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Report: Most Learners Have Found They Like Online Learning

Unsurprisingly, a new survey has found that online learning "gained traction" in the pandemic. Nearly six in 10 prospective online learners and those enrolled in online programs during 2020-2021 (59 percent) said the pandemic had "motivated them to enroll in an online program." A third of prospective and enrolled online students hadn't considered online learning at all, prior to March 2020, when most institutions closed their physical campuses.

What is surprising is that slightly more than half of learners (51 percent) said they now hold more positive views of online learning too. And if they had to do it all over again, a whopping 79 percent said they "definitely" or "probably" would take part in online learning.

The survey was undertaken by Wiley Education Services, which works with colleges and universities to develop online courses and programs. The company surveyed 3,082 people who were recently enrolled, currently enrolled or planning to enroll over the next year in a fully online degree or certificate program. By design, graduate students made up about two-thirds of participants.

Researchers identified a new segment of students, which they called the "post-pandemic online learner." These individuals skew younger than traditional online learners; 45 percent are under the age of 25, compared to 24 percent of students under the age of 25 who were already studying online prior to the pandemic. Most are pursuing undergraduate degrees and are likely to be either not working or working only part-time.

While 85 percent of students said they liked the flexibility provided by online learning and 78 percent liked the convenience, tradeoffs also existed: Thirty percent cited the "heavy workload" and the "lack of interaction" with an instructor. Nearly as many (27 percent) said they recognized the increased need for "self-discipline [and] motivation" to finish their courses. And almost a quarter (24 percent) mentioned concerns about not getting interaction with classmates.

The survey asked students to list their format preferences. Most would choose:

  • Asynchronous learning over synchronous learning (68 percent versus 32 percent);
  • No required on-campus visit over a short stay on campus (76 percent versus 24 percent);
  • Multiple start dates over fewer start dates with a larger class of peers (87 percent versus 13 percent);
  • Flexibility in course changes versus a "lock step" degree plan (65 percent versus 35 percent); and
  • Faster completion time over courses that were more spread out and had short breaks in between (70 percent versus 30 percent).

When asked what would sway respondents to choose one program over another, financial considerations weighed heavily:

  • 71 percent reported that they'd be "very likely" to be influenced by tuition discount;
  • 69 percent would be partial to scholarships;
  • 63 percent would change their minds when offered free or no textbooks;
  • 56 percent would be persuaded by free classes; and
  • 52 percent said free technology, such as a computer or iPad, would make the difference.

The report noted that "small scholarships" would play a big role in enrollment. For an annual scholarship of at least $500, 38 percent of survey participants said they would choose that school over another. An additional 21 percent would choose one school over another for at least a $1,000 annual scholarship.

The report, "Voice of the Online Learner 2021: Amplifying Student Voices in Extraordinary Times," is available with registration on the Wiley Education Services website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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