Distance Learning on the Rise at Kent State
More students taking classes online than ever before
More students are going to class by turning on their home computer instead of walking into a lecture hall at Kent State University.
In two years, the number of students participating in distance learning courses has nearly doubled from about 6,900 in 2010 to 12,359 in 2012.
"About one in every three students is taking an online course each semester,” Kent State University President Lester Lefton said. “That’s a lot of students taking a lot of courses."
Lefton presented an update on distance learning to the university's board of trustees last week. Almost every metric he presented showed an increase in enrollment in online courses.
In fall 2010, the university offered 272 unique courses online. Now, Kent State offers 428.
The percentage of hours taken online by students rose from 9 percent in fall 2011 to 32 percent in the summer of 2011 and 12 percent this spring.
"One way or another, at their own place at their own pace, maybe never even getting out of their pajamas, they can take an online course that counts fully towards their academic degree," Lefton said.
The university is pushing to increase its online course offerings for several reasons.
Lefton said the online courses offer greater flexibility for a student in terms of attendance. Plus, some traditional courses may fill up, but if a student can enroll in an online option it could save them from having to enroll an extra semester for a single class.
"A key to me … is it allows students to complete their degrees in a timely fashion," he said.
Technologically, online courses allow instructors to interact asychronously with all the students and use more advanced, digital tools.
The online courses also mean greater opportunities for the university to attract new students and new, incremental revenue. Instead of teaching 20 students, a professor could teach 200 or 2,000, Lefton said.
"It takes the reach of Kent State beyond Portage County and reaches it to all of Ohio, all over the country, and indeed all over the world,” he said.
As a result, the university is investing in four areas of distance learning:
- Graduate programs and higher demand professional career areas
- By 2015, 50 "Kent Core" (mostly introductory) courses will be available online
- High volume undergraduate programs such as journalism and marketing
- Matching quality of distance learning courses with traditional courses
Rick Rubin, associate provost at Kent State, said there has been some push back from faculty on teaching online courses.
"I think the issue of resistance is there, but it is rapidly declining," Rubin said.
More than 350 faculty are teaching at least one online course this spring, he said. Of those, 220 are full-time faculty members.
“As faculty get involved in this, they find it an enriching experience," Rubin said.
Another potential problem is the sheer cost.
Lefton said distance learning courses cost 9 percent more to offer than a traditional brick-and-mortar course in front of a live instructor. But he said university administrators view it as a worthwhile effort in terms of retention, flexibility, keeping students on track and attracting new students.
Kent State may want to increase its online course offerings, but Lefton said they want to strike a balance between traditional and online classes.
"We don’t want to turn this into the University of Phoenix," he said, referring to the school that offers wholly online degree programs. "No more than 30 percent of a student’s credit hours should come from online courses. That’s not a hard and fixed judgment, but we can control that."