Estimate How Many Students Are Learning Online

This infographic has many questions. Where are the online learning programs in the US?

Here’s something that is both completely true and completely unconfirmed.

According to NewSchools Venture Fund, the majority of America’s higher education students are likely taking classes online.

Okay, we know this is untrue. But this information is up for debate.

According to Matt Carrothers, the VP of Grantwriting at NEVCO, an Oregon-based non-profit that was recently acquired by Ashford University, 86 percent of students earned that percentage through online classes and 5 percent through traditional brick-and-mortar campuses.

Aside from nebulous percentage numbers, it’s up for debate how many students are actually taking online classes in the first place.

A few years ago, Elaine Nalley of Trinity University started covering her school’s online programs by creating a wiki to gather the statistics (which varied from 3 to 18 percent of the student body and concluded with a curious sub-category: “meals”).

While the numbers vary, the idea is that students are using technology, studying outside of traditional classrooms and completing their studies online. This, in turn, helps create a more personalized and accessible education.

Yet research is conflicting.

In 2016, a study from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County found that 35 percent of college students aren’t taking online classes, and more than half of them don’t work toward a degree.

The Nation’s Report Card assesses the quality of America’s public higher education institutions. It compares criteria including graduation rates, loan default rates, affordability, quality of teaching and the overall quality of the learning experience.

According to the 2017 report, students from public universities, but not private nonprofit institutions, pay the least for tuition — less than $6,000 per year. Tuition for private nonprofit institutions averages $31,980. According to the report, community colleges are less expensive as well and provide more flexibility in trying new course options.

Which brought me to a question posed on twitter recently.

“A good idea – why not measure the speed of online students at how the traditional non-digital learning does to time?” it asked.

I am confused. What does “time” mean? Which is more important — time spent in the classroom or time spent using technology to study?

According to Mark Evans, director of parent education at the University of Phoenix, online learning can offer students a leg up.

“By using the internet, students can (and do) use their computers to seek out critical research material, build study skills, learn techniques to build skills, and build critical thinking,” Evans told me. “In contrast, some students are likely burned out because they are involved in boring classes or are receiving more work than expected in a class.”

Granted, simply building a resume without a college education could be frustrating. As Steven Swanson, a University of Phoenix student, told me, “Studying at home, I feel like I learn less, get more assigned work for the lower grade level and struggle to be on top of the material.”

I, too, began thinking about what I believed to be “valuable” resources (instead of online resources) when trying to figure out my job search.

After moving to Massachusetts, I took a whole semester off to attend college courses. When I came back, I didn’t want to just use the resources online. I wanted them to live and breathe with me.

This type of approach will never replace living in a real home and being able to go to the library by yourself. It can’t yet be cutthroat. It won’t be a gaming experience.

While living in a real home enables you to think and research and learn from a more reflective place, the benefit of learning from other real people is undefinable. One may learn more, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you know more about a subject.

Do I trust online college classes? Of course not.

To everyone arguing that they don’t have to learn college material because they’re learning from the Internet, I agree. These arguments often focus on newer courses that require less content — classes that have to develop and adapt to the person.

Unless you want to complete any and all of your required college courses by yourself, you’re better off learning them in a traditional way. Maybe that will even hold up after doing so online. Either way, it’s going to be incredibly challenging, but there are advantages. It’s important to remember that.

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