The Babson Survey Research Group, an organization that tracks online enrollment, notes that between 2012 and 2016 the percent of online enrollment in universities increased 17.2 percent while overall enrollment decreased. But that expansion doesn’t necessarily correlate with how the public perceives the quality of online courses, historically questioned for its lack of rigor and limited measurable learning gains.
A Gallup poll conducted back in 2015, found that 46 percent of Americans “strongly agree” or “agree” that online colleges and universities offer a high-quality education—up 30 percent from when the poll was conducted in 2011.
However, researchers caveat these findings, noting that these perception changes happen within particular pockets and are sometimes the result of strategic practices, such as universities not listing the medium of learning on student transcripts.
The last academic leader perception survey released by the Babson Research Group was in 2016.
“We’ve had more and more of the group in the middle that said, ‘I’m not sure’ move into a pro online learning stance,” says Seaman, speaking of the academic leaders he surveyed in the past. “The negative group [those who viewed online learning negatively] had not wavered at all. The positive group did not waiver at all, but we had a steady migration flow of academic leaders in the middle.”
Lowenthal has also researched student perceptions of online learning in the past, finding that learners tend to give such courses more negative evaluations than in-person courses. He says that the findings may represent the lack of experience some educators have teaching in online classrooms. He expects that to change over time, noting that good teachers in person will eventually become good teachers online.
more on online learning in this IMS blog