The Internet has fundamentally changed the way we conduct business, communicate with each other, shop and access news. It should come as no surprise that the Internet is changing the way we access higher education. Even today’s top universities are increasingly incorporating more online learning tools into traditional degree programs and are offering more classes in online formats. Many are even offering entire education programs fully online. Today, about half of the nation’s brick-and-mortar higher education institutes offer online programs, according to Reuters.
Students are responding in droves to this increase in online education options. During the 2008-2009 school year, 4.6 million college students— or more than 1 in 4 students—were taking at least one online course, according to an annual study on online education conducted by the Sloan Consortium. This growth is a 17 percent increase from the previous school year, the study reveals. However, this doesn’t mean the market is saturated. Online learning still has enormous potential to expand, according to the survey’s authors.
Two reasons given for the past year’s online education growth spurt were conditions unique to those years, like the deepening downturn in the economy and the threat of the spread of the H1N1 virus (swine flu). The economic slump drove many people to go back to school in order to earn degrees that could not only qualify them for better-paying jobs but also help them get another job quickly in the event of a layoff. The very real threat of H1N1 drove many people to steer clear of places with large concentrations of people, such as college campuses, and some college students chose to explore online education options during that time.
However, other reasons people turned to online degrees is for the convenience and the unique way class material is delivered. One working mom told Reuters in the article referenced above that her experience taking online classes enabled her to to sharpen her business skills without feeling she was missing out on any real interaction with professors and classmates. Another reason students are pouring into online degree programs is because they do not require students to commute to a campus. Students access their courses from home and save on gas. For working adults, this flexibility of online programs is more important than ever as they try to balance a career and school.
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