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Introduction

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many people to stay at home and reconsider their educational options. With schools and colleges closed, online courses have become an increasingly popular option for students of all ages.

There are many advantages to taking courses online, including the ability to learn at your own pace, the flexibility to complete assignments around your schedule, and the chance to take courses that might not be offered at your local school.

 In addition, online courses offer a great way to stay connected with other students and experts in your field, even when you can’t be in the same room.

With so many benefits, it’s no wonder that online courses have seen a surge in popularity during the pandemic.

 

Why Online Students Choose to Study Online

With the advent of online learning, students now have the option to study from anywhere in the world. For many students, online learning is the best way to earn a degree. There are a number of reasons why online students choose to study online.

Soft Skills Training

More than 6,900,000 US students have taken at least one of their courses online with 60% of online students reporting that online education helps to improve soft skills.

Critical thinking and problem solving (85%) were the skills most often cited as improving when online courses were taken.

21% of online students listed starting a new career or making more money as the primary reason for starting an online degree

20% wanted a career more aligned with their interests.

Prior College Experience

For students with prior college experience, online learning is ideal because it minimizes the time needed to get to the next step.

Field of Study

3% of online students said they were only able to find their chosen field of study in an online format.

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Added Flexibility, Time, and Motivation

63% of online students choose online programs because they align well with current life and work responsibilities. 

Many online learners choose virtual campuses because they allow them to study without leaving home. This is a trend that has been ongoing – since 2012, the number of students interested in studying at a campus within 50 miles of their homes has increased by more than 23%. Online education provides more opportunities for students to study without quiring them to leave home or restrict their choices.

Preferred Format

34% of online students chose this format because it’s their preferred way of learning.

While much has been said about the inefficacy of online learning, particularly for those with academic difficulties or disabilities, some research shows that online learning can actually be more effective. Students retain 25 to 60% more material when learning online versus 8 to 10% in a classroom. 

This may be due to the ability to learn faster online. E-learning requires up to 60% less time to learn than in a traditional classroom setting because students can learn at their own pace. They can skip through redundant concepts or go back and reread more challenging ones as needed. 

25-60%
Online students retain more material.

<spanclass=””>8-10%
classroom students

Organizations reported savings up to 60%

Cost Savings

Online learning presents significant cost savings both for the student and for corporations. By transitioning from physical classrooms to e-learning corporate tools, Dow Chemical saved more than $34 million and reduced the training cost by more than $80 per learner. 

For some organizations, up to 60%  of total training costs are attributed solely to travel, an area where online learning can eliminate almost all expenses. 

As for the student, affordability is a top factor for undergraduate and graduate students who want to earn a degree at a lower cost. 20% of surveyed students stated that the hardest part of enrolling in a program was figuring out how to pay tuition. 

Degree Completion Options for International Students

With more international students moving their studies online, there is an increasing demand for degree completion programs that are explicitly tailored toward online learners. Many institutions now offer online courses, independent study, and other arrangements, with 40% of surveyed institutions stating that they are supporting students in novel ways to help them get around travel restrictions and other pandemic-related challenges.

COVID – 19 Restrictions

While online learning has been growing in popularity since its inception, the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated restrictions caused a sudden surge in online learning not necessarily due to student interest in the format but due to necessity.

This was at all levels of education, including primary and secondary. COVID-19 infection rates affected more than 1.2 billion children in 186 countries.

Even before COVID-19, there was high growth and adoption of online education technology, with global edtech investments surpassing $18 billion in 2019 alone. COVID-19 has only exacerbated the need for more online learning software, video conferencing tools, language apps, virtual tutoring, etc. The market is projected to reach $350 billion by 2025.

estimate
$350 billion

Industry investment
$18 billion

Global E-learning Growth 2020-2022 Statistics

97% students switch to online during COVID

97% of college students switched to online instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic, and while 5% of surveyed students felt that the experience improved and they had a better overall impression of their schools, 41% indicated that their opinion worsened after the COVID-19 outbreak. 

By 2020 online enrolments more than double  (143 Million) since 2019 (76 Million)

Ratio

2019

2020

International education is the fifth-largest service sector export in the US. COVID-19 caused a 43% dip in enrollment compared to previous years, with 40,000 international students in the US postponing their studies. 

