With nearly 3 million adults in the U.S. enrolled in fully online degree programs, eLearning researchers are gaining greater access to valuable insights on this growing demographic of students. A recent study from Inside Higher ED has revealed more about who these students are and what they prefer to study. The survey, which profiled 1,500 online students, confirmed that the majority of online learners are women, comprising 70 percent of total enrollments. Most students are in their mid-thirties at the time of enrollment, and nearly 80% of all online learners are employed while completing their studies.
The study brought good news for online business schools, revealing that one-third of all online students are enrolled in a business-related major. Degrees in management/administration, finance and accounting were most popular, with healthcare and social sciences ranking second.
The survey also confirmed the growing demand for professional certificate and licensure programs, with certificate students comprising 19 percent of all online enrollments. Current enrollments aside, nearly a quarter of all survey respondents stated they’d be interested in pursuing a non-degree program in the future. With affordable pricing and a reasonably short student turnover time, these “stackable” credential programs are becoming increasingly more appealing to employers opting to fund employee education. Designed to strengthen a specific competency or business method, these concentrated credentials offer high value without sacrificing work hours for study time.
As online learning companies look to the future, marketing strategists and product developers must adjust to serve the changing needs of this unique demographic of learners. With online students earning an average salary of $65,000 per year, distance learners can be expected to have access to a higher degree of technology, a factor that could potentially facilitate the creation of faster and more efficient digital learning materials. As for the gender gap in online learning, education providers must find a way to bridge this disparity and appeal to a broader population of potential learners.