Developing a Vision of Online Education Trends: Remote and Online Learning Perspectives

Concurrent Session 3
Streamed Session Leadership

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Brief Abstract

What are the current trends in online education? This 7th annual report presents insights from 366 administrators and 1,800 students, providing a look at the current challenges of remote and online education and the impact of COVID-19 on students and programs as they plan for the future.    


Melissa A. Venable, PhD is a writer and online education advisor at BestColleges where she contributes to web content on topics related to college and career decision-making. In this role she also conducts an annual research initiative reporting online education trends gathered from a variety of stakeholders. Melissa is an adjunct instructor and course designer for Saint Leo University and serves as an associate editor for eLearn Magazine and Career Convergence Magazine. She received her doctorate in instructional technology from the University of South Florida with research interests in distance education and online career services. Melissa is also a certified career coach.

Extended Abstract

What are the current trends in online education? This year, online education was experienced by a wide variety of schools and students -- some new to distance learning and others with advanced knowledge and skills -- due to the campus closings caused by the coronavirus outbreak in the Spring of 2020.  This session presents the latest results from a long-term tracking initiative designed to help higher education administrators make the best possible decisions about current and future online degree programs. Trends found over the past five years will be shared.

In October and November 2020 we asked 366 school administrators and 1,800 students to provide feedback about their year in terms of remote courses (i.e., classes moved from campus to virtual environments due to COVID-19 restrictions) and online courses (i.e., classes designed for online delivery). An understanding of how the coronavirus pandemic has affected online and higher education in general is important to developing an informed vision for the future.

Trends are presented in four categories: the learning experience, marketing and recruitment, program design and administration, and student satisfaction. Key findings include:

  • Paying for college while minimizing student debt is the top challenge to reaching graduation, as reported by online program graduates every year for the past four years.

  • Almost half (49%) of remote learners anticipate enrolling in online courses after their campuses return to normal operations.

  • More than one-quarter (28%) of remote students believe the impact of COVID-19-related changes on their college experience will have lasting effects on their mental health.

  • If online program graduates could do it over again, they would conduct more research about costs and financial aid and compare more programs.

  • 83% percent of administrators agree that there will be an increased need for online courses over the next few years, related to issues such as social distancing.

  • One-third (33%) of school administrators plan to continue with both remote and online course options after returning to normal campus operations.

  • Ninety-five percent of students overall, and 83% of remote learners, said they would recommend online or remote learning to others.

This presentation includes recommendations about how the results might impact institutional decisions about online programs and considerations for providing students with the support that leads to successful online program completion. 

Audience Interaction:

The project’s overall goal is to inform school decisions about online program design, administration, and student support. Attendees will be asked to share their lessons learned in developing new online programs and working with different populations of online students. Attendees will also have the opportunity to share how their experiences are similar to or different from those described by our survey participants. 

Attendee Objectives and Takeaways:

  • Consider the current challenges faced by online and remote students, from the student perspective.

  • Compare the characteristics and needs of their institution's or program's students with a national sample.

  • Discuss and recommend specific strategies for making decisions about online program offerings and student support in the future.

  • Develop an understanding of anticipated changes to the higher education landscape due to lessons learned in 2020.