It isn’t just international education that is expanding. Course enrollments for online learning followed a major pattern of increase. Enrollment numbers doubled in 2020 and increased by more than 32% in 2021, peaking at 189 million. These numbers reflect the global acceptance of online teaching, despite its challenges. This spike also highlighted a need to adapt and change to an evolving educational climate. 

The Impact Of Online Programs

With the increasing popularity of online learning, many students are wondering if this new format is right for them. While there are certainly some advantages to taking classes online, there are also some potential drawbacks that students should be aware of before making the switch. 

For 86% of online degree graduates, the value gained from their online degree exceeded or equaled the cost they paid for it. E-learning can increase student retention rates by 25% to 60%.

One of the biggest benefits of online learning is the flexibility it offers. This is a highlight of its overall perceived value. Overall post-secondary student enrollment is declining by 1% to 2% annually. The number of students taking some or all of their courses online is growing by 5% annually.

Students can often choose when and where they want to complete their work, which can be a great option for those with busy schedules or who need to study from home. While online programs can be very cost-effective, they may not offer the same level of interaction and engagement as in-person classes. 

In some studies, the effectiveness of distance learning outperforms that of in-person, in which distance education students performed slightly better in exams and overall grades than traditional students. However, the average performance outcomes aren’t usually that different. 

Overall, whether or not an online program is right for a particular student depends on that student’s individual needs and learning style. 

Much of the efficacy of online learning can be linked to age. In-person learning is not a panacea for all learners, nor is online learning. For many students, online learning is advantageous in that there is a “lack of bullying, peer pressure and social anxiety were a welcomed change that allowed them to better focus on learning.” That’s true for adult students, too, who may appreciate the added flexibility and increased time with family. 

E-learning retention up by 25-60%

What Are the Biggest Challenges in Online Learning Amidst the Pandemic?

A 2020 survey showed that students faced multiple obstacles when learning in a home environment online, particularly for younger learners and for those who had never before used technology to complete coursework. 

The most prominent challenges, according to this research as well as other findings, are detailed below. 

Lack of Technology Mastery

Both teachers and students in the online learning community are required to have a higher level of technology literacy than many have. During the pandemic, dropout rates from online courses increased due to academic, economic, and psychological reasons. Although it is technically possible for students to learn anything online, this might be difficult in courses that require face-to-face contact, as well as those that require a higher level of technology mastery.

Limited Interaction and Socialization Among Students

Perhaps the biggest challenge of online learning is the lack of personal interaction. In a classroom setting, students are able to ask questions and get immediate feedback from their peers and teachers. This is not always possible in an online setting, where communication can be delayed or hampered by technical difficulties. Additionally, online learning can be isolating, which can be especially hard for introverted or shy students.

Some students simply learn better in a traditional face-to-face setting. The more immersive and hands-on approach of traditional classrooms can be more effective for some learners. Taking all of these challenges into account, it is clear that online learning is not ideal for all students.

However, in the current climate, it may be the best option available, hence the need for alternative solutions that take these considerations into account.

Only 36-49% of faculty members received formal online education training

High Internet Cost and Device Accessibility

Another challenge is that not all students have access to reliable internet or computer equipment at home. This can create a significant disadvantage for those students, who may already be struggling with the material.

There are significant challenges to overcome in accessibility and inequity of access. Some students without reliable Internet access or devices struggle to participate in digital learning. This is seen across all countries and between income brackets within countries. For instance, in the US, while virtually all 15 year olds from privileged backgrounds said they had computers to work on online courses, nearly 25% of those from disadvantaged programs did not.

There also needs to be more digital literacy training in teens and young adults. Digital skills are not evenly distributed among students. Not all learners have the knowledge they need to get the most out of distance education. Microsoft is just one of the many educational organizations that has launched digital literacy resources for all learners, regardless of age or level.

Training for Instructors

While online educators are often highly trained, only about 49% of full-time faculty members receive formal online education training. Only 36% of part-time faculty members received online education training.

With this lack of training comes a failure to understand the need for personalized instruction. The complex online student population has learners from multiple generations and segments. Though half are millennials and a third are from generation X, the remainder is split between those younger than 22 and those older than 55.

About a third of online college students are first-generation and more than 13% have no prior college experience. One third are returning after a break of more than five years. A single class could contain students of all of these backgrounds, meaning a need for personalization and more advanced training is necessary.

