Annual Sloan/Babson survey: additional key findings

In an earlier post, I wrote about the number of post-secondary students taking online courses, as reported by the Sloan/Babson survey report. The other findings are slightly less interesting to me because they are mostly about administrators’ impressions of online learning, which is worthy of note but not as important as the number of students taking online courses. Innovation is usually led by a small group of people who aren’t overly influenced by what others think.

The summary of findings related to MOOCs shows how MOOCs are garnering a lot of publicity while being offered by only a small percentage of institutions:

“The 2012 report noted that for all the publicity that Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have generated, only a small number of institutions either had or were planning to offer a MOOC… The results for 2013 are very similar to 2012 — a small segment of higher education institutions are experimenting with MOOCs with a somewhat larger number in the planning stages. Most institutions remain undecided.

  • The percent of higher education institutions that currently have a MOOC, increased from 2.6 percent to 5.0 percent over the past year.
  • The majority of institutions (53 percent) report they are still undecided about MOOCs, while under one-third (33 percent) say they have no plans for a MOOC.
  • Only 23 percent of academic leaders believe that MOOCs represent a sustainable method for offering online courses, down from 28 percent in 2012.
  • A growing proportion of academic leaders have concerns that credentials for MOOC completion will cause confusion about higher education degrees (64 percent in 2013, up from 55 percent in 2012).”

But of course the promise of MOOCs isn’t dependent on them being offered by many institutions. Arguably they are more likely to be offered by just a few, and those few may be start-up institutions, not established schools.

Another key question the survey addressed is whether respondents believe online course outcomes are similar to outcomes in face-to-face classes. The findings:

“The reports in this series have consistently found a growing majority of chief academic officers rate the learning outcomes for online education “as good as or better” than those for face-to-face instruction…The 2013 results show a small decrease in the percentage of academic leaders who view the learning outcomes for online instruction as the same of better than face-to-face instruction.”

However, the “small dip” may well be statistical noise. “The percent of academic leaders rating the learning outcomes in online education as the same or superior to those in face-to-face instruction had grown from 57 in 2003 to 77 percent in 2012. The upward trend was reversed this year, with a dip to 74 percent.

Perhaps, most importantly, “academic leaders at institutions with online offerings remain positive about the relative learning outcomes for online courses; all of the decrease can be attributed to leaders at institutions without online offerings becoming more negative.”

This final point is consistent with what we see in K-12 schools and among policymakers. The large majority of people who have highly negative views about online courses have little or no experience with them.