Taking Notes: Eye On Education – Perception of Online Education

Taking Notes: Eye On Education – Perception of Online Education

This column focuses on a wide range of issues affecting post-secondary students. Students are encouraged to submit suggestions and educational topics they are concerned about, or personal experiences with courses or university situations they feel other students should know about. If suggest a topic or a course alert for Taking Notes, contact djabbour@ausu.org

Perception of Online Education

A common concern heard amongst Athabasca University students continues to be the notion that a degree earned at a distance is still perceived as holding less value than one obtained through traditional on-campus delivery.

A recent survey conducted by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation at the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts, entitled, “Sizing the Opportunity: The Quality and Extent of Online Education in the United States, 2002 and 2003″ provided some reason for optimism. The use of the term “online education” in the survey referred to higher education courses delivered electronically in an “online” or “distance” approach, with at least “80 percent of the course content online” in some format or another. Questions were asked of chief academic officers at more than 3000 degree-granting institutions in the U.S.

The survey found that 90 percent of public institutions offered at least one online course, while private nonprofit and private for-profit were at 55 percent and 45 percent respectively. Viewpoints of online education were also more positive in the public sector, with 70 percent of public institutions stating that the “faculty accept and value the legitimacy of online education,” something that was true of only 50 percent of private institutions surveyed.

A main focus of the survey was to judge the quality of online education compared to face-to-face education with regard to learning outcomes. In the public sector 75 percent of respondents stated that “online education was the same or superior to face-to-face education,” while in private nonprofit the percentage was 40 percent and private for-profit 51 percent. Most respondents said they expected the quality of online education would see significant improvements over the next three years – an important element, considering that the overall growth rate of online learning is currently at almost 20 percent a year. Private for-profit institutions are starting to move into the online learning environment in a big way, predicting growth rates of more than 40 percent.

In a key point summary, it was noted that attitudes towards the quality of online courses are changing, and that the “majority of academic officers believe that learning outcomes in online courses will equal or exceed that of face-to-face courses within three years.” (Eaton, 2003)

It is important to keep in mind that Athabasca University is not the same as most of these institutions, since they are primarily campus-based institutions that are moving into the online/distance delivery method, whereas Athabasca University has always specialized in distance learning. It is encouraging, however, to see that attitudes towards the validity of online education are changing among academic officers at these universities, since it will impact how other universities and prospective employers view the degree we earn at AU.


The Sloan Center at Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, Needham, Mass. http://www.aln.org. Study: “Sizing the Opportunity: The Quality and Extent of Online Education in the United States, 2002 and 2003″

Eaton, J. (2003). How Grows Online Education? Survey of academic officers is cause for some optimism. In Research (That Matters); Trusteeship, Vol 11, No.6, Nov/Dec 2003, p. 34.