Distance learning has grown in popularity in Online Education. Today, most colleges and universities in the United States offer at least one online course. Online education includes new higher education concepts such as microcredit and massive open online courses (MOOCs) alongside traditional college degrees.
Distance students are also a diverse group. As a distance learner, your peers can include regular college students, working parents, military personnel, established professionals, and lifelong learners.
Fast-growing Field Has Broad Appeal, but How Big is Online Learning?
This article explores the popularity of online learning, explores how fast the industry has grown in recent years, and the reasons behind distance learning. If you are a prospective or current online student, parent or guardian, or interested in the online learning phenomenon, here are some important statistics to know.
Basic Methods of Online Education
- Online colleges and universities enroll approximately 2.79 million students, accounting for 15% of post-U.S. students.
- By 2021, approximately 60% of post-secondary students in the United States have taken at least some online classes. About 30% only studied online.
- About 62% of online students are female.
- Approximately 8.5 million U.S. students take higher education classes online.
- Online schools tend to have more racially diverse students than traditional schools.
Online Course in Numbers
All types of colleges and universities offer online classes. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), approximately 8.5 million online students are enrolled in public colleges by 2021. Another 2.7 million intermediates attend private schools, including 1.9 million in non-profit institutions and about 800,000 in for-profit schools.
The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the availability of online education in higher education since 2020. According to NCES data, more than 14 million students – 75% of all high school students in the US – took an online class in the fall of 2020. Pandemic limited personal training. In the fall of 2019, only 36% enrolled in distance learning.
With face-to-face learning classrooms opening in 2021, the number of students enrolling in distance learning has fallen to about 60% of what it was during the pandemic.
Online registration fees vary depending on where students live. Alaska, Hawaii, and New Hampshire have the highest number of online students in the United States.
Online Schools and Traditional Colleges Online Education
Most online degree seekers go to traditional schools, but in 2020 about 15% of US students attended primarily online institutions. Basically, NCES defines online schools as schools where 90% or more of students are enrolled through distance learning. About 11% of US colleges and universities – 422 institutions in all.
Some online schools often target working students and offer full-time hours. Others started as physical branches on campus and then created growing online divisions with their brick-and-mortar counterparts.
In 2020, the number of students enrolled primarily in online schools surpassed 1.5 million. Another 1.2 million students took half-day classes. Among full-time and part-time students, female students outnumbered male students, accounting for 62% of the student body.
Online Education Over the Years
The onset of Covid-19 in 2020 disrupted traditional education, forcing students, teachers, and administrators to suddenly adapt to remote learning models.
However, before the pandemic, distance learning had been on the rise for nearly a decade, with the digitization of everyday life and improvements in distance learning technology and infrastructure.
In 2012, when online education MOOC giants edX and Coursera were founded, more than 25% of U.S. colleges and universities offered at least one online course, according to NCES data. By 2019, that number had risen to 36%, with nearly half participating exclusively online.
The Onset of Covid-19 Disrupted Traditional Education
But even before the pandemic, distance learning had been steadily growing for nearly a decade as daily life became more digitized and distance learning technology and infrastructure improved.
In 2012, a watershed moment in online education that saw the creation of MOOC giants edX and Coursera, more than 25 percent of US college and university students took at least one distance learning course, reports NCES. By 2019, that number had risen to 36%, about half of which was exclusively online.
In 2020, the number of online students at traditional higher education institutions exploded as schools moved their courses online due to lockdown restrictions. In that year, about 46% of US students studied entirely online, with another 28% taking at least some distance learning courses. As of 2021, distance learning numbers have remained high with approximately 60% of students taking some or all of their classes online.
Many traditional degree-seeking students returned to face-to-face learning when schools reopened in 2021, but online education as a whole has continued to grow.
The World Economic Forum reports that Coursera had 21 million registered users in 2016. In 2019, 44 million students used the MOOC platform. That number rose to 71 million in 2020, but unlike online enrollment figures for colleges, Coursera’s enrollments didn’t decline in 2021. Instead, the platform gained even more users, totaling 92 million in 2022.
Distance learning programs serve this growing number of online students with education at all levels. NCES reports that in the 2019-20 academic year, mainly online colleges granted the following:
- 150,201 associate degrees
- 297,976 degrees
- 144,692 master’s degrees
- 14,380 doctorates
- Students who identify as men earned 37% to 39% of these degrees, while students who identify as women earned 61% to 63%.
Students in primarily online schools make up 14.7% of all college and university enrollment. They earn:
- 14.8% of all associate degrees
- 14.6% of all bachelor’s degrees
- 17.2% of all master’s degrees
Online doctoral programs are relatively rare; distance students earn only 7.6% of all doctoral degrees.