlike most traditional students, who show little interest in online options, these two student populations prefer blended experiences over wholly on-campus experiences for several obvious reasons. For one, most of these students work full- or part-time while in school or need to balance school with other competing priorities, which makes them more like adult learns/non-traditional students. For these students, having access to online courses adds flexibility and convenience. If these two student groups are among your target base, then you have a compelling reason to develop more online learning options.
Flexibility and convenience are valuable, but blended learning is about so much more.
Focus on ways of using online courses to address unique student needs. If serving the two groups identified above, then use online courses as:
- A recruitment tool and for strengthening cross-institutional partnerships. Transfer students commonly struggle with building a viable connection to a four-year institution. Offering them access to online courses prior to enrolling will not only build a steady pipeline of potential transfers, but also offer them a way to earn guaranteed credit at your institution before enrolling. This goes a long way with this population. Keep in mind that through online learning, you will also build better analytics about how these students learn, as well as about their unique challenges and remedial needs prior to matriculation. This will help you on three fronts: as a recruiting tool, as a means to help these students succeed once enrolled, and as a means to strengthen partnerships with two-year institutions through data exchange and improved credit articulation and outcomes reporting.
- A retention and predictive modeling solution. Students who take longer to graduate are often at a higher risk of stopping out, dropping out, or never completing. By adding online components to their experience, you will not only offer them a more flexible way to make progress toward their degrees, but also build a better foundation for predictive models. Any digital learning environment you use, whether an online course or an adaptive learning platform, is brimming with analytics about what, how, and why students learn. In most cases, this data is waiting to be harnessed and used to better track student progress, stage interventions, and offer more targeted student advising.
Forging Ahead with a New Tradition
For students who will be well served by this program format, Eduventures recommends finding ways of using blended learning to deliver a more flexible experience and to craft a more pedagogically impactful experience. This adds new relevance for online education among traditional undergraduate students.