What’s the current state of online learning? A new report from Babson, Pearson, the Online Learning Consortium et al, Grade Level (pdf), offers some intriguing observations about campus strategy and leadership.
One is that a huge gap yawns open between chief academic officers (academic deans, provosts, vice presidents) and their faculty on digital learning. A clear majority of the former, 70.8%, see online learning as “critical to their institution’s long term strategy.” Three quarters of those CAOs, 74.1%, deem “the learning outcomes in online education as the same or superior to those in face-to-face instruction”. Meanwhile, “28.0% of academic leaders say that their faculty accept the “value and legitimacy of online education.” The deans are pushing hard for online learning, generally, while professors are not.
Similarly, while most deans etc. think open education resources are a good thing, faculty don’t know enough to judge, as “a bit more than one-third [of instructors] claimed to have some level of awareness” of OER (emphasis added).
Academic leaders are far more aware of Open Educational Resources than are their faculty members. Four times as many leaders report that they are very aware than do faculty (26.0% compared to 5.1% for faculty). Far fewer leaders say that they are unaware of OER, with only one in five so reporting (20.1%) — a rate far lower than that reported by teaching faculty (65.9%)
Which brings up an interesting problem. If these results are correct, how did CAOs get so well informed, while faculty have not? Put differently: is this a success for campus CIOs and instructional technologists?
A second point relates to this. When asked “What Will Drive the Future of Higher Education?” the deans etc. saw dollars before anything else. Cost and student debt was the single most important driver:
Overall, digital learning continues to grow, according to the report. Some interesting twists:
- Growth may be slowing down. “The observed growth rate from IPEDS of the number of students taking at least one distance course was 3.7%, lower than previous online growth rates”. Some recent years saw far higher growth rates, like 2009 (over 20%) and 2005 (over 35%!). If this is a real reduction, we might be approaching a full, stable complement of online learners. And yet:
- That increase rate was “still higher than the increase in overall higher education enrollments.” By this measure online learning is healthier than face-to-face.
- What dragged down that growth rate? Purely for-profits. They saw a decrease of 7.9%. In contrast, “Public institutions grew by over 160,000 students, at a rate of 4.6%. Private not-for-profit institutions grew far faster, at 12.6%…”
So this report leaves us with some interesting tensions in academia. Faculty and deans seem to have very different attitudes towards the digital world. Meanwhile for-profits and the rest have diametrically opposed experiences in attracting students. How will these tensions play out in 2015?