Majority of Americans Rate Online Education as Same or Better Than In-Person


A majority of Americans (55%) say the quality of online education is the same as or better than in-person education. These odds (according to a New America survey) have increased dramatically over the past year; from 2021 to 2022, the percentage of “better than” respondents more than doubled, from 3% to 8%, and the percentage of “same as” respondents increased by almost 40%, from 34% to 47% . This is an astonishing acceleration in favorable views of online education and a real tipping point that may pose an existential threat to many in-person educational programs and residential colleges.

The pandemic has ushered most of the world into some form of online education and work. And while people have been exposed to widely varying degrees of quality (ranging from hasty, improvised Zoom lessons to highly sophisticated, world-class online courses), the general consensus is that online education is equal or superior. to classroom education. . Just as hybrid and remote work is here to stay, it seems so is online education. And that has huge implications for every educational institution, educator and employer.

The late Professor Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School planned for 2011 that half of all colleges and universities would close or go bankrupt within 10 to 15 years. It’s been 11 years since that prediction started and its 50% close rate isn’t even close to reality. But the disruptive innovation expert was clear that most disruption starts slowly… and eventually happens quite suddenly (or so those who are disrupted feel). As someone who has been involved in higher education from many angles over the past quarter century, I have seen the slow wheels of workplace disruption. But I never saw what I thought was a tipping point. So far.

I started one of the first educational technology companies twenty-two years ago. At the time, I viewed online education as a unique niche segment of the education industry – believing that it had very particular but not widespread applications. The business I founded and built offered online training on topics such as alcohol abuse prevention and sexual assault prevention. These were subjects that were not part of the core curriculum and were taught poorly (if at all) in sporadic student affairs programs.

Students, we learned, preferred to be educated on these topics privately (not in groups). We also learned that the effectiveness of these programs was strongest when they were highly personalized – and online enabled adaptive student-focused journeys in a way that didn’t exist in the classroom. In short, I thought there were online education apps that were better than in person, but I certainly didn’t think online would become a threat to the general person.

When I was leading the Education and Workforce Development practice at Gallup, I participated in several studies this reinforced (at first glance, at least) the importance of relationship-rich, work-embedded experiences for long-term student success. But after digging into the results, it became clear that this relationship-rich aspect of education was not exclusive to the realm of residential or in-person education. In fact, the university with the highest percentage of graduates who strongly agreed they had a mentor who encouraged their goals and dreams was an all-online, adult-serving institution.

At Kaplan, other ideas have profoundly influenced my vision of online education. As we have offered more options to students for in-person, online or blended learning, we have learned that student preferences (across all age groups) are moving firmly towards online live learning. and asynchronous. In fact, students now rate our online test prep programs higher than in-person ones. It’s a growing theme in many of our programs, from data science bootcamps for working adults to online programs for high school students.

Even for long-time proponents of online education, it’s pretty amazing to see this latest data on Americans’ opinions of its quality. The technology that underpins online education has been around for a long time. But attitudes and perceptions about online education among learners, teachers, employers and the general public have lagged – at least until now. Suddenly, a majority see online education as equivalent or better than in-person. This, ultimately, will set the stage for a rapid acceleration of disruption in all forms of in-person and residential instruction.


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