Online learning has been developing quickly in 2012 with the emergence of services like MOOCs. While opinion about the value of online courses vary, the most optimistic population turns out to be college presidents.

The majority of American college presidents find value in online learning

With the development of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs), 2012 saw the emergence of a new trend in higher education: its democratization, online. Both Udacity and Coursera, two for-profit startups offering MOOCs, were founded by former Stanford professors in early 2012, and were shortly followed by Harvard and the MIT who announced in May their collaboration on a non-profit MOOC enterprise called edX. While some question the value of online learning, top American universities are obviously embracing it. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center even reports that American college presidents believe online learning actually has great value for students – a belief that isn’t shared by the general public*.

College presidents, more optimistic than the general public…

When asked about the value of online learning, college presidents, students and the general public disagree. 51% of college presidents (private, public and for profit institutions) consider that generally speaking, “a course taken online provides an equal educational value compared with a course taken in person in a classroom.” College presidents who believe that the role of higher education is to prepare students to the professional world are more likely to agree with this statement than those who consider the mission is to “promote personal and intellectual growth” – 59% versus 40%. By contrast, only 29% of the general public and 22% of college graduates consider online learning equal to in-class learning. However, respondents who have taken online classes are more enthusiastic about them than others.

…Tend to believe that online learning will keep growing

Pew Research interviewed 1,055 college presidents in the United States, 77% of which reported that their institution provides online courses “for which the instruction takes places exclusively online.” 30% of the college presidents said that one quarter of undergraduate students in their institution have taken at least one online course and 29% reported that between a quarter and half of undergraduates have taken online courses. Only 14% said that over half of their students have taken online classes. While the trend of online learning is still new, 50% of college presidents believe that it will grow and that in ten years, most students will take online courses. 


*Pew Research Center, "The Digital Revolution and Higher Education", published in August 2011.

By Alice Gillet
English editorial manager