How Is Online Education Viewed Around the World?

Online education has exploded over the last decade. Globally, students have flocked in large numbers to web-only schools and, increasingly, online versions of traditional campus programs to earn the credentials they need to get a good job. Its public perception notwithstanding, the demand for online education has continued to ratchet up, leaving employers and the general public to weigh in on a burning question: Is the virtual classroom just as good as its on-campus counterpart?  Here, we explore how online education is viewed around the world.

Participation and Credibility

Online education has grown tremendously around the world in recent decades. With this growth, public awareness has increased and the stigma initially attached to online classes has decreased. This is especially true in Western countries with significant online offerings. It’s also true in Asia-Pacific nations like China and India, where demand for access to higher education continues to rise by 20 percent a year. Today, online education is a multibillion-dollar global industry dominated by the U.S. and Europe, which together control 70 percent of the e-learning sector. In the U.S., over three-quarters of universities offer online courses. High-profile institutions like Johns Hopkins, Stanford, Duke and MIT have created their own online programming, giving the American market a major credibility boost.

Positive Perceptions

Proponents like online education because of the flexibility and convenience afforded to students and the cost savings realized by institutions. These advantages have driven the increase of offerings and earned online programs a more positive reputation. Many employers don’t question the quality of online programs as long as they are accredited, recruiters say. The Society for Human Resource Management notes that employer views of online education have improved over the last decade. Additionally, certain types of e-learning have enjoyed a comparatively rosy outlook. Many IT employers, for example, emphasize proven skills over credentials and don’t care where the skills were first learned. Further, it seems many employers have begun to accept the parity of online MBAs, believing that web degrees help prepare students for real-world challenges since much international business is now conducted remotely over the Internet.

Negative Perceptions

A college degree functions to provide information about a job applicant’s ability to survive and thrive in a particular employment setting. There is still plenty of skepticism as to whether online degree programs can provide this information as accurately as brick-and-mortar institutions. Online college coursework continues to draw more criticism than traditional campus classes. In 2013, a Gallup poll found most Americans think online education is a good value and offers individualized instruction, but they express doubt about employers’ views on the matter. This perception of employers’ negative views is not unfounded. In 2013, for instance, a majority of U.S. employers confirmed they still prefer a campus degree from an average school over an online degree from a top institution, Public Agenda reports.

Changing Views

Overall, popular perceptions of online education have moved from mostly negative to somewhat positive over the last ten years. But perceptions still vary widely between groups, and skepticism is still at least as normal as acceptance. Yet the market is still in its infancy, and the future of online education is still unwritten. The next years should be instructive as to whether the meteoric growth of online education will boost or sour its perception globally.

Take a look at “Going Global: Online Education Around the World” for more information.