Who Is Learning Online?

The following are not taken from peer reviewed literature so these numbers have not been vetted and the integrity of the sampling is uncertain. Nonetheless, like any public polling of public candidates, these surveys probably carry some degree of representation. Thus, these figures may still be of some interest. All of the figures shown here are copied without the permission of the authors but the sources are appropriately cited. As an appetizer, here is the first bit from Edudemic.com:

Above figure copied from

In a difference of 11 years (2002 to 2013), the average age of an online learner has increased from 27 to 34. The title of the above figure "Slow shift in user demographics" says it all. It seems like online learning is stuck with one generation. The increase in average age is quite remarkable. It is unlikely that online learning is attracting older users to offset a younger generation that maybe joining the crowd. What is more likely is that online learning is failing to attract new learners from both old and young, and that the learners this year are more or less identical to the users a decade ago. This is almost like music or fashion, a generation identifies with it.

Online learning has also been heralded as an access enabler. It is useful then to compare the demographics of online learners against those of traditional schools. The following are copied from David B. Glick & Associates, LLC. In this series of figures, the online population provided by US programs under the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) is compared against that of the traditional United States K-12 schools, which represents the general population. The first criterion is gender and in this, it seems online learning is biased towards female students.

Above figured copied from
"The Demographics of Online Students and Teachers in the United States 2010-11"

Another factor worth examining is race or ethnicity. The following shows that with th exception of native Americans, the online population is more "white" than the general population:

Above figured copied from
"The Demographics of Online Students and Teachers in the United States 2010-11"

Public K-12 schools need to serve students with special needs. In this group, there are special education, English-language learners, and students who come from poor families, those who are designated to be eligible for free or reduced-price lunch meals. The figure below shows that online learning is not serving this segment of the K-12 population as much as traditional schools do:

Above figured copied from
"The Demographics of Online Students and Teachers in the United States 2010-11"
The above data provide an important picture of online learning, a perspective that may be dramatically different from the promise of equity and access online learning makes. The claim that online education can liberalize, the promise that online education can provide greater access and equity are challenged by the above figures. Seeing these data and figures, "disruptive technology" looks more like "status quo".


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