Online Learning: Students Want Quality, Not Just Convenience

Survey says most college students in online courses yearn for interaction with instructors, peers.

Most students in fully online college courses live close to the educational institution offering them, and are interested in the quality, not just the convenience, of their education, according to a new survey.

The survey, “Online College Students 2017,” was produced by The Learning House, Inc. and Aslanian Market Research and polled 1,500 former, current and prospective students. This is the sixth year they have conducted the survey, which seeks to explain who takes online courses, why they choose them and what they prefer to experience when taking these types of classes.

Here are three highlights from the survey that show how students are interested in more than merely clicking on a computer screen to earn course credit.

  • If a course isn’t available online, more than half of respondents said they would probably or definitely opt to attend the course in person. Only 8 percent said they definitely would not take an in-person class. This is a notable finding because many respondents say they took online courses at educational institutions that were within commuting distance from their homes.
  • The human touch still matters, even for people who are interested in online learning. Nearly 60 percent of respondents said they want to be able to regularly engage with classmates and instructors when taking online courses. Virtual “office hours” for instructors, for example, was popular with 76 percent of the survey respondents. And 59 percent of students reported traveling to campus at least once to meet in person with an instructor or classmates.
  • Online courses can’t just be about convenience, the survey found. About 60 percent of students who took an online course reported that they would change something about how they chose the course if they could do it again. Many said they wished they had shopped around more and contacted more programs before enrolling.

Nationally, college enrollment overall has been decreasing for 10 semesters, due to a lower number of college-age students and, perhaps, fewer students enrolling in for-profit colleges.

Online courses might seem like an easy way for colleges to increase enrollment, but this survey’s responses show that the reasons students take these courses are complex, and that they care about the quality of the courses.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news website focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about blended learning.

Nichole Dobo

Nichole Dobo writes about blended learning. Most of her 10-year career as a reporter has focused on education. She has also covered stories about government, courts, business and religion. She was a staff writer at The News Journal in Wilmington, Del., The York Daily Record/Sunday News in York, Pa., The Times-Tribune in Scranton, Pa. and The Citizens' Voice in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. and has been published in The Atlantic's online edition. She won first prize and best of show for education writing in 2011 from the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association. She earned a B.A. in journalism at the Pennsylvania State University.