When Swinburne Online launched in 2012, it attracted 2400 students.
In the space of four years, this figure has grown fourfold, with almost 10,000 students enrolled this year.
A little more than one-quarter of the student body at Swinburne is studying online.
“The growth has been absolutely huge,” Swinburne Online academic executive director Sue Kokonis said.
“The largest proportion is made up of mature-age students, but we also estimate about 25 per cent are studying in remote or rural areas.”
Ms Kokonis said, in the past, online learning had been seen as a back-up measure for students who, due to location or personal circumstance, would not have been able to attend uni otherwise.
But now it offers a suite of advantages.
“There is obviously a great deal of flexibility to online learning,” Ms Kokonis said.
“You have milestones that you have to meet as part of the course, but you can choose when you do them, as long as you make the deadline.”
Ms Kokonis said if given the choice between an equally qualified on-campus student and an online one, she would choose to employ the latter.
“That sounds biased, but I do think studying online gives you certain traits,” she said.
“It shows you are tech-savvy and, most importantly, it shows you are self-disciplined.”
According to the Head of Data and Analysis at Good Education Group, Ross White, there is no doubt online learning is the way of the future.
The independent education information provider has seen more than a 100 per cent increase in searches for open online courses on their website, and more than 500 per cent increase in searches for online study modes in the past 12 months.
Regional universities are often at the forefront of the online learning charge.
At the University of Southern Queensland, for example, only 10 per cent of the student body is made up of full-time, on-campus students.
“You can imagine how different that atmosphere is compared to say Monash University, where a large portion of the campus is full time, on campus,” Mr White said.
The growth in online learning is markedly evident in postgraduate studies.
“The number of Masters by coursework programs offered entirely off-campus in 2005 was around 180, but today that number is closer to 380,” Mr White said.
At Bachelor level the trend has been more subdued.
“We have not seen a sudden influx of courses that are only offered online, but we have seen a marked rise in the number of courses offered in ‘mixed mode’,” he said.
For example, according to Good Education Group figures, the Southern Cross University in NSW offered about 15 bachelor courses in mixed mode in 2005, while today it offers more than 30.
Part of the wider growth in online learning can be attributed to an increased uptake of qualifications among professionals.
“There is a need for a higher basic level of education across many sectors,” Mr White said.
“The number of opportunities for people with only Year 12 qualifications are shrinking. A degree is becoming the new minimum.”
There is no truth to any assertion that student satisfaction suffers either, as a result of learning conducted exclusively online.
According to Mr White, the University of New England has one of the highest satisfaction ratings among students of any university.
“It received a score of 86 per cent student satisfaction for teaching quality,” he said.
“That’s a very high rating and suggests a terrific experience for students.”
To search for Australian online courses and providers, visit www.gooduniversitiesguide.com.au.
This article originally appeared in The Weekly Times – VCE options: Swinburne Online study popularity soars