In a study at Midwestern University, it was found that first-time students in e-learning courses may be substantially worse at online learning than those students who already had some experience.

What Are Online Education Platforms Doing to Address These Challenges?

In order to address the challenges of online learning, many education platforms are now offering a variety of support services. These services can help students to stay on track with their studies, by providing access to resources such as tutors and academic advisors. Academic advising is one of the best ways for instructors and other stakeholders to identify when students are struggling and how the experience can be more personalized.

Many platforms also offer tech support, so that students can get help with any technical issues they may be experiencing. In addition, some platforms are now incorporating features that allow students to connect with each other and form study groups. 

These shifts are happening at all levels, from K-12 to the collegiate level.

72% of K-12 students used online educational collaboration tools in 2021 and the number is increasing. 52% of K-12 students prefer online learning as at least part of the total learning environment. At the collegiate level, 10 of the largest educational institutions in the world enroll as much as 20% of all online students.

By offering these services and others, online education platforms are making it easier for students to succeed in their studies.

High Internet Cost and Device Accessibility

More than 40% of online learners say they will take classes in their current college’s online campus in the future after graduation.

Many online schools and MOOCs are beginning to offer additional or enhanced services to provide students with the support they need following graduation. Career services are popular, particularly among first-generation students. As evidenced by the above-cited statistics, first generation college students are likely to turn to online learning.

First-generation students are also more likely to seek career services help, including internship search, job fairs, and networking events compared to non-first-generation students. Many offer online learning or e-learning certificates to help students succeed in their careers post-graduation or to pursue continued learning as well.

At least 50% of online learners have indicated that they would use services like financial management and mental health services as well. A 2020 survey found that 85% of college students experienced increased stress and anxiety so more e-campuses now offer mental health services to their students.

Online learning platforms are expected to roll out additional opportunities for degree completion. About 84% of undergraduate students and 77% listed preferences in degree programs instead of non-credit bearing courses. Because many of these students come into the experience with transfer credits (about 87%) degree completion programs are becoming popular alternatives for online learning platforms.

More than 40% of online learners say they will take classes in their current college’s online campus in the future after graduation.

Opportunities for continued learning

50%

Almost 50% of students are parents, online programs add flexibility

The majority of online students – 51% undergraduate and 70% graduates- are employed full–time. Almost half are parents. Online programs add flexibility to an already busy schedule. Many programs that are traditionally just on-campus are now offered in a “HyFlex” or hybrid model in which students can attend fully online, fully in-person, or in a combination of the two.

Other steps that online learning platforms are taking to address the need for flexibility include:

  • Changing the ways in which student achievement is measured

  • Eliminating assignments and changing assessment strategies

  • Using student-led teaching, games, and interactive discussion to increase motivation

  • Adding flexible or extended deadlines for assignment completion

  • Increasing student choice regarding measures of learning

  • Using team-based projects that involve many social media and creative tools to improve collaborative problem-solving skills

More Options for International Learners

Travel restrictions and other aspects of COVID-19 have made it increasingly difficult for international students to enroll in programs abroad. While only about 30% of American schools provide emergency funding for international students, institutions and online learning platforms are taking steps to ensure that international learners are supported in their studies abroad.

These steps include:

  • Inviting international students to participate in virtual network events

  • Adapting course schedules and teaching methods to accommodate them

  • Holding virtual international recruitment events online (something that’s incredibly common, taking place on about 82% of college campuses)

  • Special programming and recruiting events to target high-yield programs in the STEM fields

Additional Opportunities for Personalization and Collaborative Learning

Although online learning presents many benefits – namely flexibility and affordability – it is not ideal for all students in its current format. Students list challenges such as an aggravation of financial problems, increased anxiety and other mental health issues, and limited interaction as three challenges presented by COVID-19-mandated online learning.

Some platforms, such as Lark, have developed tools that offer teachers and students built-in auto-translation, real-time co-editing for project work, smart calendar scheduling, and unlimited video conferencing time.

Carnegie Learning’s “Mika” software also has cognitive and AI technologists to offer personalized tutoring and real-time feedback for postsecondary students.

Many opportunities for personalized learning can be found in MOOCs, where students do not have to enroll in a collegiate program of study in order to continue their education. Online courses like these save educational institutions from $12 to $66 per credit hour. That is a difference of 3% to 50% of the average credit hour costs. Furthermore, 79% of MOOC learners have a Bachelor’s degree or higher.

