Has the online course market reached saturation? The data says…

Analysis of Education Department data finds no significant growth for the first time

The number of students enrolling in online higher education courses has stagnated, according to the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), leading some to believe the market is saturated.

Phil Hill, education technology consultant and "E-Literate" blog author, analyzed data from the fall 2013 semester and found the first ever lack of statistically significant growth for online course enrollment.

How do you define MOOC success?

For ten years, online enrollment grew consistently, according to combined data from the Babson Survey Research Group (BSRG) and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

Although the number of students taking at least one online course rose by 1.4%, or roughly 78,000 students, "there is too much noise in the data for this to be considered real growth," writes Hill.

For example, Suffolk County Community College reported a roughly 21,600-student increase in individuals taking at least one online course from 2012 to 2013, but that, says Hill, was because of a change in data reporting, not actual growth.

If other sources of data confirm the slowdown, it could significantly affect the industry, Hill argues, because many have assumed the course enrollment numbers will continue to increase. Currently, data shows 27.1% of students were enrolled in at least one online-only course (Button, EducationDive, 1/8; Hill, "e-Literate," 1/6).

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