Students in the 21st century demand a life-long learning on a mouse-click. The educational market certainly has recognized and dominantly accepted the widespread trend towards gaining additional qualifications through the online education. The steady growth of electronic learning communities has been and continues to be remarkable. The research firm Eduventures, Inc. released an independent study on the distance learning education in the USA, showing that the market for fully online degree programs is growing at an annual rate of forty percent. Each year more than half a million students enroll in fully online degree-granting programs, generating billions in tuition.
Another independent study of distance education field identified three core aspects of its mainstreaming. The first one is a stakeholder acceptance of distance learning. The second reason is a convergence of core components of distance and traditional education. The last one is an integration of the whole system of distance education (DE) into the more established traditional higher education system.
Certainly, the distance education mainstreaming would be impossible, if the distance learning was not so appealing to its target audience. As statistics shows, the main audience enrolling in online degree programs is a non-traditional adult learner (beyond the traditional eighteen to twenty two year cohort) at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Adult students try to balance work and family demands with a part-time degree completion. That independent study notes the aspects that appeal to the adult learner primarily and include a flexibility of time, convenience of working from home or office and culturally diverse group interactions.
The audience contains those individuals already working in the business disciplines with fluctuating schedules. These professionals sometimes find they are working in remote locations, or employed across the broad expanses of the management, accounting, hospitality, sports and related business segments. In addition, individuals, working in such areas as event planning and sport facilities management services, have schedules that preclude the attendance at regularly scheduled classes. The other groups are comprised of international learners, seeking courses or degrees at the U.S. universities. Another niche, according to the independent study, consists of out-of-state traditional students. They would like to continue a coursework at their college or university during the summer months from their hometowns and cities through programs, which use distance-learning techniques. Finally, students, who are working in full-time internships away from a campus, may continue their course work through asynchronous online methods.
In electronic learning communities adult learners experience educational practices that honor and empower them. They develop and enhance skills, competencies, attitudes, values and habits of mind, which enable the learners to competently meet personal needs and professional challenges.