Since the economy has nose-dived into recession, the demand for online learning has grown dramatically. As people are losing their jobs and job security is declining, folks are searching for ways to improve their marketability. Obtaining education credentials is the way for much of the population.According to a recent article from U.S. News & World Report, more than 4 million enrolled in at least one online course last fall. This is double the 2 million enrolled in 2003. And the demand isn’t slowing down.
Experts have long been calling for an improvement in the quality of online education. They attribute lower quality to the fact that the majority of online courses are taught by adjunct or part-time instructors. These instructors are paid a fraction of what full-time, tenured faculty earn, leading to high turnover. According to U.S. News & World Report, the unprecedented demand for online learning opportunities will cause the quality of these experiences to increase and the cost to decrease. Here’s why.
A professor from Harvard Business School who studies the effect of technology on education quoted in the U.S. News and World Report piece believes that quality will be forced to improve as demand grows, driving up competition. In order to snag their share of that competition, institutions will need to demonstrate quality. This demonstration will likely come from student satisfaction surveys. Competition always leads to price wars. Education is no exception; thus, we’ll be seeing prices come down.
Improvements in Technology
Technological advances are making it possible to improve the quality of online education. Schools are utilizing software for group projects that show which portion of the overall product was done by each student. There is also software that locks down web browsers to avoid cheating during online exams and some schools are even requiring student monitoring by web cams. Not only is technology requiring more accountability in online education, it also makes online learning accessible to more students.
Flexibility in Learning
E-learning has always been about flexibility, but colleges are making things even more flexible for adult learners, the population most in demand of the services. Some schools are shortening the session lengths to accommodate working students, increasing the intensity of the coursework, but making classes fit better into the lives of non-traditional students. Some institutions like Capella are only accepting older, more mature students.
It will be interesting to see how things play out in the coming semesters with distance education. Will quality increase or is it possible that the added pressure of the rising numbers of incoming students may prove too much for schools to handle? What do you think?