As Online Education Grows, the Public Remains Wary of its Value

October 16, 2013

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Enrollment in online courses is on the rise, as students opt for a more cost effective and convenient alternative to a traditional college environment. But Americans have reservations about the value of Internet-based learning, and believe it provides less vigorous testing and grading, less qualified instructors, and degrees that are viewed as less valuable by employers, new research finds.

Only 29 percent of the 1,028 adults surveyed in a new Gallup poll equate Internet-based college programs with a “good” education, compared to 52 percent who say that four-year colleges and universities provide a good education.

Even with the emergence of new technology, and a new crop of online education offerings around the country, adults 18 years and older associate conventional classroom learning with a higher quality education.

Almost half of those surveyed say that the online education route is “worse” than the traditional classroom setting for obtaining a degree that will be viewed positively by employers .

The latest data come at a time as enrollment in online courses grows. Gallup notes that one in five students are taking an online course. A survey taken earlier this year by the Babson Survey Research Group revealed that more than 6.7 million students took at least one online course in the 2011 fall term, a spike of 570,000 more students from the previous year.

The Babson survey found that 77 percent of academic leaders rate the learning outcomes for massive online open courses (MOOCs) as “the same” or “superior” to face-to-face learning. But at the same time, a significantly smaller percentage of chief academic officers (about 30 percent) reported that they believe their faculty accepts the value and legitimacy of MOOCs education.

Growing tuition costs and advanced technology shifts can influence the enrollment rates of online education. Some also contend that MOOCs are an effective way to reach more students and allow educators to teach more progressively—using advanced methodologies that equip students with the knowledge they need for the workforce.

To that end, knowledge and job skills are perceived as a more important educational priority for young people than college degrees. Online certifications that hone in on specific skill sets could help shift public perception of the value of Internet education.

Gallup’s authors urge educators to help make the difference. "If leaders in the field want online learning to have equal status with campus-based programs, they need to do more to demonstrate high standards for instruction, testing, and grading. With this, greater public appreciation for the benefits of online learning, and greater employer acceptance of online educational qualifications, will likely follow."

Related: Can MOOCs Solve the STEM Problem? What do you think needs to be done to improve the perception of online education?



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