Since nearly two decades, research into the effectiveness and demand for online learning in higher education has been ongoing. For example, in 2012, 6.7 million of the 20.6 million students enrolled in an online course. The online learning industry grew at a steady rate for several years (around 4.9% per annum) Why didn’t online learning become the dominant approach, as edtech futurists predicted?
It took a global crisis, as it turned out, to get more people learning and teaching online.
Online Learning Demand is Rising
Cengage has been working closely with Bay View Analytics since the outbreak of the pandemic to study the academic experiences of students and faculty, as well as their opinions about online learning. So, where are we today? According to the Digital Learning Pulse Survey, students are more interested in taking online classes than ever before. This is even for those who are only taking in-person classes. Three quarters of students prefer online learning and more than half give online courses an “A”. Many faculty have taught online and many wish to continue. Students want to be able to access other education services and support online. Even support that may seem more natural in person, such as 1:1 coaching. Online education is the “way of future” in 2011.
In 2020, 97% percent of college professors switched to emergency remote learning. Most students had never registered for online education. Many students were unhappy with their learning experience and the loss in campus life. Some students even sued to recover their tuition money. Learning designers across the globe reacted to the backlash. They believe that emergency remote learning is not online learning. Instead, the courses have been designed for digital delivery and were developed with educators over many months. Fast forward two years, and most students, even those who are currently enrolled in in-person courses, want more fully online courses.
Research on Online Learning shows evolving perspectives
Despite the fact that online learning is increasingly popular and desired by many, it remains a controversial topic in higher education. According to the Digital Learning Pulse Survey, there are still people who are afraid of learning online. Some of those who are less-than-enthusiastic expressed specific feelings that include: “I prefer in-person courses as I have more at stake in terms of personal relationships with professors and students vs. being completely online where I only interact via Zoom and do my own thing,” and “I would prefer to take my classes in person because of a lack of motivation [online].”
The Digital Pulse Survey also revealed that half of 2022’s students agreed that stress was a major problem. While more than half (57%) of students believe their institution offers student support, only 15% of students have ever reported using such services.
More online learning means more student support
It all boils down to student support, online or in-person. Online learning can be stressful if students aren’t supported in the transition from in-person to online classes. Online students require as much support as in-person students. Online students require support from their institutions and faculty.
Guidelines for communicating clearly and safely online. Clarity about which forums to use.
There are no assumptions about digital comfort-level or prior digital knowledge. Assuming that everyone is a “digital native”, can be dangerous and inaccurate.
Help build a strong, active digital identity. Connect their real self to that digital identity. It’s okay to get personal and show your face!
Learning experiences and assignments that encourage flexibility are a part of learning.
It’s okay to disconnect and reduce your tech usage when it’s necessary for school/life/work.
There are many opportunities for 1:1 and group interaction in the online environment. This includes coaching, mentoring, or simply chats.
Clear signs should be posted to indicate where to find mental health support and crisis assistance, regardless of whether it is online or campus. Information about access and availability should always be available in both locations.
In 2020 and 2021, higher education institutions faced many crises. Although they did their best in difficult circumstances, that doesn’t change fact that higher education delivery is fundamentally changed now and that the student support model must adapt.
Online Education is Her