12 strategies to get your online learning program off the ground

A new report looks at online learning's growth in recent years and recommends ways to bolster these programs

Online learning is on the rise at private colleges and universities, with 61 percent offering fully online degree programs in some fields, according to to a new report–but what are the strategies that create these successful programs?

The increase is a jump from 52 percent of private institutions that reported offering fully online degrees just three years ago, according to the report from from the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) and The Learning House, Inc.

This growth is in line with growing acceptance of online curricula among faculty, as well as an increase in demand from traditional college-age students.

“The report documents the increased use of online learning at small and mid-sized independent colleges and universities,” said CIC President Richard Ekman. “These findings will provide guidance to independent college leaders as they make important decisions about online learning at their institutions.”

Online Learning at Private Colleges and Universities 2016: A Survey of Chief Academic Officers” is based on findings from a survey of chief academic officers at Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) member colleges and universities.

Survey respondents noted nearly 20 different positive advantages of online and hybrid programs, including increases in student access, enrollment, and revenue.

(Next page: 12 Strategies to help improve online learning programs)

Revenue and Partnership Growth

What was once a stark contrast between acceptance and disapproval when it came to online learning is becoming less divisive. In 2013, 59 percent of colleges surveyed reported a lack of acceptance from faculty for expanding online programs; today 48 percent of colleges report that as an important issue.

The increase in online programs also could prompt growth in enrollment and revenues–nearly two-thirds of surveyed institutions increased revenue and enrollment since 2013. Half are attracting students outside their traditional service area, and one-quarter report online revenue greater than $1 million.

Since 2013, the largest increase in outcomes from online or hybrid learning programs is in strategic partnerships with other institutions, which grew from 9 percent to 21 percent.

“Online education is becoming the new normal. The next generation of students is going to be the most technologically advanced that we’ve seen, and more schools are delivering high-quality online degrees that meet students’ needs,” said David Clinefelter, Chief Academic Officer at Learning House. “I anticipate that we’ll continue to see increases in programs that span a wide array of subject areas.”

Overcoming Implementation Challenges

The report also indicates that private colleges and universities are finding ways to overcome challenges to online learning implementation.

Almost nine in 10 responding institutions said they have experienced lack of acceptance as a barrier to online learning implementation at some point, but the number of institutions that reported overcoming that barrier has noticeably increased in the past several years.

While close to half of private colleges and universities said they still experience faculty resistance to online learning, 38 percent reported that they have been able to overcome it, an increase from 28 percent reporting the same in 2013.

Forty-three percent of respondents said more faculty time and effort are needed to effectively teach online, while one-third of respondents report they have dealt successfully with this barrier.

Sixty percent of respondents said students need more self-discipline to succeed in online courses, while 18 percent said they have addressed this problem successfully.

Based on the survey results, the report also offers a list of recommendations to help institutions implement online learning programs:

1. Hire an online leader and appropriate staff.
2. Educate and incentivize faculty to teach online.
3. Revise policies and procedures to accommodate online faculty.
4. Use good accounting and budgeting practices.
5. Expand online offerings.
6. Save national and international marketing dollars for niche programs.
7. Accept all legitimate course credit.
8. Invest in outcomes.
9. Synthesize online and on-ground operations for a consistent student experience.
10. Offer competency-based programs and alternatives such as badges and bootcamps.
11. Provide more and better faculty development.
12. Take advantage of professional organizations.

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Laura Ascione

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