Declining enrollments bad news for online and blending learning? Michael Horn does not think so:
April 23, 2015
Report that says online learning growth is slowing misses big picture (originally posted here)
For 12 years, the Babson Survey Group in partnership with other organizations, including the Online Learning Consortium (formerly the Sloan Consortium), has done critical research into the growth of online learning in American higher education that it publishes in the report Grade Level: Tracking Online Education in the United States. The research has been enormously helpful in understanding the actual numbers of students learning online in accredited institutions and how the institutions themselves—from the administration to faculty—view online learning.
Initially, the research arguably gave a reasonably complete view of the state of online learning in all of higher education, as it showed online learning growing rapidly with growth rates of over 20 percent in 2003, 2005, and 2009. But as of late, the research has suggested that the growth of online learning is flattening. It was 6.1 percent in the fall of 2012 and, according to the most recent report published in January 2015, 3.7 percent in the fall of 2013. Does this mean that online learning is not the disruptive innovation it was heralded to be?
I don’t think it does. As Clayton Christensen is fond of saying, God didn’t create data; humans create data to try to capture the complexity of the world around them. By its nature, data is backward looking, and most data is incapable of telling the truth. In this case, I think the flattening growth rate of online learning for credit within accredited institutions misses the bigger picture—although I do think it suggests that the pending disruption may take somewhat longer than many have forecasted in the past.
First, as the most recent report itself says, much of the reduction in the rate of growth is because one segment of higher education—for-profit four-year institutions—recorded the first-ever drop in online enrollments of 8.7 percent. For those watching the battering the for-profit universities have taken in recent years, that shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s also a somewhat special circumstance. The fact that online learning still grew illustrates that its fundamental appeal—primarily in public four-year institutions and private non-profit four-year institutions, according to the report—remains quite strong. Today’s big news that Arizona State University will offer its freshman year online for credit at a price that, at last, positions an online program from a public university as disruptive will only fuel that growth is my guess. Furthermore, according to the report, the proportion of academic leaders who say that online learning is critical to their institution’s long-term strategy is at an all-time high of 70.8 percent, and those institutions reporting that it is not a critical part of their long-term strategy has dropped to a new low of 8.6 percent.