Online Learning Consortium Highlights the Drivers Behind the ‘Changing Face of Online Learning’

New OLC infographic illustrates latest trends shaping the future of higher education and online learning.

March 10, 2015

NEWBURYPORT, Mass. (March 9, 2015) — The Online Learning Consortium (OLC), formerly The Sloan Consortium, examines the impact of the Internet and changing “consumer” behavior on higher education in a new infographic released today. “Keeping Pace with the Changing Face of Online Learning” illustrates the key trends currently driving the infusion of online learning in higher education (Infographic).

Based on the most current research from across the higher education industry, the infographic highlights a number of trends that academic leaders cannot afford to ignore, including:

  • A growing and aging undergrad population
  • Rising tuition costs
  • An evolving workforce requiring affordable lifelong learning options

“Today, the majority of students are not first-time full-time freshman studying on a campus,” said Kathleen S. Ives, D.M., chief executive officer and executive director, OLC. “Many learners are delaying college education for a variety of reasons—like joining the military or obtaining real-world experiences through employment or travel—which is driving the average undergraduate age to 25-plus. Educators and institutions need to embrace the digital learning environment as a way to reach and retain these contemporary learners. Moreover, the generations to come will be digitally enabled and will expect that from higher ed providers.” 

A number of trends highlighted in the infographic were drawn from the latest survey of academic leaders regarding online education in the U.S. Survey findings are detailed in “Grade Level – Tracking Online Education in the United States,” co-sponsored and distributed by OLC and based on a survey of more than 2,800 academic leaders conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group.

Among the survey’s findings: 

  • Online Enrollments Growing Faster Than Overall Higher Education. The number of higher education students taking at least one distance education course increased to 5.3 million in 2013, up 3.7 percent from the previous year (source: IPEDS data). While this represents the slowest rate of increase in over a decade, online enrollment growth far exceeded that of overall higher education. As enrollment growth slows, competition for online students will increase. OLC advises institutions continue to look at ways to advance the quality of their online programs to ensure they remain competitive.
  • Acceptance of Online Learning Grows. According to the survey, 70.8 percent of academic leaders reported online learning is critical to their institution’s long-term strategy, up from 48.8 percent in 2002. In addition, 74.1 percent of academic leaders rated the learning outcomes in online education as the same or superior to those in face-to-face instruction, up from 57.2 percent in 2003. The data indicate online learning has become an established and increasingly important component of the American higher education landscape.
  • Challenges Persist Around Retention Rates and Faculty Acceptance. Despite confirming that online programs are critical to long-term strategy, only 28 percent of academic leaders say their faculty accept the “value and legitimacy of online education.” In addition, 44.6 percent of chief academic officers agreed that retaining students was a greater problem for online courses than for face-to-face courses, compared with 27.2 percent in 2004. OLC confirms these concerns are shared across the online learning community. They underscore the ongoing need to develop leaders within each academic institution who can ensure practices and programs are advancing and producing desired learning outcomes and fostering the support and confidence of faculty.

Keeping Pace with and Capitalizing on Change

OLC is helping academic leaders, institutions and faculty to prepare for these forward-looking trends. The OLC Advisory Services Program helps colleges and universities tackle key issues, such as faculty buy-in and development and infrastructure design and deployment, and provides best-in-class standards to evaluate and develop quality online learning programs. The OLC Institute offers professional development programs providing educators with the skills required to excel in this burgeoning field. 

About Online Learning Consortium

The Online Learning Consortium (OLC), formerly The Sloan Consortium, is the leading professional organization devoted to advancing the quality of online learning worldwide. The member-sustained organization offers an extensive set of resources for professional development and institutional advancement of online learning, including, original research, leading-edge instruction, best-practice publications, community-driven conferences and expert guidance. OLC members include educators, administrators, trainers and other online learning professionals, as well as educational institutions, professional societies and corporate enterprises. Visit for more information.  


Media Contact:

Eileen Pacheco