Online Learning in Education

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In 1993, Jones International made its debut on the internet. The first 100% online university.

In 1999, Jones International became the first online university in the U.S. to be accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

By 1999, other online universities were on the scene including the University of Phoenix and Western Governors University which was a consortium of small colleges in the rocky mountain area.

Some online universities offered degrees for as low as $4,800 USD, and a doctorate as low as $12K. Other online universities sounded like brick and mortar institutions: University of Northern Washington, for example.

Some public and private colleges were offering online degrees. Duke for one had an online MBA, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln offered a Ph.D. online (albeit you had to attend two classes on the UNL campus to fulfill the requirements).

Smaller colleges were getting into the act too. At the University of Nebraska at Kearney, where I taught, online classes began in 1999. My offering was the first online journalism class in the University of Nebraska system – a result of a grant from the system itself.

On the K-12 side, nothing was really going on. Everyone seemed happy with traditional classroom learning, although they were unhappy with its output in terms of learning.

Looking at the global landscape, the same – in terms of online universities, it was close to nil. By the mid 2000’s, that started to change.

Positive change that came from a resource you wouldn’t expect – the government. Not in the U.S. mind you, but in various countries around the world.

This change was a result of people taking a closer look at e-learning, its capabilities and possibilities.

The argument that online learning in education was equal or superior to traditional classroom learning began to appear by late 2008. It still has a way to go, but it is happening – and happening faster than its corporate counterpart.

As for the systems people used, well it varied. Popular ones included Lotus Notes, Blackboard and WebCT.

For the masses, it wasn’t all sunshine. They just didn’t believe that online learning in education could really achieve success. After all, classroom learning was the best way, the only way.

They were wrong.

The Results are still coming in

  • 6.1 million students took at least 1 online class during the fall of 2010 (Sloan Consortium, 2011) – The survey defined an online class as being at least 80% online
  • 21% growth rate for online enrollments compared to 2% growth in the overall higher education student pop. (Sloan Consortium, 2011)
  • 385% increase in online enrollments compared to eight years ago (Marketdata)
  • 75% of institutions report that the economic downturn has increased the demand of online programs/courses (Sloan Consortium – survey based on 2,500 institutions)
  • 51% of college presidents say that online courses provide the same value as traditional classroom, however 29% said that online learning offered an equal value as traditional courses in the classroom (Pew Research Center)
  • By 2015, Marketdata predicts that 37% of all post-secondary enrollments will be in online programs
  • 50% of college presidents of 4 year colleges and 75% of college presidents from 2 year colleges predicated that by 2021, a majority of undergrad students will be taking an online course (Pew Research Center)
  • 77% of college presidents report that their institution offers online courses, 89% of 4 year public colleges reporting the same (Pew Research Center)
  • OpenCourseWare, from MIT, started in 2001 and now includes nearly 2,100 MIT courses which have been used by more than 100M people
  • 19% of middle school students and 30% of high school students took an online class in 2010 (Speak Up 2011)
  • Over 40% of students now designate online classes as an essential component of their learning experience (Speak Up)
  • At the Idaho Digital Learning Academy, over 10,000 students are taking online courses
  • 75% of prospective online students expect the cost for an online program to be lower than the cost of a classroom based program of similar length and content (Aslanian eLearners Poll, 2011)
  • A new state law in Florida requires all entering 9th graders to have at least one online class before they graduate
  • Other states who have enacted similar laws: Michigan, Indiana, New Mexico and Alabama
  • The Florida law also states that by 2013, a full-time K-12 Florida Virtual School can offer high school diplomas

Okay, sounds great. But funding is an issue here.

Actually its not, at least according to the Start Up survey which found that only 36% of administrators believed limited state funding was a barrier to online courses.

So, if that isn’t the case, what is the issue?

Governmental support

In the corporate setting it is all about buy-in and for most companies, buy-in has to come from the top. When it does, it is easier to move toward and forward with e-learning (granted not everyone is every happy about it). The same can be said at the education level. If the district doesn’t support online learning, it trickles down. If the state doesn’t support online learning, it trickles down.

Thus, if the government doesn’t support online learning, it trickles down – it doesn’t wipe it out though, since many states are going forward anyone – same with districts, but having a government that fully endorses and supports the implementation of online learning can be massive.

With the noted exception of the United States DOE (which while it offers multi-billion dollar grants, it does not specify that you have to use the funds for online learning – it leaves it up to the grant winner), other countries have talked the talk, by providing financial support and resources, specifically for online courses/programs and yes, even online universities.

Just a small sampling of countries

  • U.K. which founded the Open University, the U.K.’s only university dedicated to online learning. Attendance is around 150,000 undergraduate, 30,000 graduate. Most of the courses are available throughout Europe, with more than 25,000 living outside the U.K. The U.K. continues to provide funding to Open University and sees enormous value in it.
  • Australia committed 31.4 million to support the Australian Curriculum Online. It is part of a 41.2 million package to support the development of online and interactive education and training projects.
  • Russia has publicly committed to online learning and even mobile learning in education
  • Indonesia recently committed funds and resources to an online university
  • Canada has constantly provided funds and support for online learning in education
  • Since 2007, India has had its universities post videos of their lectures online
  • China gives grants to dozens of universities to help them improve their undergrad teaching materials – by putting the materials online
  • Kenya continues to be the leader in e-learning commitment throughout Africa

However, the biggest player in Africa is the African Virtual University (AVU), which has graduated more than 40,000 students.

