New Report from Quality Matters™ and Eduventures® Research Details Increase in Learner Demand for Online and Hybrid Higher Education Courses

August 15, 2023

Hundreds of Chief Online Officers surveyed describe how institutions of higher learning are responding to changing student preferences by increasing focus on digital modalities.

Annapolis, Maryland – August 15, 2023: Quality Matters and Eduventures Research, a division of Encoura, announce the eighth edition of the annual Changing Landscape of Online Education (CHLOE) Report, in which the authors compile important perspectives on the state of online and hybrid learning in higher education. CHLOE 8 focuses on a major shift in the industry — the increasing demand for courses in these newer modalities among learners and simultaneous decline in demand for in-person learning relative to pre-pandemic levels. The report also illuminates some of the ways institutions of higher learning are responding to this demand. The report aggregates the results of a winter 2023 survey of hundreds of chief online officers (COOs) at higher education institutions — individuals most centrally involved in digital learning efforts.

Learner Demand

CHLOE 8 reveals that learner demand for online education remains undoubtedly on the rise. Though this demand spiked during the surge of emergency distance learning in the initial months of COVID-19, CHLOE 8 shows that it continues to gain traction in the post-pandemic era and has likely not yet reached its peak. “The CHLOE 8 report captures the dynamic, uncertain moment after the ‘emergency remote learning’ of the pandemic,” says Richard Garrett, CHLOE Co-Director and Eduventures Chief Research Officer, Encoura. “The crisis has faded but experience and expectations have changed.”

This demand is perhaps most apparent when observing enrollment trends by modality. “While national reporting has indicated a modest decrease in total enrollment in US higher education, there continues to be robust growth in online enrollment,” says Dr. Eric Fredericksen, CHLOE Contributing Editor and Associate Vice President for Online Learning for the University of Rochester. This assessment is supported by the responses to CHLOE 8: while 81% of COOs surveyed report that enrollment in traditional, face-to-face courses has stagnated or declined at their institutions, 56% of respondents report growth or strong growth in enrollment in online and hybrid programs.

Institutional Response

CHLOE 8 also provides a window into the ways institutions are responding to the changing landscape, painting a picture of an industry scrambling to adapt to this demand in order to retain and recruit students who prefer online and hybrid courses. The dramatic shift in learner preference places institutions in a difficult scenario, with many facing pressure to quickly reprioritize but possessing less enrollment-generated funding on hand to allocate to such an undertaking. This compounds an already complex set of factors that impact the ability for schools to adapt, such as state and institutional policy, campus culture and leadership, competing priorities, and access to resources. “For many institutions struggling with enrollment and revenue levels, success in building online capacity may spell the difference between viability and crisis in the next decade,” says Dr. Ron Legon, CHLOE Senior Editor and Executive Director Emeritus of Quality Matters.

The survey provides a wealth of additional insights into how demand for digital modalities is impacting higher education:

  • Most institutions are taking steps to meet the rising demand for online learning. According to CHLOE 8 respondents, half of the institutions surveyed have begun to address demand for online learning in their strategic plans and resource allocations, and steps to do so are currently under discussion in another 36% of responding schools. This is remarkably rapid change in a normally slow-moving field like higher education.
  • Only a small minority are not considering changing their strategic plans. Of the 15% that are not, more than half (9% of the total) are still committed to finding ways to accommodate online/hybrid learning options.
  • The primary way institutions are adjusting to this shift is by increasing online options. 66% of COOs shared that their institutions are adding new online programs based on student demand, citing higher enrollment growth for online and hybrid programs across all student groups.
  • At many institutions, neither faculty nor students are adequately prepared for online learning. Only 22% of COOs reported that a high proportion of their full-time faculty (70+%) have experience designing online courses, and few schools require orientation prior to learners starting an online learning course, despite the fact that research shows that orientation boosts student success.
  • Online learning technology investment has slowed and become more selective, as institutions work to consolidate the fruits of a pandemic-driven spending surge. At the time of survey, no participating institution had yet implemented institution-wide adoption of any of the technologies and capabilities inquired about in CHLOE 8.
  • Institutions are not yet effectively leveraging the differentiating power of quality in online learning by emphasizing student success in online and hybrid modalities in their marketing materials. “At a time when we’re seeing consistent and rising demand for online learning, most chief online officers are still not communicating institutional efforts around quality online learning,” says Dr. Bethany Simunich, CHLOE Co-Director and QM Vice President of Innovation and Research. “This practice of ‘quiet quality assurance’ seems a lost opportunity for institutions pursuing new student audiences.”

The CHLOE 8 Report solidifies the unwavering strength of online enrollment in both undergraduate and graduate education,” says Dr. Mike Truong, PhD, Director of Faculty Development and Associate Professor at Azusa Pacific University. “Despite the ongoing challenges and decline faced by traditional face-to-face enrollment, demand for online programs remains robust. Those educational institutions that overlook this prevailing trend will bear the consequences themselves.”

The full report can be downloaded from either the Quality Matters or Eduventures websites.

Since 2016, QM and Eduventures Research have partnered to fill the knowledge gap about how online learning is being managed at post-secondary institutions in the United States. CHLOE surveys have produced in-depth yearly reports, including a special report on the pivot to remote teaching in 2020. The principal authors of the report are Richard Garrett, CHLOE Co-Director and Eduventures Chief Research Officer, Encoura; Dr. Bethany Simunich, CHLOE Co-Director and Vice President of Innovation and Research, QM; Dr. Ron Legon, CHLOE Senior Editor and Executive Director, Emeritus, QM; and Dr. Eric Fredericksen, CHLOE Contributing Editor and Associate Vice President for Online Learning, University of Rochester.

CHLOE 8 was made possible through the support of the CHLOE Advisory Panel; Platinum sponsor iDesign, Gold sponsors Archer Education and JoVE, and Affiliate the Online Learning Consortium.

Dr. Bethany Simunich and Richard Garrett are available for comment:


Grounded in research. Driven by best practices. A community that puts learners first. Quality Matters (QM) is the global organization leading quality assurance in online and innovative digital teaching and learning environments. It provides a scalable quality assurance system for online and blended learning used within and across organizations. When you see QM Certification Marks on courses or programs, it means they have met QM Course Design Standards or QM Program Review Criteria in a rigorous review process.

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