Research

Survey: 7 in 10 People Don't Believe Online Classes Can Provide a 'True College Experience'

closeup of a person working on a laptop

In spite of the fact that nine in 10 people believe online and distance learning programs will grow in popularity over time, seven in 10 don't think that students can a get a "true college experience" from an online-only program. That drops to five in 10 for those students who have attended a blended learning course.

Those results surfaced in "Online Education Trendspots," a survey intended to understand experiences and perceptions of online or distance education programs. The survey was produced by Verndale, a "customer experience" design agency. The company surveyed 320 people, ages 18 to 55, who have attended at least some level of college. Three-fifths of respondents said they had taken an online course.

The Verndale researchers suggested that online courses "are still being judged using legacy cultural benchmarks." They also anticipate that changing. "We will likely soon find that our expectations of a true 'college experience' are inherently blended, digital and global."

Among the other findings shared in the report:

  • Nearly three-quarters of people (73 percent) believe that employers value now — or will value in the future — online education degrees the same as those earned via a traditional on-campus program. And four in five people (80 percent) would consider attending an online education program if they were heading back to school.
  • While 37 percent of overall respondents have taken online classes, the proportion jumps to 60 percent for people 18 to 29 years of age, an indication that the newest generations of college attendees are gravitating to this form of education.
  • The top draws for online education are convenience and flexibility, mentioned by 91 percent of respondents; the ability to work and attend school at the same time (75 percent); avoiding a commute to campus and working at one's own pace (both chosen by 68 percent); and the perceived lower cost (65 percent).
  • While 66 percent of survey participants said they believe that virtual reality will be an important part of online learning in the future (and 15 percent said it already is), 29 percent reported that online education programs are ahead of campus programs in terms of their innovative use of technology.

"Realistically," the report stated, "we are mid-stream in a tectonic shift — and our assumptions about what defines a college experience are being outpaced by the technology and innovation that [are] reshaping education in front of our eyes."

Verndale clients have included the University of California, Los Angeles, the Ohio State University Medical Center and Southern New Hampshire University.

The report is available with registration on the Verndale website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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