AVU now offers 219 course modules in math, science, teacher education, basic ICT skills and ICT classroom intregration through an online interactive portal. AVU recently received an additional grant of 15.6M USD from the African Development Fund to help strengthen its capacity.

Okay, Got it. Where is this taking us?

Over the past several months, I have been analyzing the market. Assessing, forecasting and projecting based on current data, as well as looking at past data. The assessment is not just focused on the United States, but globally.

One item that has clearly come out is the issue of regional. Despite colleges, universities and the “for-profit” universities such as UoP, there seems to be a lack of interest or perhaps a “wait and see” mentality to penetrate into other global markets.

Not just emerging markets mind you, but countries outside their native country where the college/university or for-profit is based.

Sure there are minor exceptions, but as a whole, international growth is underwhelming disappointing. This approach is similar to what I see on the commercial side.

A vast majority of SaaS companies based in one country, who focus only on that country or region, even though evidence shows more and more people buying systems, regardless of location.

As costs continue to increase at colleges/universities in the states and elsewhere, institutions have to find ways to generate revenue. Rather then charge students more – to offset their budgets – expansion in targeting outside of their region/country for students makes business sense. Especially, when we are talking about online programs and courses.

If I do not have to appear in the classroom, what difference does it make where I am located? It doesn’t. In fact, if you look at colleges and universities that offer online programs at the graduate level (inc. degrees), you are likely to see more students outside of where the school is located than within.


  • More students in the traditional age bracket of college (18-22) will be taking online courses/programs than their non-traditional age counterparts (25 and above) by 2020 – as a whole
  • More undergrad students at community colleges and small colleges will be taking online courses than their traditional classroom counterparts by 2017 if not sooner
  • Online degree programs will see an enrollment increase in the range of 20-25% by 2013, I’m talking about yearly average, again as a whole
  • I’m projecting around 7.5-7.8 million students taking at least one online class by early 2013
  • Government funding for online learning in education to increase by 15-20% by 2014 – if not sooner, the global economy plays heavily into this
  • Increase in costs for some online programs – equal rather then lower to their traditional B&M classroom counterparts – at private universities
  • More states offering a universal “online school” or as some states refer to “virtual schools” – a term I hate.

It is time to use the same nomenclature to eliminate confusion. In the biz sector it is e-learning, but often referred by some folks as online portal, online university, etc. Why keep it as “virtual” or even the antiquated “distance” learning, which implies something completely different (can we say tv viewing from the heyday?)

Bottom Line

This is a new area that I will be tracking and monitoring. It offers a lot of fascinating possbilities, especially when you toss the school/college/university/for-profit college implements e-learning and then needs to expand on that – i.e. mobile, social, Kinect.

Toss in the cost savings to all learners, emerging markets, financial gains for the schools themselves and yes, even government funding (from whichever country you are located) and online learning is set to surpass its classroom cousin, who has the education system to thank for its long usage.

An education system that is antiquated – not just at K-12, but also in higher education.

Let’s stop this nonsense and realize what many of us already know about online learning.

It works.

E-Learning 24/7


  1. Thank you for this positive timeline Craig. It will help my teacher/trainer colleagues and college administration to move boldly into new ways forward for degrees and technical training for the maritime world.

  2. I have been a middle school classroom teacher for the last 14 years, teaching reading/LA/math/science/social studies in grades 6-8. I have many technology users skills, and frequently implement technology apps into my lessons. I would love to make the move into teaching online classes but am at a lost as to where to look for these jobs. Does anyone have any suggestions where I can find online teaching jobs?

    Thank you for you assistance.

  3. As the use of internet is growing the trend of e learning has also grown or become popular. There is an increased demand for online courses. Also there are online classes conducted. Thanks for providing this post as this will help the institutions, teachers and trainers to opt it.

  4. Online learning is fast becoming the medium of choice for training providers and government in Australia. It is recognised for its convenience and greater reach. The content is what now needs to be developed to be able to replace traditional classroom studies.

  5. I work at the Schools of Isolated and Distance Education (SIDE) in Western Australia. Founded in 1918, SIDE is the centre for distance learning within the Department of Education of Western Australia (DoE). Our school provides quality education for over 3000 students from Pre-primary to year 12 in isolated circumstances in Western Australia and beyond. SIDE provides education for students who, for various reasons, cannot attend classes in a regular school. All learning areas within the Western Australian curriculum are taught to students in all phases of learning, using a combination of synchronous (Centra web-conferencing & Video-conferencing), asynchronous (Moodle) and traditional delivery techniques (Print, CD, phone, email) in order to better engage and motivate students. We have no problems at all in engaging all school-aged students to learn online. The technology is just one part of our success. Our flexibilty in delivery and great teachers allow us to provide a programme completely online that is second to none.

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