By Richard Garrett, Chief Research Officer, Eduventures
Ron Legon, Senior Adviser for Knowledge Initiatives and Executive Director Emeritus, Quality Matters
It’s now more than 20 years since online learning came on the scene. At the outset, many skeptics questioned its quality and reliability. Online learning faced widespread resistance among faculty conditioned by centuries-old, classroom-based education and lacking in computer skills. There were substantial start-up costs, technical deficiencies, and regulatory uncertainty to overcome.
With all these obstacles, many doubted whether online learning would gain a permanent foothold in U.S. higher education. The former Babson Survey Research Group/Sloan-C survey of chief academic officers focused on the fundamental issues of counting online students and attitudes for or against its adoption.
Today, the number of online students is no longer a mystery, and there is wide acceptance of the delivery mode among administrators and faculty. This innovation, in the means of delivering higher education, is here to stay. It is no longer experimental, but a fixture in mainstream institutions, accounting for a large and still growing proportion of total postsecondary enrollment.
To reach this level of success, online learning—itself an innovation—needed to be innovative to overcome both its real and perceived shortcomings through ongoing technological enhancement, pedagogical experimentation, policy reform, and quality assurance. These efforts required commitment to an unprecedented rate of change for institutions traditionally slow to evolve.
Now that online learning is established in thousands of institutions, the question arises whether this pace of innovation can (or should) be sustained. Is mainstream higher education capable of implementing new software as rapidly as the telecommunications industry or social media? Are schools inclined to experiment with new pedagogies, credentialing methods, disaggregation, and outsourcing of their established roles, as readily as innovators continue to generate new products and ideas?
Many schools may choose an extended period of consolidation to fully absorb and integrate online learning. Will online learning ultimately be as transformative as many of its early proponents envisioned or will it be woven into the fabric of traditional higher education?
These are some of the questions underlying the CHLOE Survey—The Changing Landscape of Online Education. Quality Matters and Eduventures are pleased to announce the imminent publication of this new study about online learning in U.S. higher education. CHLOE surveys those we call chief online officers, the individuals who bear primary responsibility for coordinating the complex efforts needed to build and sustain successful online courses and programs.
The first CHLOE study covers:
- Enrollment trends
- Organizational models
- Resource allocation
- Course development, compensation, and ownership
- Reliance on third parties, including online program management (OPM) firms
- Outcomes metrics and quality assurance practices
- Current and planned technologies and pedagogic strategies
More than 100 colleges and universities participated in the first CHLOE Survey in fall 2016. The analysis is divided by institutional type and scale of online operation.
Listening to CHLOE
Judged by enrollment, online learning is a great success: more than six million fully or partly online students were enrolled in fall 2015. But where is it headed? Consider these CHLOE findings:
- Course Development. About 75% of respondents described an online course development model led by individual faculty with no requirement to engage with instructional design specialists. Acknowledging the value of academic autonomy, is this the best way to drive high-quality online programming, and derive the most pedagogic value from the delivery mode?
- Pricing. Among public two-year and four-year schools, over 90% of respondents indicated that the price of their online programs is either in line with or higher than conventional programming . This is true even among typically higher-priced, private four-year institutions (70%). Such data suggests that most schools have not made it a priority to use online learning to lower costs.
- Program Objectives. CHLOE found that the predominant impetus for investment in online learning today is enrollment growth, with other objectives, such as student completion gains and cost reduction, trailing far behind. Mainstream support seems focused on offsetting declines in campus enrollment caused by shifting demographics and a stronger economy. By definition, not every school can use online to conquer the national market, and more competition may warrant more attention to local audiences and an enhanced student experience.
Online learning has changed higher education, but higher education has also shaped online learning. There is no doubt that online learning is here to stay, but what is far less clear is the balance between innovation and consolidation, transformation and integration within institutions and across the field as a whole going forward. The planned series of annual CHLOE Surveys will provide much-needed insight.
The first CHLOE Survey Report will be published on May 22, 2017 and made available through both Quality Matters and Eduventures. Also look for our upcoming CHLOE overview webinar in the following weeks. We look forward to your feedback on the first report.