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Study: Online Students Want Interaction, Community

Online students crave interaction with classmates and instructors, according to a new report from Learning House and Aslanian Market Research. For the sixth annual "Online College Students 2017: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences" report, researchers polled 1,500 students who are "seriously considering, currently enrolled in or have recently graduated from a fully online program" in an effort to better understand the behaviors and needs of the typical online college student.

More than half of the survey respondents deemed interaction with their academic community important; a quarter asserted that "having more contact with their instructors and more engagement with classmates would improve the caliber of their online courses." Fifty-nine percent of the online students surveyed travel to campus one to five times per year in order to meet their instructor, attend a study group or otherwise participate in the academic community.

Other findings include:

  • 72 percent of respondents attend schools with brick-and-mortar locations within 100 miles of home;
  • The number of online students who apply to more than two institutions has increased, and 23 percent of respondents said they would "consider more schools if they could repeat their search";
  • 59 percent of respondents wish they could change aspects of their initial college search — many would seek a "better understanding of the total cost and reputation of their program";
  • 18 percent have enrolled in competency-based programs and 53 percent said they would "definitely consider such a program";
  • 27 percent reported that they have not heard of competency-based education — down from 35 percent in 2013; and
  • 80 percent of respondents enrolled in an online program in order to advance or change their job, and 77 percent are taking advantage of the career services offered at their institution.

The report offers a number of recommendations for helping online programs attract students, including:

  • Cater to students' career goals. "Since online students are so career focused, understanding which programs will best educate students for the job market is critical to online program success," the researchers noted;
  • Make sure admissions offices provide fast responses to online students, as well as upfront figures on financial aid and transfer credits; and
  • Adapt online access to accommodate mobile technology.

"Online learning is no longer new, and online students are becoming savvier consumers. It's no longer enough to offer flexibility and convenience," said Todd Zipper, president and CEO of Learning House, in a statement. "Institutions need to offer the right program, at the right price, in the right modality, and with the right support services in place to create a welcoming community that helps students achieve their career ambitions."

The full report is available at the Learning House site (registration required).

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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