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Online Learning Environments: Factors Related to Success Article Reviews
MCTE 661: Online Learning Environments Professor Dringus Winter 2003 February 20, 2003
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Table of Contents Background………………………………………………………………………….3 Overcoming Barriers to Successful Delivery of Distance-Learning Courses………3 An Analysis of Students’ Preparation for the Virtual Learning Environment……...6 Satisfaction of College Students With the Digital Learning Environment: Do Learners’ Temperaments Make a Difference?……………………………….… 9 Teaching Over the Web Versus in the Classroom: Differences in the Instructor Experience………………………………………………………………..12 An Examination of Asynchronous Communication Experiences and Perspectives of Students in an Online Course: A Case Study………………………15 Implications…………………………………………………………………………18 References…………………………………………………………………………...21
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Background In a search to understand more about factors which make online learning environments successful, five research studies were found and evaluated. Among the factors covered in these articles are a discussion of aspects that need to be overcome in successful OLEs, students’ perspectives on these aspects, factors which relate to students’ satisfaction of OLEs, differences in teaching styles between traditional instructors and those in OLEs, and an examination of asynchronous communication in terms of effective implementation.
Overcoming Barriers to Successful Delivery of Distance-Learning Courses Alexander, M., Perreault, H., Waldman, L., & Zhao, J. (2002). Overcoming barriers to successful delivery of distance-learning courses. Journal of Education for Business, 77(6), 313. Problem The study by Alexander, Perreault, Waldman, and Zhao (2002) discusses problems that can become obstacles in online learning environments from the viewpoints of instructors that have taught courses online. The main focus of the study was to discover these problems, as well as discuss aspects that could remedy these problems to create an exceptional online learning environment.
Summary With the purpose to identify problems in distance learning and the means for overcoming them, the authors in this study included a comprehensive literature review to
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discuss past problems with the delivery of distance learning, which were identified by previous authors’ research. Among these problems identified were students’ problems with technology utilized in the delivery of programs and the limited preparation of instructors which designed courses. Benefits from the previous literature were also identified, such as distance learning presenting opportunities for students at a distance to complete course and degree requirements. To uncover the problems of online distance education, the authors developed a survey related to the experiences of the instructors, the aspects of the online courses, problems with online courses, and the training of faculty and implementation of online courses. This survey was then delivered to 184 business instructors, which taught some type of online distance course, yet only 81 responded. The results were then statistically analyzed. As a result, this study presented many findings based on the above testing. One problem identified from the instructors surveyed was that technology could “get in the way” at times. A second problem found was related to the capabilities of instructors and students to utilize the technology. Often, neither were adequately prepared to use the technology used in the delivery of the course. In addition, another problem identified was related to students’ limited access to additional course resources, such as communication with other students. Furthermore, support for the development of online courses was often scarce for instructors. Most of the instructors surveyed indicated that they learned to develop classes on their own, without any outside assistance.
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As a result of these findings, the authors make recommendations to remedy the problematic aspects of teaching online. Among the solutions identified were increased technological support for students and instructors, increased channels that can be utilized to communicate with others involved in online courses, and increased training to those involved in the online courses.
Reflections This study presented several excellent, comprehensive aspects of problems which can be encountered in online learning environments. Based on these problems, the authors make well-grounded recommendations for remedying these problems. Furthermore, the authors used a questionnaire which was validated by experts in the area of online learning to assure that proper and reliable results were obtained. However, the authors did indicate that many of the instructors that returned the survey were new to this method of instruction. Many problems with online instruction are bound to result when instructors new to the “online teaching experience” start to implement these methods. Involving more experienced instructors could create a comparison between the problems of new instructors to those which have considerable experience, indicating if the problems are grounded in all “walks” of this teaching experience. Overall, the authors create an excellent overview of problems that can be encountered when teaching a class online. The study was presented well and had adequate data to support the facts. Much research has expressed a concern for technological capabilities of participants, communication capabilities, and support
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offered for online courses. Without the implementation of these key items in an effective and proper way, students may encounter many problems in the learning process.
Related References Berger, N. (1999). The state of on-line learning. Inside Technology Training, March, 14. Cooper, L. (2000). Online-courses tips for making them work. Technological Horizons in Education Journal, 22(8), 87-92. Institute for Higher Education Policy. (1999, April). What’s the difference? A review of contemporary research on the effectiveness of distance learning in higher Education. A report prepared for the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association, 1320 19th Street, NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20036. Kiser, K. (1999). Ten things we know so far about on-line learning. Training, November, 66-74. Loeding, B., & Wynn, M. (1999). Distance learning planning, preparation, and Presentation: Instructors’ perspectives. International Journal of Instructional Media, 26(2), 181-182. Riley, P., & Gallo, L. (2000). Electronic learning environments: Design considerations. Technological Horizons in Education Journal, 27(6). [Online]. Available: http://www.thejournal.com/magazine/vault/A2595.cfm White, C. (2000). Learn on-line. Technological horizons in Educational Journal, 27(9), 66-70.
