Campus, News

Enrollment in online courses on the decline, study suggests

As Boston University continues to expand its offering of Massive Open Online Courses, a study released Wednesday indicates a decreased rate of enrollment in these online programs at universities nationwide.

“This year we found that [the growth of online learning] looks like it is tapering off,” said co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group and leader of the study I. Elaine Allen. “We had about a 6 percent growth rate, compared with 11 percent last year. Still growing, but it may be that [while] schools are still offering online, there aren’t many new schools that are joining in.”

The survey, entitled “Grade Change: Tracking Online Education in the United States,” is the 11th annual installment of the Babson Survey Research Group’s online learning survey.

The survey is based on data gathered from about 3,000 schools, Allen said.

Around 5 percent of higher education institutions surveyed said they offer a Massive Open Online Course, the study stated. Only 23 percent of academic leaders believe that MOOCs are a sustainable method of offering online courses, the 2013 survey stated, compared to the 28 percent of academic leaders who said they believed so in Babson’s 2012 survey.

Academic leaders’ waning faith in MOOCs could be attributed to their lack of profitability, Allen said.

“We’re trying to decide whether [MOOCs] are a viable option for schools because they don’t essentially make any money,” Allen said. “You’re not paying per course.”

Elizabeth Loizeaux, Co-Chair of BU’s Council of Educational Technology and Learning Innovation, said in an email while it might be a challenge to sustain MOOCs financially, the lack of cost allows for widespread use of the technology.

“They are free and so open to anyone, anywhere, with access to the technology, and thus have the potential to reach new audiences of learners,” Loizeaux said.

According to the CETLI website, BU will offer at least four MOOCs next semester through the platform, which is used by 700,000 students worldwide.

“The idea of the MOOC is that it’s meant to be very large, multi-user, a huge class,” said Mark Correia, a School of Education professor who specializes in educational media and technology. “So it would be less likely that students here would commonly use the MOOC, it might more likely be overseas.”

Correia said MOOCs must offer educational benefits exclusive to the online classroom in order to continue seeing enrollment growth.

“There has to be a transformation that’s very different in the way that we learn online that’s not just taking what we’re already doing and putting it online,” he said.

The freedom that MOOCs create for students may be a factor of the declining growth rate because students are forced to monitor their own education, Allen said.

“The one thing that everyone sees is that with the MOOC, it is harder to stay motivated in an online class,” she said. “You don’t have anyone telling you what to do for the next class, so you have to motivate yourself.”

Madison Obritz, a College of Communication sophomore, said MOOCs teach accountability because students are responsible for motivating themselves.

“It’s all on you,” Obritz said. “The online course might assign you readings, but you don’t have to go to class to keep up with it, you’re doing it on your own time.”

College of Arts and Sciences sophomore Kristy Zukswert said she prefers classroom learning to online because it facilitates personal communication with the professor.

“It’s the type of learner that you are,” Zukswert said. “I know I personally benefit from learning in the classroom, with the direct communication with the professor,”

Dongyang Qiu, a School of Management freshman, said classroom interaction is essential to a university education.

“For me, being in a university doesn’t just mean learning stuff,” Qiu said. “In that learning, we communicate and interact with each other, and we learn a lot more than what we just learn from lectures.”


One Comment

  1. Wow. I hope the writer of this article isn’t a journalism major. This article is so poorly written, it’s a joke.

    1. The title “Enrollment in online courses on the decline” is flat-out wrong. The NUMBER of enrollments isn’t on the decline, just the RATE OF GROWTH. In fact, enrollments are increasing, not decreasing. How could you get the title so wrong?

    2. This year the growth rate was 6% vs 11% last year. What does this mean? Enrollments grew 11% from Jan 2012-Dec 2012 but 6% from Jan 2013-Dec 2013? Be a bit more precise about what “this year” and “last year” means, since the article is written in 2014.

    I was attracted to the article because of its title, predicting doom for MOOC’s. Instead, I find an article about the continuing growth of MOOC’s. You do have an editor, right?