The online education sector grew 13 percent last year, but it had been growing at about 20 percent in previous years, Reuters reports — leading some to suggest that online learning is starting to plateau until further innovations are introduced. Nearly one in four students take at least some college courses online, up from one in 10 in 2002. Two million students, most older than the traditional 18- to 22-year-old undergraduates, take all their courses online, and two million more take one or more online course. President Barack Obama pledged $500 million for online courses and materials as part of a multi-pronged plan aimed at expanding access to college. Twenty-nine percent of U.S. adults have a college degree, fewer than in many other industrialized nations, and only about 40 percent of Americans who start college graduate. Jeff Conlon, chief executive of Kaplan Higher Education with some 59,000 online students, said traditional colleges cannot meet Obama’s goals for higher education. But Richard Garrett of Boston consultant Eduventures Inc. said interest in online education might have plateaued for now, awaiting innovations that will transform the experience beyond screen imitations of the brick-and-mortar curriculum. "We’re still at a pretty rudimentary stage," Garrett said, noting educators rarely employ video, unique links, or other technological innovations. "Will it be games? Will it be simulations? Will it be social networking? Will it be something we haven’t yet come across?" No one has yet figured out how nursing students can practice drawing blood online, Conlon said. But there have been enhancements such as virtual laboratories where budding chemists can conduct experiments that might be too dangerous or too costly in the real world…

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