NEW YORK (MainStreet) —  Online classes certainly offer convenience, but opinions of their educational value vary dramatically depending on the source.

The Pew Research Center surveyed regular Americans and college presidents and found that the educators have more faith in online learning than the public. According to the survey, only 29% of the general public believes a course taken online provides an equal educational value to one taken in a classroom, while more than half of college presidents (51%) feel that way.

This may not be surprising, since the survey also found that more than three-quarters of the nation's colleges and universities offer online classes.

Additionally, despite the assertion they weren’t up to snuff, one in four college graduates (23%) have opted to take courses online.

“Over the past decade, enrollment in online courses at colleges and universities around the country has grown at a greater rate than overall higher education enrollment,” Pew writes in its report. It cites two surveys, conducted by the College Board and the Babson Survey Research Group, that found the number of students at degree-granting post-secondary institutions taking at least one online course increased by 21% from the fall of 2008 to the fall of 2009. During the same period, total enrollment at institutions of higher learning increased by only 1.2%.

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The survey indicates that the public had better get on board with online classes or risk missing out on this growing learning option.

According to Pew, college presidents predict substantial growth in online learning. Fifteen percent say most of their current undergraduate students have taken a class online, while half predict that 10 years from now most of their students will take classes online.

As for classrooms, they’re also only going to get increasingly virtual. Nearly two-thirds of college presidents (62%) anticipate that 10 years from now, more than half of the textbooks used by their undergraduate students will be entirely digital.

More than half of recent college graduates (57%) say they used laptops, smartphones or tablet computers in class at least sometimes, and only 2% of college presidents said these types of devices were prohibited at their institutions.

Pew’s findings are drawn from surveys conducted in spring 2011. One was conducted by telephone interviews with 2,142 adults 18 and older nationwide, while the other was done online in association with the Chronicle of Higher Education and includes responses from presidents of 1,055 colleges and universities in the U.S.

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