Report: Online Students Seek Interaction and "Speed to Degree"

June 21, 2017

Results of a study released yesterday indicate that fully online learners select programs close to home, desire more interaction with their instructors and peers and want to graduate quickly.

The study -- Online College Students 2017: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences -- was conducted by Learning House, an academic program manager, and Aslanian Market Research, which studies online and adult education. The groups randomly surveyed 1,500 students nationwide ages 18 to over 55 who are enrolled in fully online degree programs or who are seriously considering enrolling in such programs. The study authors said in a statement that the report "seeks to help higher education leaders and policymakers both better understand the traits of online college students and what they’re looking for in their educational experience."

Here are the most notable points of the report:

Homebodies. The report shows that online learners stay close to home: 54 percent of the respondents live less than 50 miles from their college or university and 18 percent live 50 to 100 miles away. Three-fourths said they travel to campus at least once per year, mainly to meet with an instructor or a study group.

Quick Results. “Speed to degree” was an important factor for fully online students, with a majority of the respondents saying they want year-round distance courses and frequent start dates. Half of the respondents said they enroll in online courses that are eight or fewer weeks and 50 percent enroll in courses that are nine to 12 weeks.

Community Building. The groups’ research shows that online learners have a strong desire to interact with classmates and instructors: 57 percent of the respondents said that interaction with their academic community is important to them. Likewise, about 25 percent said having more contact with instructors and more engagement with fellow students would improve the caliber of their online courses. Plus, 76 percent said they want instructors to offer virtual office hours.

Competency-Based Education. The online learners surveyed showed interest in competency-based education (CBE). Eighteen percent said they are enrolled in a CBE program and 53 percent said they would consider such programs. Respondents also said they are interested in alternative pathways to a degree. 


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