Mobile Optimization

56% of past and current online students use a smartphone or tablet to complete at least some of their coursework, while two-thirds of prospective students say they plan to use a mobile device to complete coursework. Despite this, about 17% of online program providers indicated that their products did not support mobile access as of 2019.

87% of students use mobile devices to search for new online programs. 21% of all students said they want to complete all course-related activities exclusively on a mobile device.

87% of students search for new online programs

Modern learners want on-demand content that is personalized and timely. More online providers have focused on optimizing the mobile experience via microlearning, which offers short bursts of information that is ideal for on-the-go mobile browsing. 

More online course providers are looking into options that allow for mobile optimization when doing the following tasks:

  • Checking grades

  • Communicating with instructors and other students

  • Completing digital readings, videos, or other multimedia learning

  • Researching additional information

  • Participating in discussion forums

  • Completing practice and graded activities 

Increased Support Services

The conventional way of thinking has long been that online college students are adults who do not need the array of student support services provided to on-campus students. Emerging research suggests that this assumption is incorrect.

A significant percentage of students would use student support services, from mental health and health wellness assistance, time management training, study skills development, and more, to help them get ahead in their careers.

Because of this, more schools and online learning platforms are experimenting with offering a medley of support services, from academic advising to financial training, to their online cohorts.

Making Use of New Technologies

Online students have full schedules, so anything an online learning platform can do to help students save time and to succeed is beneficial.

Online platforms are simplifying the process from start to finish. From providing audio textbooks to using mobile-accessible learning management systems, new technology is making it easier for students to complete their degree requirements no matter how packed their schedules might be.

Increased Focus on Measurement and Analytics

Educators are beginning to focus more on measurement and analytics so that they can make changes to the course structure or materials to meet student needs. It can also provide education platforms with the information they need to update programs or offerings.

In online learning, big data can be defined as “the data that learners create while they are taking an eLearning course or training module.” When a student engages with a learning module, online education platforms now have the ability to track and record elements to understand how the learning management system is effective (or not). Data mining algorithms can be used to detect patterns that inform learning and teaching models.

More online learning platforms rely on a range of assessment, like peer valuations, timed tests, and projects to ensure that the focus is not only on acquiring specific knowledge and skills but also on developing habits of mind, like ethical reasoning and problem solving.

Additional Financing Options

Online learning platforms need to rethink how programs are marketed and delivered to cost-conscious students. 85-90% of surveyed students stated that things like free textbooks, course discounts,scholarships, and payment programs were attractive and would impact their decision to enroll.

Many schools and platforms are now using open education resources (OER) to eliminate textbook fees. Others are partnering with businesses to offer tuition discounts to employees.

Many platforms are now offering free access to all online educational services, such as BYJU, a Bangalore-based ed-tech and online tutoring firm. Since announcing free live classes, it has seen a 200% increase in new students.

Government programs are also chipping in to help remove the inequity of access in devices and Internet connections. For example, in New South Wales, Australia, governments are working to provide digital equipment to those in need via laptop loans. In the United States, the Department of Education launched a federal outreach campaign to provide monthly discounts on broadband Internet service for both eligible K-12 students and Federal Pell Grant recipients.

Key Takeaways: How to Optimize Online Learning in 2022 and Beyond

E-learning companies are under pressure to deliver high-quality, engaging online learning experiences. 

The demands of the modern learner are constantly changing. E-learning companies must keep up with the latest trends in order to stay ahead of the competition.

E-learning companies can optimize online learning in 2022 and beyond by: 

  • Increasing investment in content personalization and curation.

  • Creating more opportunities for social and collaborative learning.

  • Making use of new technologies, such as virtual reality and gamification.

  • Increasing the focus on measurement and analytics.

  • Improving the overall financing process.

By following these guidelines, e-learning companies can ensure that they are providing learners with the best possible experience and preparing them for the future of work.

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Rebekah Pierce

Rebekah Pierce is a writer with a B.A. in English from St. Lawrence University and a Master’s in Special Education from SUNY Plattsburgh. She has worked both as a college admissions counselor as well as a high school English teacher and has also written extensively on topics related to educational technology and the college selection process.

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