Policy makers and higher education leaders need to be made aware of the connections between online learning, the economy, and workforce development is the message of a recently released report from the Inter-Organizational Online Learning Task Force. The report outlines the steps necessary to address many of the issues facing online learning in higher education.
The task force—which was comprised of members from the American Distance Education Consortium the Association of Continuing Higher Education, EDUCAUSE, the Sloan Consortium, and the University Professional and the Continuing Education Association—met in Chicago in September to address problems facing online learning. One of the outcomes of the meeting was a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan foundation to the University Professional and Continuing Education Association.
The grant was designed to fund the development of the task force and the publication of the group’s first report, which outlines various recommendations for colleges, universities, and legislators can take to address the degree completion crisis facing the U.S.
According to the report, “education is the most important pathway to achieve both individual prosperity and national economic growth; traditional models of instruction have resulted in only a minority of the population holding a college degree of any level.” The report’s authors go on to write that online learning is the “only strategy that has the potential to dramatically impact the critical issues that confront us.”
One of the actions the group suggested was shifting university and political focus away from students in the 18-22 age range towards adult learners, a population that the report refers to as the “new traditional student.”
“It is by now axiomatic that the non-traditional student of the past has become the traditional student of today. The average age of college students rose to 25 in 2009,” the report said. Citing figures from the National Center for Education Statistics, the report predicts a 23% rise in enrollment of students over 25yearsold by the year 2020. Enrollments for students under 25yearsold are expected to only increase by 9%.
The report also recommends that colleges and universities move away from a seat-time based credit hour and towards an outcome based method of learning assessment that evaluates knowledge retention and facilitates degree completion.
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