Rumors of online education's plateau greatly exaggerated

Despite projections that online education is slowing, Sloan Consortium finds students are flocking to virtual schooling.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor

Contrary to recent projections that online course enrollment at colleges has leveled off, a new report states online enrollment that there was a large increase in online enrollment, reports The Washington Post.

The Sloan Consortium, a group of colleges pursuing online programs, published a report that estimates 850,000 more students took online courses in the fall of 2005 than the year before, an increase of nearly 40 percent. This statistic flies in the face of evidence that online learning growth has reached its peak.

"The growth was phenomenal," said Jeff Seaman, Sloan's CIO and survey director, who also serves as co-director of the Babson College survey research group. "It's higher in absolute numbers and higher in percentages than anything we've measured before. And it's across the board."

Some schools and programs have fared better than others. For example, shares of Apollo Group, which owns the giant for-profit University of Phoenix and is now embroiled in a stock-option scandal, has lost 50% from its 52-week high.

There is a trend at most universities to incorporate online learning programs. One factor is that online programs are more economical than traditional classes and help universities cater to a wider variety of students. Many students take a mixture of online and traditional courses. Indeed, much traditional coursework - such as homework, discussions and syllibi - are put online anyway.

Not everyone is convinced that online classes are the best educational experience. The Sloan survey found that about 62 percent of chief academic officers said they felt students learned as well or better from online courses as they did in attending traditional campus classrooms.

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