A look at today’s college student: The growth of online learning

January 04, 2018 · 3 min read · By ASU Online
The profile of today’s college student has changed dramatically. Many students are juggling work and family, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, which found that 62% of students work either full- or part-time and 29% have at least one dependent.

Online learning suits diverse student needs

Needing the flexibility and variety of course offerings, more students are turning to online learning to design a path that fits their lifestyle – on their terms. This growing number of students is no longer considered nontraditional – they are the new traditional. As a result, online learning is seeing significant growth. A recent study found that the number of students taking online courses grew to over 5.8 million across the United States, and that number continues to rise. At ASU Online, the programs have grown by leaps and bounds with a 60% increase in first-year enrollment since the fall of 2016. Just six years ago, there were fewer than 400 students enrolled in online programs, and today we have more than 30,000 students enrolled in more than 150 undergraduate and graduate degree programs offered online. The growth of online programs comes as no surprise, as more and more students are attracted to the flexibility online offers, and people, in general, are more comfortable with an online learning modality.

The promise of online learning

Beyond the need for flexible programs to accommodate today’s new traditional students is the need to address access to top-quality higher education programs. This is particularly critical as studies have found that by 2020, 65% of all jobs will require postsecondary education and training beyond high school. Online learning allows for a bigger pipeline, creating more ways for learners to pursue a degree. Thanks to technological advancements and new tools, universities are able to expand higher education to reach more students.

The variety and depth of courses now available via online programs continue to reach new levels. Significantly more degree specializations are available than just a few years ago as universities scale and expand to meet the evolving needs of students. In ASU’s more than 2,100 online courses, over 130 technology tools are incorporated – from content, support or academic honesty tools – allowing for carefully designed courses in close partnership with faculty. Early on, courses that did not require lab work or extensive group interaction tended to be the easiest to build online. However, over the past decade, tools have been developed that allow for effective group work. Now, courses like public speaking, lab science programs such as biomimicry and engineering degree programs are available to online learners.

Support structure is key to success

Adoption of online learning is fueled by the fact that universities are learning that it can be as effective – or in some cases, more effective – than face-to-face learning. However, support and guidance from a program infrastructure standpoint are essential to success. From a strong faculty support network to success coaches and career advisors, universities that are providing high-touch student services throughout a student’s educational journey see the best student outcomes.

Many online students are stepping back into school after many years and need that support and encouragement to feel at ease. Later, many students find that their coaches are a lifeline as they juggle life with studying and coursework. The ASU Online Student Success Center, which pairs each student with a personal success coach, has seen enrollment scale five-fold. This personalized support is rare, and crucial, for online students. They know the warning signs and can quickly step in to take a proactive approach. By reaching out to students via text, chat and email based on specific behaviors and academic triggers observed in the digital classroom, they can quickly step in to ensure online students stay on the path to graduation.

Working in collaboration with other student touchpoints, such as Recruitment Services, Student Enrollment Services, Academic Advisement and Veterans Services, online programs are able to provide a highly integrated and successful student experience.

Online learning allows universities to meet students where they are both academically and personally. The power of innovation in online learning is visible with each new program, each new tool and the promise that each student can complete a degree in a way that was simply not possible before.


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