Who Are the 5 Faces of Online Education?

Most students and parents surveyed are open to online coursework, and favor a blended learning approach.

Online courses are no long considered a niche element of higher education. They’ve grown in popularity and prominence, becoming a crucial element for many students’ education experiences. A recent survey by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) identified five distinct groups that dominate the online student population.

BCG’s U.S. Education Sentiment Survey identified five recurring groups after surveying more than 2,500 students and 657 parents. In addition to analyzing the distribution of course loads, the research also studied their attitudes and what’s looked for in the online option. Parents surveyed had at least one child enrolled in high school or college, and their attitudes toward online learning were also gauged.

Based on the survey data, the report projects that approximately 30 percent of higher education students are taking at least one online course and 16 percent are taking online-only courses. But the survey found that most students favored a blended learning approach that combines online-only courses with traditional instruction.

Most surveyed held generally positive attitudes toward online education, primarily for its ability to help students establish a work-life balance. However, many parents are still skeptical of degrees earned entirely through online coursework: The research found that parents were 13 percent more likely to withhold financial support if their child was pursuing an online-only degree.

The research broke down respondents into five categories based on their interests in online education and their goals.

True Believers
Comprised 15 percent of students and 19 percent parents
Students who take more than three-fourths of their classes online or in blended courses. Members of this group tend to be the most satisfied with online courses, which they value because they can complete them at their own pace.

Online Rejectors
Comprised 15 percent of students and 18 percent parents
Students who take fewer than one-fourth of their classes online, but take the highest number of traditional courses among those surveyed. These students are the least satisfied with online and blended courses and are skeptical of quality and potential impact on career outcomes.

Experience Seekers
Comprised 23 percent of students and 12 percent parents
These career-focused students tend not to have a preference about the kind of courses they take, as long as the coursework leads to their degree. Of those surveyed, 88 percent had taken an online course, which they value for enabling personalized learning.

Money Mavens
Comprised 17 percent of students and 11 percent parents
The least-satisfied group among those surveyed, these students are primarily motivated by the financial rewards of a higher education and do not engage with the “experiential, social or emotional aspects of college,” according to the survey. Nearly one-third of their current coursework is through blended learning.

Open Minds
Comprised 30 percent of students and 40 percent parents
The largest segment of those surveyed fell into this category, which was the most supportive of blended learning. This group values the classroom experience, nearly equally splitting their coursework between online and traditional class. Its members share similar attitudes regarding online learning with the True Believers.

The full report and summary can be read at bcgperspectives.com.

Read the entire report by D. Frank Smith on EdTech at http://www.edtechmagazine.com/higher/article/2014/07/who-are-5-faces-online-education

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