On-line Learning is So Yesterday

That’s one way to interpret the latest data on on-line learning.  This from the eLiterate blog:

One thing to notice is that is really a long-term trend of declining growth in online. With the release of last year’s [Babson Survey Research Group] report they specifically called out this trend.

The number of additional students taking at least one online course continued to grow at a rate far in excess of overall enrollments, but the rate was the lowest in a decade. [See the accompanying graph.  You can click on it to enlarge it.]

What has not been acknowledged or fully understood is the significance of this rate hitting zero, at least within the bounds of the noise in data collection.Y-o-Y-Growth-Chart1


Think of the implications here if online education has stopped growing in US higher education. Many of the assumptions underlying institutional strategic plans and ed tech vendor market data is based on continued growth in online learning. It is possible that there will be market changes leading back to year-over-year growth, but for now the assumptions might be wrong.

Interesting argument, but it may be based upon a misreading of the data.  The decline depicted in the chart is the decline in growth rate.  As the absolute number of on-line learners increases, it requires a larger and larger numerical increase to sustain a growth rate.  For example, if only one person was on line last year and one other person joins in this year, that’s a 100% increase.  If one more person joins the next year, the rate of increase declines to 50 percent.  That same thing may be happening in on-line education:  the growth rate may be declining because the absolute numbers are small but growing rapidly.  In any event the full post is here.

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