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Report: Students Taking Online Courses Jumps 96 Percent over 5 Years

The number of college students taking at least one online course nearly doubled, from 23 percent to 45, over the last five years according to the 2013 College Explorer, a new report from market research company re:fuel. Students taking online courses are also enrolled in an average of two per term, according to the report.

Though the number of students turning to the Internet for their education is increasing at a rapid clip, the reviews are mixed.

"While students appreciate the flexibility online classes afford, many also struggle with managing coursework when they don't have regular assignments or meetings," said Tammy Nelson, vice president of marketing & research at re:fuel, in a prepared statement. "Students who need additional assistance to grasp course material also struggle to find help when professors and fellow students are available only in the digital world."    

Students are also bringing more devices onto campus with them, according to the survey, at an average of 6.9 each, up one half from last year's report.

At 85 percent, laptops are the most commonly owned device among students who responded, with smartphones in second place at 69 percent. Gaming consoles, MP3 players and printers close out the top five at 68, 67, and 62 percent, respectively. Smartphones, however, move into first place, at 31 percent, when students are asked what devices they intend to purchase in the next year.

Other key findings of the report include:

  • Seventy percent of students surveyed said they use their laptops for research and coursework;
  • Forty-seven percent said they use a laptop regularly for taking notes in class, though pen and paper is still more popular for that task, with 79 percent saying they use those tools more typically;
  • Among students who reported owning a tablet, 33 percent said they use them for work, research, and taking notes, and 37 percent said they read e-textbooks on them;
  • Some students, 13 percent, even reported taking class notes on their smartphones;
  • Although ownership of tablets and electronic readers is increasing, according to the survey, printed textbooks still dominate, making up 59 percent of the textbooks responding students bought;
  • Students who responded to the survey reported spending an average of 14.4 hours multitasking across their various devices, with much of that time spent looking for or consuming entertainment;
  • Sixty-four percent of respondents said they regularly watch TV in real-time on a television set, with another 20 percent reporting they watch on a computer;
  • Downloaded television, however, is more likely to be watched on a computer or tablet, at 43 and 28 percent, respectively;
  • Movies consumption has no such clear winner, with 51 percent reporting that they watch them on a television, 52 percent saying they watch on a computer, and 30 percent reporting they watch them on tablets;
  • Nearly half of students surveyed reported regularly using a second screen as they watch television, at 49 percent;
  • Students reported using mobile apps primarily for entertainment, with 73 percent using them for games, 67 percent for music, and social networking rounding out the top three at 64 percent;
  • Facebook use is up five percent over last year's study, to 86 percent;
  • Twitter is the second most commonly used social network among responding students, at 38 percent, marking an eight point increase over the previous year;
  • Instagram, which was included in the survey for the first time this year, came in third at 30 percent; and
  • Google+ was the only social network included in the survey to show a decline in use, from 32 percent in the previous report to 29 in this year's.

Much of this activity is still happening on campus, according to the report, with students spending an average of 10.2 hours on campus each day during the week and 6.5 hours each day on the weekend.

"While we expect to see a net increase in the number of online courses students take in the future, the campus environment remains the main hub of daily life," John Geraci, president and founder of Crux Research, in a prepared statement. "Students taking online classes must often visit campus to obtain materials, join study groups or do research — not to mention the myriad recreation, shopping and entertainment venues available at colleges today…"

The 2013 College Explorer report was based on responses from 1,528 current college students taking at least one course on a physical campus.

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at [email protected].

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