After a swift surge, online enrollment growth has slightly slipped. Emphasis on the “slightly,” however, because the popularity is still apparent, with more than 7.1 million students taking at least one online course, according to a study released Wednesday by the Babson Survey Research Group.

The 6.1 percent growth rate represents the lowest in a decade. The dip is one reflected in the faculty. The percentage of chief academic leaders claiming online learning is critical to their long-term strategy dropped from 69.1 to 65.9 this year. The pool of academic leaders who rated online education’s learning outcomes as the same or superior to the outcomes produced from face-to-face interaction also fell from 77 to 74.1 percent.

Jeff Seaman, co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group, assured in a statement, “Institutions with online offerings remain as positive as ever about online learning.” Yet, he did add, “There has been a retreat among leaders at institutions that do not have any online offerings.”

A mere five percent of higher education institutions currently offer a massive open online course, while another 9.3 percent report MOOCs are in the planning stages. Locally renowned is online learning nonprofit edX, jointly founded by Harvard and MIT. Thirty institutions, home and abroad, are now utilizing the platform to deliver free online courses.

Unfortunately, the study found that less than 25 percent of academic leaders find MOOCs a sustainable method for offering online courses. Todd Hitchcock, senior vice president of Pearson Online Learning Services, suggested a shift in attitude, however, arguing that “the need to provide relevant educational opportunities that will help students meet their career goals” is core to growing the country’s economy.

Pearson provided financial support for the report alongside The Sloan Consortium. Both have deemed online learning of the utmost importance, and are encouraging more institutions to jump on board.

As former MIT President Susan Hockfield said when edX launched in May 2012:

Today, in higher education, generally, you can choose to view this era as one of threatening change and unsettling volatility, or you can see it as a moment charged with the most exciting possibilities presented to educators in our lifetimes. […] Online education is not an enemy of residential education, but rather a profoundly liberating and inspiring ally.

More than 7.1 million people appear to agree.

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