Online Enrollments Rise Through the Recession
Earlier this year, the Sloan Consortium released its annual report on the state of online education in the U.S. The report showed that in fall 2008, over 25% of students were enrolled in at least one online course. That's an increase of more than 100% since fall 2002, when only 9.6% of college students took any courses online.
These growth patterns have continued through the recession at many institutions. For example, the University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) set new records for online and 'blended' student enrollment for the past 36 terms. (Blended students take a mix of online and on-campus courses. Blended courses are those that have both online and on-campus components.) Currently over half of the students at UIS take at least one course online, and more than 5,000 students are enrolled in online degree programs offered by the school.
Raymond Schroeder, director of the UIS Center for Online Learning and winner of the 2010 Sloan-C award for leadership, notes that the economic downturn has led many students to try finishing degree programs as quickly as possible. Online learning is popular among these students because it offers them the scheduling flexibility they need for accelerated learning.
Dr. Anthony Picciano, a professor in the Education departments at Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate Center and winner of a 2010 Sloan-C award for individual achievement in online education, has made a similar observation about his online students. In his online courses, most of which are graduate-level, Dr. Picciano typically teaches adults who also have careers and families. For these students, blended and online learning are invaluable tools that allow them to fulfill diverse responsibilities.
In fact, Dr. Picciano notes that the availability of online courses has dramatically increased college access for single mothers, working professionals and other traditionally underrepresented students. 'Online learning has provided an incredible vehicle for students, especially adult learners, to pursue their higher education goals,' says Dr. Picciano, adding that 'it has been a very important vehicle, probably the most important in the last 15 to 20 years, to expand access to higher education for many, many students.'
The recession has also led to an increase in the number of students who are seeking a career-oriented education. Mr. Schroeder has observed that many of these vocational students are turning to the online programs offered by the UIS Career Services department. And at CUNY, the School of Professional Studies, which focuses on vocational programs, is the department that offers the most all-online degree options.
Celebrating Excellence in Online Education
Clearly online education is becoming increasingly important to American college students and our postsecondary education system. Each year, the Sloan Consortium, a non-profit organization 'dedicated to integrating online education into the mainstream of higher education,' honors that importance with the Sloan-C awards.
These awards recognize individuals and institutions excelling in the field of online learning. This autumn the Sloan Consortium will present nine awards at the 16th annual Conference on Asynchronous Learning Networks: The Power of Online Learning: Stimulating New Possibilities.
In honor of the awards, Study.com spoke with Mr. Schroeder and Dr. Picciano about their achievements in online education.
2010 A. Frank Mayadas Leadership Award: Raymond E. Schroeder, University of Illinois Springfield
Raymond Schroeder is the Director of the Center for Online Learning and Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois Springfield. He became involved in long-distance teaching in the 1980s as a means of satellite conferencing in his new and emerging technologies courses, and it was only natural for him to make the move to online learning in the 1990s.
In 1997, Mr. Schroeder launched the Office of Technology-Enhanced Learning at UIS, which later became the Center for Online Learning. The Center supports UIS faculty in their online teaching, research and service efforts. Mr. Schroeder credits the Center's hard working staff members as well as the online program coordinators and faculty members as the true source of the Center's success.
Mr. Schroeder has united online learners and educators for ten years with his Online Learning Update blog, a chronicle of news, research and trends in the field. With over 10,000 readers each week, the blog has become a key source of information for online learning. Due to the prominence of his writings, Mr. Schroeder has lectured at many institutions seeking to expand their online programs.
In 2007, he co-founded the New Century Learning Consortium, which promotes collaboration among eight universities across the U.S. Soon to be expanded to 14 schools, the consortium offers crucial faculty development and inter-institutional mentoring to online instructors.
But Mr. Schroeder emphasizes that online education still needs to do a lot of growing. 'There is much to be learned and much to be built in our field of online and distance learning,' Schroeder observes. 'We can break down the artificial walls of institutions and the now-irrelevant borders of geography that separate us in order to forge new ways to learn together through 21st century technologies.'
Follow the effects of the recession on higher ed at Mr. Schroeder's other blog, Recession Realities.
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Outstanding Achievement in Online Education by an Individual: Anthony G. Picciano, CUNY, Hunter College and the Graduate Center
Dr. Anthony Picciano has been teaching in Education Administration and Urban Education at the City University of New York for decades. He currently teaches graduate-level courses both online and on-campus in the CUNY system at Hunter College and the Graduate Center.
Dr. Picciano credits his success in online education with the drive to experiment with new instructional techniques and share his findings with others. He started experimenting with online learning techniques with a few brave students in the 1990s. Although the tools were relatively primitive, this project laid the groundwork for his development of asynchronous online learning programs.
After running several successful online courses and helping other faculty do the same, Dr. Picciano received a large grant from the Sloan Consortium to launch CUNY Online, a centralized online education program for the entire 500,000+ student college system. Although CUNY Online has since become the CUNY School of Professional Studies, the work he and other faculty members did at CUNY Online has formed the backbone of all-online education at CUNY.
Drawing from the educational philosophy of John Dewey and Malcolm Knowles, Dr. Picciano relies on four guiding principles for his teaching practice, both online and on campus: Experiment, share your results with other educations, interact with and engage your students and keep your tools simple.
Dr. Picciano places a lot of emphasis on the value of pedagogical research - and sharing your results. 'I would encourage all faculty to study, evaluate and conduct research on what they're doing and share that with others,' he says, adding that the process can help create insights 'not just on how to use the technology, but on the benefits of combining good pedagogical practice with the dynamic technology.'
One thing that Dr. Picciano has discovered in his years of online teaching is the benefit provided by time. He teaches asynchronously, so that students usually have several days to reflect on questions and the material before submitting their responses. Dr. Picciano has found the reflection process to be crucial for all students, both on campus and off, and online learning provides more opportunities for students to engage in reflection.
Even more important to Dr. Picciano is the increase in college access afforded by online education. As mentioned above, the flexible scheduling makes it far easier to integrate academic goals into busy individuals' work and family lives. Online classes can also facilitate learning for non-native English speakers who might fade into the background in a traditional classroom as they struggle to keep up. The time afforded for reflection helps this group overcome the challenges posed by language barriers.
Ultimately, blended and online courses open up higher education to many populations who would never have been able to pursue a graduate degree. And that, says Dr. Picciano, is 'a benefit that no one can deny.'
Dr. Picciano doesn't contribute content to OpenCourseWare, but he does put many of his introductory lecture videos online! Check out Dr. P's YouTube channel to learn about education research methods, statistical analysis and more.
The 2010 Sloan-C Award Winners
- 2010 Ralph E. Gomory Award for Quality Online Education: Western Governors University
- 2010 A. Frank Mayadas Leadership Award: Raymond E. Schroeder, University of Illinois Springfield
- Outstanding Achievement in Online Education by an Individual: Anthony G. Picciano, CUNY, Hunter College and the Graduate Center
- Excellence in Online Teaching: Glenda A. Gunter, University of Central Florida
- Excellence in Faculty Development for Online Teaching: Kennesaw State University
- Outstanding Online Program: Masters of Teacher Leadership, University of Illinois Springfield
- Excellence in Institution-Wide Online Education: Boston University
- Excellence in Institution-Wide Online Education: Drexel University
- Sloan-C President's Special Achievement Award: Valerie C. Haven, UMass Boston / UMassOnline