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Report Shows Online Learning Growing

Students taking online courses account for 17% of the total population of 17 million, the Sloan Consortium says.

The number of higher-education students taking online courses is increasing steadily, with about one in six students logging on to the Internet to get instruction, a report released Thursday showed.

Nearly 3.2 million students took at least one online course in the fall 2005 term, a substantial increase over the 2.3 million reported during the same period a year ago, according to the annual study published by The Sloan Consortium and financed through a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Students taking online courses account for 17 percent of the total population of 17 million.

The more than 800,000-student increase in the fall was more than twice the number added in any previous year, the report said. "There has been no leveling of the growth rate of online enrollments; institutions of higher education report record online enrollment growth on both a numeric and a percentage basis."

The study, which is based on surveys conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group, also found that chief academic officers believe the quality of online education is equal to or superior to face-to-face learning. Fully, 62 percent rated both forms of learning the same, or online better, compared with 57 percent in 2003. The percentage rating online as superior rose to 16.9 percent from 12.1 percent.

Academic leaders saw the same barriers to widespread adoption of online education as in previous years. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents cited a need for more discipline on the part of online students. Other roadblocks included faculty issues that included acceptance of online teaching and the need for greater time and effort to teach online. Academic leaders did not see a lack of demand on the part of students, or acceptance of an online degree by employers as barriers.

The largest institutions, defined as more than 15,000 total enrollments, were the most likely to have online offerings. More than 96 percent offered online courses, and about two-thirds have fully online programs.

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