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Administrators and Faculty Split on Online Learning’s Value

77 percent of academic leaders surveyed believe online education results in the same or superior learning outcomes as in face-to-face classes.
University Business, June 2013

The number of students taking at least one course online is on the rise; the 2012 Survey of Online Learning conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group and released this year indicated that number surpassed 6.7 million for the fall 2011 semester.

That said, there is a divergence between higher ed administrators and faculty on the value of online learning. Seventy-seven percent of academic leaders surveyed believe online education results in the same or superior learning outcomes as in face-to-face classes.

However, only 30.2 percent of chief academic officers think their faculty accept online learning as valuable and legitimate. This figure has decreased from the recorded statistic in 2004. With 69.1 percent of chief academic leaders saying online education is a key part of their long-term strategy, faculty must learn to embrace it.

Jeff Seaman, co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group, and Todd Hitchcock, senior vice president for online solutions and business development at Pearson Learning Solutions (a study sponsor) agree that the fear of the unknown contributes to faculty wariness over online learning. As Seaman explains, the acceptance rate increases when faculty have had exposure to online learning.

Hitchcock adds, “Faculty acceptance of online learning goes up when there’s online learning training or administrators take a collaborative approach to implementation and involve their faculty.”

The tendency of administrators to look at the long-term health of their institution may also account for their higher rate of acceptance. Seaman says faculty are focused on the time and effort to develop and teach an online course.

If desired learning outcomes aren’t produced, that is time and effort that’s wasted. Administrators are more focused on the growth of the institution as a whole.

“Chief academic officers want to provide a service to a population that is large and growing,” Hitchcock says. “They want to open access to those who cannot easily come to a physical campus.”

If administrators want to make online learning an integral part of their campus, they need to crystalize the mission of their institution to their faculty.

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