New Report Highlights Outcomes of Digital Learning on Campus

The Arizona State University Action Lab at EdPlus and The Boston Consulting Group have released Making Digital Learning Work, a report that highlights new findings about the impact of digital learning on student access, outcomes, and cost. Rooted in the study of initiatives at six two- and four-year public institutions, the project was designed to inform the field with a quantitative understanding of the return on investment for digital learning programs. The evidence surfaced in the study suggests that colleges and universities looking to grow enrollment, expand access to high-quality education, improve student performance, and do so at lower cost, should consider investing in high-quality digital learning.



“We are now seeing how scaled digital learning environments circumnavigate barriers of time and space, decrease time to completion amidst a radical demographic shift, and provide pathways for unprecedented program completion,” says Lou Pugliese, Managing Director and Senior Education Fellow, EdPlus at ASU. “The maturity of digital technologies has given way to new design methods that now allow institutions to more effectively address the unique set of specific learner needs in order to sustain in their academic journey.”

The project selected six institutions to study from a total pool of 50, including three four-year institutions (Arizona State University, Georgia State University, and the University of Central Florida) and three two-year institutions (Houston Community College, Rio Salado College, and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System).

On-site analyses, conducted by the Boston Consulting Group with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, examined a range of modalities, including fully online courses, hybrid programs, adaptive technology, and open educational resources. The report’s findings center on three primary institutional objectives:

  • Improving student outcomes and affordability, including higher retention and graduation rates for students who took least some portion of their degree program online. Additionally, students who took some courses online graduated faster, saving them tuition and fees and allowing them to return or enter the workforce sooner.
  • Expanding access: By moving beyond the traditional academic year, offering blended learning modalities and increasing the number of enrollment periods to accommodate work and family commitments, the institutions increased the total volume of student enrollment and the proportion of specific populations, including Pell Grant-eligible students, older or female students.
  • Reducing operational costs: Ongoing investments in support of high-quality implementation of digital learning are largely offset by lower costs associated with delivering digital learning. At four of the institutions in the study, the savings for online courses ranged from $12 to $66 per credit hour, representing differences from 3% to 50% less than the average cost per credit hour.

The report identified seven promising practices from the case study institutions that colleges and universities can adopt to implement successful digital learning approaches:

  • Develop a portfolio of different digital delivery models tailored to the particular needs of the institution’s student populations;
  • Build the capabilities and expertise to ensure quality courses and curricula given the unique challenges and opportunities in the digital realm;
  • Offer a network of tailored student success services for online learners;
  • Engage faculty as partners by ensuring they play a role in key decisions, and providing professional development for teaching online;
  • Create a central team to manage the institution’s digital learning portfolio ensuring it remains a high priority and sustains momentum;
  • Tap outside vendors strategically to accelerate innovation, expand capabilities and boost enrollment;
  • Develop strong analytical capabilities and reporting systems to engage in continuous improvement.

To learn more and to download a full copy of the report, please visit:

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