#6: 7 new online education trends

Learning is changing, and these online education trends are shedding light on a whole new crop of students

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on April 26th of this year, was our #6 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2019 countdown!]

Career and employment goals continue to be one of the top reasons students pursue online education, according to an annual report recapping online education trends. A full 69 percent of surveyed online students say employment is their primary goal for enrolling in an online education program, according to the Online Education Trends Report from BestColleges.com.

Related: 7 myths about online learning in higher ed

This year’s report includes candid feedback from more than 450 school administrators and 1,500 students.

Students are grouped into categories extending beyond the age-based labels of traditional and nontraditional:

  • Aspiring academics are ages 18-24 and are focused on academic studies
  • Coming of Age students are 18-24 and are exploring college academics, social offerings, and a variety of activities
  • Academic Wanderers are older students who know the advantages of a college degree but are undecided about academic and career goals and how to achieve them
  • Career Starters encompass a wide age range and are interested in college as a path to a specific career
  • Career Accelerators are older students with some college and job experience interested in college to advance in their current field
  • Industry Switchers are older students with some college and job experience interested in transitioning to a new career field

A steady theme in online education trends is cost and financial concerns. Those concerns continue to be students’ biggest challenges when choosing an online program. As in previous surveys, students identified the top two most challenging aspects of making decisions about online education as “estimating annual costs” and “applying for financial aid and identifying sufficient funding sources.”

“As online education becomes more widely accessible, it’s important to evaluate the latest trends in online learning and measure their impact on students and academic institutions over time,” says Stephanie Snider, director of BestColleges. “By analyzing the experiences and perspectives of students and administrators, we can gain a holistic sense of the current state of online education and make informed decisions about the creation of new online learning programs and opportunities.”

Key online education trends

1. Sixty-eight percent of school administrators report that marketing and meeting recruitment goals are currently their biggest challenge when offering new online programs.

2. Just because students are enrolled in an online education program doesn’t mean they aren’t on campus–46 percent of online students say they visit campus, either by choice or because of a requirement.

3. Student say they think online education programs are high-quality. In this year’s survey, 77 percent say the quality of online education is better than or equal to on-campus options, and 88 percent say their degrees have or will have a positive ROI.

4. One thing that remains consistent is the demand for online education. Nearly all (99 percent) of school administrators say demand is either increasing or has stayed the same.

5. Online programs will have to provide targeted support for students and faculty, and this could be a challenge as online students come from varied backgrounds and stages of life.

Related: Here’s what online learning programs do right–and here’s what they can improve

6. Twenty percent of online alumni in this year’s survey say unexpected personal events were a major roadblock to graduation. Almost 40 percent of administrators say this is the biggest challenge for their current students, which has implications for support services, student tracking and intervention, and faculty development.

7. Students’ personal obligations–half of those surveyed are employed and 59 percent have children–continue to influence their decisions to enroll in an online programs. Convenience and flexibility are students’ top reasons for studying online. Forty-seven percent say their existing work and family commitments don’t allow for campus-based attendance.

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Laura Ascione
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