Online Education: Is The Attraction Only Virtual?


Online education (distant learning) is here to stay and is becoming a significantly important option for students around the world. We here at have been following this trend since we launched this site in December 2007 and concur that online education’s influence is spreading rapidly.

Virtual Education

campus computer surveyWhile brick and mortar institutions aren’t likely to go away, they’ll need to adjust to reach students who can’t or won’t attend their schools in person. The smart schools are those which are now accommodating students through online options, presenting similar classes via the internet as they do on campus.

But are these classes equal?

2009 Campus Computing Survey

That was one of the questions recently asked by WCET and the Campus Computing Project, a pair of organizations who track trends in online learning. Indeed, since 1994 the “Campus Computing Survey” has been conducted annually with results of the 2009 survey released this week.

The questions asked were submitted to schools who have online programs. Those schools typically responded through their senior campus officer responsible for online or distance education programs with 94% reporting that their online programs are growing.

The most recent survey revealed a few surprises including:

  • Students enrolled in online programs may pay higher fees than their on-campus counterparts. Students are paying a one-time application fee averaging $232 and are often subject to additional fees for instruction materials, technology services, and singular courses.
  • Many campuses require training for their faculty before sending them “into the web” to teach online courses. Professors often must rely on a support network that includes IT staff to maintain internet access.
  • Quality still looms as a large question for online education programs. Colleges are struggling to manage their online programs in response to surging demand. A number of the survey respondents said that their online programs would be be overhauled within the next two years in a bid to streamline management and introduce new technologies to keep pace with demand.

Tech Support

Of note, is how tech support plays in managing online education. 36% of the schools offer ’round the clock support, which is critical when your student body is located across many time zones, if not around the world.

25% offer support throughout the week during daytime and early evening as well as limited access on weekends. 22% responded by saying that they offer support on weekdays and limited evenings while 17% offer support only during normal business hours which are defined as 9 to 5, Monday through Friday.


Clearly, those schools who are limiting themselves will grow slower which means that technological improvements as well as policy changes need to be made to welcome more students online. Finally, closing the cost gap is essential if schools want to attract distant learning students. By maintaining a wide open gap, schools will find that other institutions will beat them where it counts: in the wallet.

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Categories: Online Education