Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Overview of Online and Blended Learning

In my introduction, I want to focus on how online and blended learning is becoming part of the mainstream of higher education in the United States.

This is a so-called presentation blog, and each blog posting deals with a separate topic that I would like to cover. Note that anyone can post a comment on any of the individual blog postings.

My goal is to help the members of the IBHE Faculty Advisory Council understand the impact of online education, as well as the current status of online education at colleges and universities throughout the nation.

My Background in Higher Education

I love teaching in a classroom setting! I received the Luckman Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1993.

But many students can't get to a campus for a four-year residential experience. To that end, I moved into the new field of online learning in 1994 with the goal of developing and delivering complete online degree programs that would give any motivated learner ACCESS to quality education and the ability to earn a college degree.

I directed the University of Illinois Online initiative for 10 years, developing online programs at UIC, UIS, and UIUC. I helped to found the Illinois Online Network (ION) and the Illinois Virtual Campus (IVC).

And I have been a member of the Board of Directors of the Sloan Consortium (Sloan-C) since its inception more than a decade ago. Sloan-C is a professional leadership organization dedicated to integrating online education into the mainstream of higher education, helping institutions and individual educators improve the quality, scale, and breadth of online education.

Online Students I Have Encountered at UIS

Here are some examples of online students that I have encountered at UIS:
  • Julie C. - court reporter in Saginaw, MI
  • Erik B. - jet pilot, father of four, flies charter flights to resorts in North America
  • Leigh G. - single mother from rural New Albany, MS, working as a paralegal
  • Nick B. - high tech worker from Manhattan Beach, CA
  • Susan W. - adult student in LaSalle, Illinois, recovering from chemotherapy
  • Debbie P. - single mother, my secretary in the Univ. of Illinois system office in Urbana, using a tuition waiver to complete her BA degree
My online class this semester has 25 students - 5 are varsity athletes living on the UIS campus whose busy schedules (practice, games/meets) prevents them from taking all their classes on the campus.

Online classes and degree programs give these students the ACCESS to education that they need.

And seeing these students graduate makes all this worthwhile. Here are some photos from the May 2009 brunch that the alumni association hosts for online graduates:


Non-Traditional Students are in the Majority

In a 1996 study, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) included anyone who satisfies at least one of the following as a non-traditional student:
  • Delays enrollment (does not enter postsecondary education in the same calendar year that he or she finished high school);
  • Attends part time for at least part of the academic year;
  • Works full time (35 hours or more per week) while enrolled;
  • Is considered financially independent for purposes of determining eligibility for financial aid;
  • Has dependents other than a spouse (usually children, but sometimes others);
  • Is a single parent (either not married or married but separated and has dependents);
  • Does not have a high school diploma (completed high school with a GED or other high school completion certificate or did not finish high school).
By this standard, the NCES determined that 73% of all undergraduates in 1999-2000 could be considered non-traditional, therefore comprising the vast majority of total undergraduate students in the United States, and representing the newly "typical" undergraduate.

Sloan Survey of Online Learning

Eighth annual survey - Class Differences: Online Education in the United States, 2010

The eighth annual Sloan Survey of Online Learning reveals that online enrollment grew by nearly one million students over a year earlier.

Using results from more than 2,500 colleges and universities nationwide, the report finds approximately 5.6 million students were enrolled in at least one online course in fall 2009.

Other findings:
  • The 21% growth rate for online enrollments far exceeds the 2% growth in the overall higher education student population.
  • Three-quarters of institutions report that the economic downturn has increased demand for online courses and programs.
  • Nearly thirty percent of all college and university students now take at least one course online.
  • Over three-quarters of academic leaders at public institutions report that online is as good as or better than face-to-face instruction.
  • Chief Academic Officers say that online education is critical to their long-term strategy (63%).

Important Studies on Online Learning

The 2008 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE)
  • Students taking most of their classes online report more deep approaches to learning in their classes, relative to classroom based learners. Furthermore, a larger share of online learners reported very often participating in intellectually challenging course activities.
US Department of Education - 2009 Report - Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies
  • Students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction.
  • Instruction combining online and face-to-face elements had a larger advantage relative to purely face-to-face instruction than did purely online instruction.
The 2009 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE)
  • Course management and interactive technologies were positively related to student engagement, self-reported learning outcomes, and deep approaches to learning.

Blended Learning

Enrollments in blended (also called hybrid) courses and programs has grown significantly in the past few years. The Sloan-C definition of blended learning at the course level is:

"Blended courses integrate online with traditional face-to-face class activities in a planned, pedagogically valuable manner, where a portion of face-to-face time is replaced by online learning activities."

Institutions with major blended learning programs include UIC, UW-Milwaukee, and the Univ. of Central Florida. Institutions have many reasons for offering blended courses and programs - optimizing access, learning, convenience, flexibility, and resources.

Sloan-C Blended Learning Conference & Workshop
March 28-29, 2011
Oak Brook Hills Marriott Resort - Oak Brook, IL


Integration of Online Learning into the Mainstream

One of my favorite sayings is that at some time in the near future, we will drop the "e" in "e-Learning" - it just will become Learning. We will see the same faculty teaching students with the same qualifications a mix of online and blended plus classroom courses.

This is all about options - give students the option to learn on-campus, online, and blended; to match student learning styles and life circumstances with institutional offerings to maximize student learning, and to provide maximal ACCESS to higher education.

Prof. Gary Miller, Penn State: "Today, online learning is moving distance education into the mainstream, blurring distinctions between on-campus and off-campus instruction as higher education transforms itself to respond to the forces for changes that are being wrought by the Information Revolution." (ref.)

Examples of online moving into the mainstream (and typically out of continuing education units) - University of Nebraska, Illinois State University, Southern Illinois University Carbondale - all in the past year have moved or are moving it into the mainstream. The University of Minnesota is now in the process of developing system-wide policies and plans to move online programs into the mainstream.

Need for Faculty Development Programs

The integrated model used so successfully at UIS and at other institutions points to the need for rigorous, thorough faculty development programs. Here is a short listing of programs that I recommend:

Online Learning in Illinois

Since its inception in 1998, the Illinois Virtual Campus (IVC) has tracked online enrollments at colleges and universities in Illinois. Just last week, the IVC issued its report with data from the Fall 2010 semester.

Online Course Enrollments

Illinois colleges and universities reported offering 10,734 online course sections that generated 254,200 enrollments during the Fall 2010 term. This is an increase of 1,348 online course sections (14%) and 33,420 enrollments (15%) respectively from the 9,386 online course sections and 220,780 enrollments reported for the Fall 2009 term.

growth chart

The IVC tracks online enrollments by sector and by student residency. The Fall 2010 residency data show a remarkable difference by sector:

residency chart

Finally, it is apparent that for more and more colleges and universities in Illinois, the term "distance education" really refers to online education:

delivery mode