Many people today are attracted to an online education because of its inherent benefits. In fact, the growing trend is to take formal elearning courses since it allows professionals to gain new skills (and sometimes certifications) at their own convenience while still pursing a career.
The advantages of distance elearning for education goes beyond the corporate environment. There are many educational institutions turning to this teaching method in both higher education and in the K-12 space.
Interestingly, studies are showing that online students are actually outperforming their peers (see the infographic below, created by Independence.edu).
That said, I don’t think that this is the scenario for all online course students. For example, the completion rates for massive open online courses (MOOCs) are quite dismal. Only a small fraction of students actually complete the entire course and its requirements.
There could be many reasons to explain this, but I believe the primary one is based on incentive. While many people have an inherent desire to learn, having an incentive to do well and finish the course is a critical component.
In traditional education, this translates to getting a passing grade and some form of credit (such as actual university credit). For professional training organizations, this can be in the form of a certificate, or points towards accreditation (also known as continuing education units).
The point is, people are often motivated by obtaining rewards of some kind. So in order for an online course to have adequate completion rates, it really should be associated with some kind of benefit.