Attitudes Toward Online Learning Improve Post Pandemic: Report

Wiley’s annual Voice of the Online Learner Report finds online learners are primarily motivated by career outcomes

Positive attitudes toward online learning have increased to their highest levels yet among learners who use it, according to Wiley’s annual Voice of the Online Learner Report, issued today.

The vast majority - 94% of online learners in the survey said they have a positive or very positive view of online learning, up from 86% before the pandemic. And 83% said they would learn online again.

Among graduated online learners, 87% reported achieving an outcome they can attribute to their degrees, such as obtaining a salary increase or more marketable skills.

The report is based on a national survey of 2,500 adult respondents enrolled or planning to enroll in an online degree or certificate program. It’s the 11th such annual survey conducted by Wiley’s University Services division, a global provider of technology-enabled education solutions to meet the evolving needs of universities, corporations and learners.

Pandemic-driven online learners persist, but lack commitment

Last year’s report identified a new group of pandemic-driven online learners, who hadn’t considered a fully online program before the pandemic forced many institutions to shift to remote instruction in early 2020. This segment of online learners persisted this year, representing a third of the respondents.

There are doubts, however, about whether this group will stick with online learning moving forward. Pandemic-driven learners in the survey, who skew younger than traditional online learners, were more likely to prefer in-person than online instruction and around a third expressed a likelihood to return to campus-based learning in the future.

Nevertheless, commitment to online learning remains strong among respondents overall. More respondents reported a fundamental preference for online learning this year than previously, and 77% said the fact that it was online was the most important factor in their decision to learn remotely this year. In fact, 60% said they’d choose an equivalent remote program at a different school if their preferred college or university didn’t offer the program online.

Online learners motivated by career outcomes

Online learners are largely motivated by career outcomes. The top-mentioned factors that influenced respondents’ decision to pursue a degree are improving their job prospects (40%), advancing their careers (38%), and starting their careers (35%).

Changing careers is the next largest motivation, such as switching to a career that aligns with their interests (32%) and switching to earn more money (31%).

Many don’t use available employer-sponsored tuition benefits

Nearly half of online learners with access to employer-paid tuition assistance benefits reported they won’t or aren’t planning to use them. This is despite the fact that affordability remains a top factor in choosing one program over another: Nearly one-third of online learners say an annual scholarship of as little as $500 would make a difference in their choice and nearly half of the learners said the same for a $1,000 scholarship amid mounting inflationary pressures.

Why don’t they use these benefits? Respondents cite two main concerns: They feel their employer benefits don’t cover enough tuition and they worry about having to pay back their employer if they leave the company before finishing their program.

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