December 2nd, 2011

More Than Six Million Students Learning Online, Study Finds


For the past nine years the Sloan Consortium and the Babson Survey Research Group have taken a look at the state of online learning in the United States. The 2011 survey reveals that the number of students learning online has now surpassed six million, with nearly one-third of all students in higher education taking at least one online course.

Interestingly, while last year’s annual survey revealed the largest ever year-to-year increase in online enrollment since the study began eight years ago, this year Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, 2011 reports the second lowest growth rate. Yet the 10% growth rate for online enrollments still far exceeds the 2% growth in the overall higher education student population.

“The rate of growth in online enrollments is ten times that of the rate in all higher education,” said study co-author I. Elaine Allen, Co-Director of the Babson Survey Research Group and Professor of Statistics & Entrepreneurship at Babson College. “While growth rates have declined somewhat from previous years, we see no evidence that a dramatic slowdown in online enrollments is on the horizon.”

“There is a wide variety in rate of growth of online enrollments among different colleges and universities, and also among different programs within the same institution. For example, fully online health sciences programs show higher growth than online programs in other disciplines.”

Key findings in the ninth annual report include:

  • Over 6.1 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2010 term, an increase of 560,000 students over the previous year.
  • Thirty-one percent of higher education students now take at least one course online.
  • Reported year-to-year enrollment changes for fully online programs by discipline show that most are growing.
  • Academic leaders believe that the level of student satisfaction is equivalent for online and face-to-face courses.
  • 65% of higher education institutions now say that online learning is a critical part of their long-term strategy.
  • There continues to be a consistent minority of academic leaders concerned that the quality of online instruction is not equal to courses delivered face-to-face.

Based on responses from over 2,500 academic leaders, the complete survey report, “Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, 2011” is available at

An infographic of the report:

Online Learning infographic

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5 comments on “More Than Six Million Students Learning Online, Study Finds

  1. Yes, there is definitely a trend torwards on-line enrollment. However, this does not address the higher attrition and failure rates for those courses vs. an F2F class. Until that is corrected, I will not be convinced it is best for students.

    • It may not be best for all students, but it can be excellent for some. Especially working students who cannot travel/move to attend standard classes. Nobody expects F2F to go away, but online courses are an excellent supplement.

  2. Computers and tablets are only assistants and a good teacher’s will always be needed.
    However social networks such as facebook and YouTube as well as great resources including Wikipedia and Wolfram-Alpha are here to stay so that educators must use them in the teaching process.

    Many academics are posting great educational videos and materials online. The only problem is to sort the good ones from the rest and present them in an organized manner.

    This effort is being done by: which presents the best educational videos available on YouTube in an organized, easy to find way to watch and learn.

    They are classified and tagged in a way that enables people to find these materials more easily and efficiently and not waste time browsing through pages of irrelevant search results.

    The website also enhances the experience using other means such as recommending related videos, Wikipedia content and so on. There's also a Spanish version called

    This is a project that YouTube should embrace itself, with curated content from academics and maybe using a different URL (Youtubersity?) so it won’t be blocked by schools.

  3. This is very good information to know in this new world of advance technology. Online courses are very convenient for certain students. They can be very difficult for the ones who are technically limited, or need to become more independent learners. I also agree that a good teacher has to be on the other end of the line to keep students motivated. Online courses are great for those who can benefit from them.

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