New Report Helps Define Future Online Learner

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A new report called "The Future Online Learner," analyzes potential online learners--those who are not currently enrolled in education--and brings clarity to the motivations, aspirations, and interests that future online learners have. The findings are based on a survey of more than 1,000 potential online students conducted by Diagnostics Plus, a market research and intelligence firm specializing in educational research and assessment. The survey is unique because it is designed to predict market potential, and who the online learner will be next year and beyond. Online learners are characterized in four distinct profiles: career climbers, mid-life changers, perfection seekers and content dreamers.

Most reports, such as the Sloan-C distance education report, seek to define who the online learner is and what the market is like right now

Are potential online students considering a degree because they're trying to climb the corporate ladder or looking to make the jump to another company? Are students trying to perfect their skills, or maybe their enthusiasm for online education is only wishful thinking.

A new report called "The Future Online Learner," analyzes potential online learners--those who are not currently enrolled in education--and characterizes them into four distinct profiles based on demographics and psychographics: career climbers, mid-life changers, perfection seekers and content dreamers.

"Most reports, such as the Sloan-C distance education report, seek to define who the online learner is and what the market is like right now," said Jim Fong, president of Diagnostics Plus, the research firm that conducted the study. "We wanted to look forward--show who the online learner will be next year and beyond and what they are expecting from online learning."

The survey and analysis of more than 1,000 potential online students is unique in how it compares the online students to the broader adult-learner population and even the overall U.S. adult population. These analyses help distinguish the unique aspects of each future online learner profile.

"Most adults are motivated by the same benefits of education--job promotion, pay raise, job change--but all four groups do different things, want different degrees and have different triggers that bring them to online education."

"While this study does support previous findings about the predicted growth in online learning, we sought to bring the clarity to the motivations, aspirations, and interests that future online learners have."

According to the study, the future online learner generally tends to be a female, in her late 30s who works full-time and has a household income above $50,000.

Although five times as many online students are presently enrolled in an undergraduate program as compared to a graduate program, the online learning market may actually have more potential for master's degrees or other graduate offerings.

"This study focuses on market potential, not where the market is presently," said Fong.

"Many online students may be traditional learners who are taking a course or two online. This certainly makes them online students, but not necessarily the best type of student from a market potential standpoint."

The study's executive summary is available on the Diagnostics Plus website, where the entire 126-page report can also be purchased.

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Diagnostics Plus is a full-service market research and intelligence firm specializing in educational research and needs assessments, as well as developing marketing strategies. The company was founded in 1987 and currently serves over a dozen colleges and universities.

Jim Fong is co-author of Marketing Distance Education: Strategy and Context, to be published in the International Handbook of Distance Education in April, 2008.

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