Are education leaders more optimistic about online education than the public?

Pew Social and Demographic Trends

The Pew Research Centre are a respected American organisation that shares research on issues, attitudes and trends shaping modern life. Although they tend to be US-centric, much of their research is unique and provides a helpful indicator to issues elsewhere in the world. (I like their description of themselves as a “fact tank” as opposed to the normal politicised “think tanks”)

They have just published their report ‘The Digital Revolution and Higher Education’, which contains some great insights highlighted by some great questions. The report is based on a large USA sample of over 2,000 members of the general public, and 1,000 college and university presidents. So although we can’t assume the data stands true for Australia, it’s still though provoking.

Is online learning as effective as classroom teaching?

According to the report, the majority of college/university presidents think online learning has the same value as classroom learning. But the majority of the ‘public’ disagreed.

    • 51% of presidents agreed that online courses offer an equal educational value compared with courses taken in the classroom.
    • 29% of the public agreed.

Although it’s 5 out of 10, versus 3 out of 10, there’s still a perception gap between people running the education system, and people using it. One in four graduates have taken a course online.

Interesting to note that of the public who’d done an online course, 6 out of 10 who’d experienced it thought it wasn’t as effective as classroom teaching

Half of college/university presidents believe that in 10 years’ time, most of their students will take classes online (up from 15% today), and 62% expect half of all textbooks to go digital in the same decade.

What types of colleges and universities offer online courses?

77% of college/university presidents reported that their institution offered online courses. There’s some interesting self-selection in here too. Nearly 90% of public institutions offer online courses, whilst it’s only 60% for private ones. And the more selective the institution is in their student intake, the less they are likely to offer online courses (51% for the most selective, versus 86% for the least selective)

Students want more ‘blended learning’

One small critique of the Pew Research is that it promoted the idea that there are only two options – online or classroom – for learning. Whereas I think that blended learning is likely to lead the way going forward. You may recall research from earlier this year that 8 out of 10 students wanted to see more blended learning in the future.

My reaction to the report is that there’s some interesting points raised that highlight a gap between what institutions want, and what their customers want. As we move into a more consumer- and market-led higher education marketplace, it’s going to create some tension whilst the two move together! Australia may be in a different place to the US, so we may have more time to be prepared for it.

Learn MoreRead ‘The Digital Revolution and Higher Education’ from the Pew Research Centre