The Shifting Voice of the Online Learner

Last updated on: October 5, 2022

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Online learning has evolved substantially in the last 11 years we’ve surveyed students— especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. Some new trends from last year have developed further, resulting in a divergent, nuanced, and potentially transitory mix of preferences. Voice of the Online Learner 2022 takes a closer look at online students’ shifting behaviors, views, and ways of selecting programs.

Click the image below to view the full infographic.

Key Trends Post-Pandemic
Improved Views of Online Learning

Pre-Pandemic: 86% viewed online learning positively
Now: 94% view online learning positively

Two Types of Online Learners

The pandemic brought a new group of learners online whose age and preferences distinguish them from legacy online students.

Pandemic-Driven Online Learners

• Learns online initially due to the pandemic
• Skews under the age of 25
• More likely to prefer in-person instruction
• Open to synchronous sessions, whether in-person or online
• More likely to switch to an on-campus program in the future

Traditional Online Learners

• Learns online due to inherent preference
• Skews over the age of 25
• Prioritizes the flexibility of online learning
• Somewhat open to occasional synchronous sessions
• Less likely to transfer to an on-campus program

Top Factors at Each Decision Stage

Multiple elements influence learners as they consider their educational options. Here are the top factors:

#1 Overall Factor: Modality
77% learners who decided on the online modality before any other factor

Online Options Motivate Them to Apply

Fewer learners today would enroll in an on-campus program if their preferred program wasn’t offered online.
56% of all students in 2017
37% of all students in 2022

If the desired program wasn’t available online at the school of choice, learners would:
60%: find the program online at another school
21%: enroll in the on-campus program at the same school
13%: enroll in a different program online at the same school
6%: not enroll in a program

Top Three Factors: Consideration Stage

With modality as their primary guidepost, other reasons influence learners’ program choices at the consideration and decision stages.
82%: particular field of study
74%: tuition and fees
68%: time to complete the program

Top Three Factors: Decision Stage
59%: affordability
33%: time to completion
32%: accreditation

Cost is key but not always king.

Although tuition and fees are a top factor, learners’ priorities fall on a spectrum regarding cost.

Cost-first learners
33%: Tuition for my preferred program is the lowest among the programs I evaluated.

Structure- and content- first learners
33%: My tuition is higher than some, but the program’s convenience and its format, schedule, and location are ideal for me.
20%: My tuition is higher than some, but the content is what I want.

Reputation-first learners
14%: The school and the program I chose have the best reputation regardless of tuition.

Learnersʼ Top Challenges: Finances and Enrollment

Most Learners Receive Financial Assistance
55%: current and recently graduated online learners who received financial help

Types of financial help learners received:
24%: tuition discounts
21%: scholarships
16%: free textbooks
14%: locked-in tuition rates
11%: free technology equipment
5%: a free course

Enrollment Logistics Trouble Learners
Other than finances, navigating the enrollment process tops learners’ list of concerns.

Top 5 challenging parts of the admissions process:
36%: determining how to pay for school
30%: gathering transcripts
27%: completing financial aid forms
18%: getting previous credits transferred
16%: gathering recommendations

65%: undergraduate learners with credits to transfer into their next program

Top Motivations:
Valuable Career Outcomes

Online Learners Highly Value a College Education
Enrollment declines across higher ed indicate questions about going to college, but the online learners we surveyed value their education highly

What learners think about their education:
85%: their online degree program is worth their time
83%: their degree will be very important in helping them achieve their goals
79%: a college degree can lead people to better jobs

Career Goals Motivate Them to Learn
Learners are not only motivated by specific career goals, but they’re also likely to achieve them.
As illustrated below, a single factor influencing a student’s decision to pursue degrees can lead to
multiple positive outcomes.

Student’s Top Goals

40%: overall to increase/better my job prospects

38%: career advancement/promotion within my current profession

35%: to get my first professional/salaried job

32%: switch to a career that is more aligned with my interests

31%: switch to a new career to earn more money

30%: salary increase within my current profession

10%: employer or industry requirement to advance my career

8%: returning to the workforce

5%: employer or industry requirement to keep current job

Outcomes Achieved

36%: salary increase

29%: have more marketable skills and/or certifications in the workforce

26%: got a new job

26%: increased confidence in the workplace

22%: switched my career

20%: promotion at work

19%: started my career

18%: increased responsibilities at work

6%: met employer/industry requirements

Download your copy of Voice of the Online Learner 2022

Dive deeper into this year’s unique finings.
Download Voice of the Online Learner 2022 today.

All percentages have been rounded. If the total percentage is substantially more than 100%, respondents were allowed to chose more than one option.

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