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The number of students taking college courses online is on the rise, according to a new study from a group that promotes online education.

The study by the Sloan Consortium found that 3.2 million students took at least one course online in the fall of 2005, up 35 percent from the previous year, said Elaine Allen, a co-author of the report and a professor at Babson College.

Allen said that growth in online learning is most noted at community colleges, but the trend is spreading across all types of institutions of higher education, she said.

But Nora Lewis, director of enrollment management at Penn's College of General Studies, said that CGS generally offers only one or two undergraduate courses online each semester.

Lewis added that CGS is actively looking to extend its online learning offerings.

CGS is the only school at Penn offering online courses for undergraduates right now, but some graduate schools - including the Wharton School, the Graduate School of Education and the Dental School - offer them as well.

Allen attributed the nationwide growth - which she expects to continue - to the fact that many schools think online learning fits into their overall plan for the future.

Online learning "is one way to reach a whole new group of students," she said.

This group includes students who are older, working and may have families, Allen said, adding that the convenience of taking a course online is another factor driving the trend.

Fore example, she said, thousands of American soldiers are taking online courses from Iraq.

Michael Cancro, a Pathology professor in the School of Medicine, said that he has taught an undergraduate course in immunology online through CGS every spring since 2000.

The course consists of live streaming video, which allows students to communicate with him remotely.

The online course is exactly the same as the course he teaches in person in the fall, he said.

Cancro added that some students even prefer taking the course online because they "like to watch the lecture in pajamas, eating popcorn."

A number of his online students don't attend Penn but can get credit for his course at their own schools, he said.

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