As tuition fees and the cost of living keep rising, more and more students are finding it difficult to afford the traditional higher education experience.
This has led to a boom in unconventional ways of learning, such as fully-online courses or blended courses, which have a mix of face-to-face and online learning.
According to the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), there were around 5.8 million students enrolled in online courses last year.
Based on that same survey, up to 90 percent of students feel that online learning is the same or better than the traditional learning experience.
But that doesn’t mean that every student is suited for online learning: according to U.S. News, taking an online course may not be for you if you are not self-disciplined, not good with time management, or learn best through face-to-face instruction.
U.S. universities often charge less for online courses, averaging between US$3.4k to US$8.4k in annual tuition fees.
— Inside Higher Ed (@insidehighered) January 24, 2017
In an article for Inside Higher Ed, Joshua Kim wrote that he believed online learning addresses the “higher ed challenges around access, costs, and quality”.
“Online learning enables students to participate in postsecondary education who would normally be shut-out from opportunities to improve their lives through learning and the earning of credentials,” he said.
He reasoned that as “only a very small percentage of students are able to devote their full-time and attention to the singular task of getting a degree”, quality online learning programmes have the potential to make higher education more accessible.
Even the top brass at universities generally agree on the efficacy and flexibility of online learning – 71 percent of them rate online learning outcomes as the same or superior to conventional, or face-to-face, learning.
Due to its advances, the use of technology is also becoming more widespread in classrooms across the U.S.
Students in the OLC survey said that the inclusion of technology in students’ learning process increased their engagement, while adaptive analytics improved learning outcomes.
Overall, 84 percent of students felt that their instructors taught better when they used technology, but also believed that there is room for improvement – four in five students said that their universities and professors had yet to utilise its full potential.
Indeed, one of the challenges faced in operating online learning courses of good quality, is the fact that existing teaching staff have little experience with digital learning materials and open educational resources.
The OLC predicts that by autumn 2018, 48 percent of learning materials will primarily be digital.