Two IPEDS-based research studies show that online learning preferences and trends are changing. But what are these new trends and how does this affect colleges and universities?

online-learning-demandsOnline learning enrollment is slowing down. At the same time, student preferences and demands for online courses and degrees are changing. And this is all due to increasing online learning options provided by colleges and universities.

Those are the big takeaways from two distinctive reports released by higher education industry powerhouses, utilizing the vast amount of data available from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) as a foundation for further analysis.

According to “Grade Level: Tracking Online Education in the United States,” a report released the Babson Survey Research Group, the Online Learning Consortium, Pearson and Tyton Partners—that surveyed more than 2,800 colleges and universities and IPEDS data for 4,891 responses—though online education enrollment growth continues, it’s at the “slowest rate ever.”

“The study’s findings point to a competitive marketplace, in which traditional institutions are gaining ground on the for-profits in online and distance education,” said study co-author Jeff Seaman, co-director of Babson.  “While the rapid pace of online learning growth has moderated, it still accounts for nearly three-quarters of all U.S. higher education’s enrollment increases last year.

Seaman’s emphasis on a competitive marketplace leading to a moderation of enrollment growth points to another report’s conclusive finding that as online learning matures, so are student demands and preferences.

The report, “Online College Students 2014: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences,” a joint project of The Learning House, Inc., and Aslanian Market Research, surveyed 1,500 students who were recently enrolled, are currently enrolled, or planned to enroll in online learning.

The report also used IPEDS data as a starting point for research, and quickly found that “as competition intensifies, the convenience of online study is less compelling to students.”

The authors noted that outcomes such as placement rates and features such as price and credit transfer are gaining importance as points of difference between programs.

(Next page: 11 online learning demands and preferences of today’s students)


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