Classroom or Living Room? The Growth of Online Education

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Classroom or Living Room? The Growth of Online Education

People considering higher education have enough to worry about: costs, location, school prestige, degree choice. But in this Digital Age, there is now another thing to consider—will you learn online or in a traditional campus environment?

The Digital Learning Boom

Let’s take a look at a brief timeline of the introduction of the digital classroom from 1990 to today.

1990: First Class launches for Mac, which allows users to upload and share academic content.

1997: Blackboard launches, becoming the go-to for college students regarding course content and university information.

2002: The website Moodle goes up, offering some of the first online-based courses for higher education.

2007: 1 in 5 college students is now taking an online course.

Today: Nearly 1 in 3 college students is taking an online course. That’s about 6.7 million students.

By the Numbers

Will online enrollment ever exceed traditional enrollment? If numbers continue to grow as they have in the past few years, then it’s possible.


Increase in the number of students who selected online courses from 1998 to 2008 alone


Percentage of undergraduate students who are expected to receive 80% or more of their college education online


Number of undergraduates taking at least one online class who are earning their degree entirely online


Number of public, four-year universities that offer online courses, compared to 91% of two-year colleges

A Growing Need

Sometimes it isn’t just a “want to” but a “have to.” If college tuition continues to rise, then more students will need to work full time while in school. Online education allows students the flexibility to do so.

The average yearly cost for a college undergrad in the U.S. is $19,339. That’s a nearly $8,000 increase from 2001.


Percentage of college undergraduates who work full time, year round

Almost 50%

Percentage of graduate students who work full time, year round

Students with young children also need flexible schedules.


Percentage of community college students who have children

MOOC Indicators

MOOCs, or massive open online courses, haven’t quite caught on in the world of academia just yet. Not many universities allow credit for these courses, but still their popularity and enrollment rates continue to grow.

Date: Number of MOOCs announced

January 2012: 0

July 2012: 50

January 2013: 175

July 2013: 450

January 2014: 900

June 2014: 1,000+

Many MOOCs aren’t accepted at accredited institutions as college credit. But the MOOC surge shows us that people are hungry for online education.

Which Will You Choose?

Today, students still have to make a choice. The decision between online and traditional education depends solely on student preference. But here are some of the main pros and cons for each.



  • Students are allowed the flexibility to work full time or take care of children while learning.
  • Assignments can be completed and tests can be taken at the student’s convenience.
  • Degrees from out-of-state colleges can be attained without relocating.
  • Military students are the best candidates for online degrees, since they can stay at their assigned base.
  • Students are not required to travel for school, saving them time and gas money.


  • Students often do not have direct or face-to-face contact with instructors or fellow students.
  • Students do not have the opportunity to join campus activities and make friends.
  • Working online makes a student subject to hardware/software difficulties and crashes, affecting class time.



  • Students have direct contact with professors and other students.
  • Students have access to hands-on training in certain trades or degrees.
  • Students can engage in campus activities.


  • Class times are set and learning is not flexible.
  • More money is spent on gas, food and in some cases housing when attending a traditional campus.
  • Being around so many other people subjects students to outbreaks of the flu and other airborne illnesses.

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