What online college students really want: More interaction with peers and teachers

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A new survey reveals that fully-online students want more interaction with classmates and instructors.

At a time when higher education enrollments are declining, there has never been a better time for higher ed institutions to re-evaluate their online programs. But competition is fierce. A new research about fully-online college students calls for universities to update strategies to win over students in the face of growing competition.

According to a new report from The Learning House, Inc. and Aslanian Market Research, "The Online College Students 2017: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences," online students want more interaction with instructors and fellow students.

For its sixth edition, this annual report surveyed 1,500 students who were currently enrolled in, recent graduates of, or giving serious consideration to online programs. The report aims to help higher education leaders and policymakers better understand both the traits of online college students and what they’re looking for in their educational experience.

The research found that online students are seeking interaction with their classmates and course instructors. More than 50% of the survey respondents said that interaction with their academic community is important to them, while around 25% said more interaction would improve quality and experience of their online courses.

The report recommends that schools improve their online programs to better reflect student career and educational goals. Because online students are so career focused, understanding which programs will best educate students for the job market is critical to online program success. Stackable certificates were also important to respondents, demonstrating that students are embracing alternative pathways to earning their degree.

“Online learning is no longer new, and online students are becoming savvier consumers. It's no longer enough to offer flexibility and convenience,” said Todd Zipper, president and CEO of Learning House. “Institutions need to offer the right program, at the right price, in the right modality, and with the right support services in place to create a welcoming community that helps students achieve their career ambitions.”

Moreover, the research shows that online students use their mobile devices regularly: 80 percent of respondents use a mobile device during their program search and 40 percent use mobile devices to access online coursework.

“Because of an increase in the number of online programs and a projected plateau in online enrollments by 2019 and 2020, there has never been a better time for institutions to re-evaluate their programs,” said Carol Aslanian, president of Aslanian Market Research. “Our findings will help higher education leaders navigate an increasingly competitive market by understanding how and why students select online learning programs.”