Perhaps one of the most influential trends in higher education as of lately is online learning and distance education for working professionals who wish to advance their careers while still being able to work. A survey conducted between 2004 and 2005 has shown that the number of online education students have gone up from 2.3 million to 3.2 million. That is a staggering figure, which is only expected to grow due to economic turmoil and low employment rate.
So what does the future look like for online higher education? There are a couple projections but nearly all suggest that online learning will increase and become more mainstream. Regionally accredited schools solely offer online courses, and this trend is expected to grow exponentially as thousands of traditional campus colleges are following suit. While some institutions incorporate physical class courses along with online coursework, it is no question that online education will drastically change our perception of what is a “normal” education. Non-traditional students, those who do not attend a physical college may very well become the new norm. With the growth of online higher education, more possibilities are available, and constraints become less limiting. Now you can arrange class time and work time around your own schedule. You can attend a regionally accredited program or even enlist in a school from another city without leaving your home. You have access to more options at your very fingertips.
Another projection is that online learning will become more accepted, as these programs develop better and better curriculums and requirements that are just as valid and reputable as attending a physical traditional college campus. Though these programs are gaining popularity, many people still have negative perceptions of online degrees but we’ll have to access this legitimacy later, when more top-tier universities go online and incorporate their degrees in an online format. It’s highly likely that in another 5-10 years, earning an online degree in most fields and studies will be just as reputable.
Another trend we see is a greater incorporation of online components into traditional classes. This type of hybrid learning is already learning as students post discussion notes, and discuss topics on a virtual online format in conjunction with meeting regularly for class. This way, students have more interaction with each other and more flexibility in “face” time with the instructor. This method is also more efficient, since not everyone has time to voice their opinion during class time. With so many advantages of an online component, it’s very likely that even traditional schools will start to conform to online learning.
Even with the exponential projected growth of online learning, we do not expect traditional schooling to become obsolete. It lays at the foundation of educational learning and in-person contact with colleagues and professors will be here to stay. The “College Experience” is unlike any other, but not everyone can afford it, if you consider the cost of living, books, transportation, furniture, and tuition. It all adds up. We just project that online higher education will become more established in our society and grow to offer limitless opportunities for those who need greater flexibility in their lives.