The pandemic has caused disruption and complications in diverse fields and industry, but in the case of online learning, it proved to be a boon, according to a new report by Wiley Education Services.
The study, titled Voice of the Online Learner, highlights the impact of COVID-19 on the online learning community, unveiling the growing demand from students that e-learning connects to and supports career outcomes, and uncovering learners’ key considerations when selecting an online degree. It shows that the events of the last 18 months have helped to produce an emerging type of learner: the ‘post-pandemic online learner’, who is generally younger and typically enjoyed much of what they have experienced in the last 18 months.
The report is based on results from a survey of more than 3,000 online learners, conducted in spring this year. Specifically, the sample consisted of 3,082 participants, comprised of a national external panel of 1,552 responses and an internal survey of 1,530 prospective, current and recently graduated students. Respondents were at least 18 years old, possessed the minimum of a high school degree or equivalent, and were recently enrolled, currently enrolled or planned to enrol in a fully virtual undergraduate or graduate degree in the next 12 months. The sample was weighted to consist of approximately 66% graduate students.
“This year’s report takes a close look at the transformative impact the pandemic has had on how learners access their education. We’re seeing that online learning is playing an increasingly important role in providing education that is flexible, affordable and setting learners up for success in their careers,” said Todd Zipper, president of Wiley Education Services.
“With this, our 10th annual report, we are proud again to share our insights on the attitudes and behaviours of online learners to help universities build impactful programmes that enable students to achieve their goals.
“We’re seeing that online learning is playing an increasingly important role in providing education that is flexible, affordable and setting learners up for success in their careers”– Todd Zipper, Wiley Education Services
In previous years, the report has been released as Online College Students, providing guidance to learning institutes on how to serve the needs of virtual learners.
It’s no surprise that the online learning population has grown significantly since the start of the pandemic, with the report revealing that one third of current prospective online students and those enrolled in a digital programme for the 2020-21 school year had not considered learning entirely online before the COVID-19 outbreak.
Wiley has named this emerging student demographic the ‘post-pandemic online learner’, suggesting they tend to be younger than traditional online learners, are keen to pursue undergraduate degrees, and are more likely to be unemployed or working part-time. According to the study, 45% of this ‘post-pandemic online learner’ population is under 25, compared to just 24% of students under the age of 25 who were already learning online prior to the pandemic.
The events of the past 18+ months have also supported a boost to students’ attitudes towards digital learning methods, with 51% of students saying they now have more positive views towards e-learning, compared to 42% who say their views remain unchanged. Additionally, more than half (59%) of prospective e-learners and those enrolled in a virtual learning programme for the 2020-21 school year claimed that the pandemic motivated them to sign up.
Career aspirations – including securing a job and switching careers – are the biggest motivators for committing to an online degree. Online learners, including alumni, ranked the following by order of importance:
- Securing first professional/salaried job (50%)
- Switch to a new career more aligned to personal interests (42%)
- Earn a promotion within current profession (37%)
- Switch to a new career that offers more money (37%)
- Win a salary increase within current profession (36%)
The report also lists students’ top considerations when choosing an online programme, laying them out as follows:
Speed: students are increasingly seeking faster routes to degree completion, with 70% saying they would opt to take more than one class at a time or back-to-back courses to complete their programme faster rather than having their courses spread out or taking breaks between classes.
Flexibility: virtual learners want flexibility when it comes to class format, programme line up and timing. Sixty-five percent of digital learners would favour the flexibility to choose or change the course line up instead of being in lock-step cohort or degree plan. Sixty-eight percent would choose a programme with an asynchronous format over synchronous programmes.
Affordability: fifty-five percent chose affordability as the primary. driving factor in their decision to apply for an online programme. That said, ‘affordability’ may not mean the least expensive option; 67% of students chose courses that were not at the lowest price point, citing considerations such as reputation of the programme or relevant course content when considering their options.