An Analysis of Students’ Preparation for the Virtual Learning Environment Hong, N. L., Lee, J., & Ling, N. L. (2002). An analysis of students’ preparation for the virtual learning environment. The Internet and Higher Education, 4(3), 231-242. Problem
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An enormous quantity of research has identified that students encounter problems with regards to technological difficulties in online class environments. As a result, much time and effort has gone into designing and training to offer support to lessen the detrimental impact of these problems. This study by Hong, Lee, and Ling (2002), however, is targeted at determining the students’ degree of preparedness with this technology, when becoming involved in an online learning environment, to understand the impact on the students’ ability to function at a proper level. This preparedness, in turn, is directly related to the students’ level of success in this type of learning environment.
Summary In a search to understand how prepared students are for online learning environments, the authors adapted a model of assessment, the technology acceptance model (TAM), developed to understand users’ viewpoints and acceptance of technology used. More specifically, this assessment was used in this study to determine students’ preparedness for online learning environments. The two parts of this model identified how useful and easy students perceived the technology used in a particular online learning environment to be. This questionnaire was delivered to 382 students enrolled in a private college. The survey involved a four point interval scale to determine students’ feeling towards the questions presented. After the data was collected, only 330 questionnaires were usable and valid. The authors then statistically analyzed the results from this questionnaire to interpret their findings.
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The authors presented a major implication as a result of their analysis. Students’ success in an online learning environment was directly related to their perception about the environment. Stated another way, if students have a positive attitude and outlook towards the environment, then they will overcome “technology” anxiety and other problems to be successful. As a result, the authors make recommendations to foster positive attitudes in students with regards to computer based learning. Through this, the students will be able to have a high success rate in an online learning environment and overcome technology anxiety.
Reflections This study presents an excellent stance on a major impact on students’ ability to learn well in an online environment. Much of the past research and focus has been on training and support. The implications in this study suggest that the focus should be on creating a positive perception of online learning and that success will follow. The findings of this research are valid. If students are overcome with anxiety and feel negative towards the environment that they are involved in, then failure will ensue. It is through a positive attitude and outlook of technology that students can overcome any barriers that might hinder success. The study is compelling, supported by past information and research, and presents information logically. The information from this study can have a great impact on the way students are introduced to online learning. Administrators and faculty of online
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learning programs can then shift their focus to creating an overall positive perception from the students’ viewpoints to ensure their future success in online programs.
Related References Davis, F., Bagozzi, R., & Warshaw, P. (1989). User acceptance of computer technology: a comparison of two theoretical models. Management Science, 23(2). Ernest, H. J., & Federico, E. G. (2000). Measuring learning effectiveness: A new look at no-significant-difference findings. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 4(1). Fallah, M. H., & Ubell, R. (2000). Blind scores in a graduate test: Conventional compared with web-based outcomes. ALN Magazine, 4(2). Hara, N., & Kling, R. (2000, March 30). Students’ distress with a web-based distance education course: An ethnographic study of participants’ experiences (CSI Working Paper). Center for Social Informatics, Indiana University. Hiltz, S. R., Coppola, N., Rotter, N., & Turoff, M. (2000). Measuring the importance of collaborative learning for the effectiveness of ALN: A multi-measure, multimethod approach. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks (4)2. Jafari, A. (1999). Putting everyone and every course online: The oncourse environment. WebNet Journal. McMahon, J., Gardner, J., Gary, C., & Mulhern, G. (1999). Barriers to student computer usage: Staff and student perceptions. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 15. Wegner, S., Holloway, K., & Garton, E. (1999). The effects of Internet-based instruction on student learning. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 3(2).
Satisfaction of College Students With the Digital Learning Environment: Do Learners’ Temperaments Make a Difference? Stokes, S. P. (2001). Satisfaction of college students with the digital learning
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environment: Do learners’ temperaments make a difference? The Internet and Higher Education, 4(1), 31-44.
Problem Stokes (2001) sought to understand if the temperaments of students in online programs influences their satisfaction with learning, thus affecting their success in the program. Research has related many other factors to the success of students in online learning environments. This study attempts to link students’ interaction personalities, temperaments, to their level of satisfaction in the online learning realm.
Summary In an attempt to discover the relation between temperament and the satisfaction with OLEs, the author administered a test to measure the temperaments of the students. The test used was the Keirsey Temperament Sorter II (KTSII), which is a self-assessment test that determines the participants’ temperament. Students were invited to complete the online survey, which consisted of seventy questions, to determine the students’ temperaments. Four weeks into the course, students completed a satisfaction survey consisting of sixteen questions to determine the satisfaction level of students in the online courses. These results then were analyzed on a percentile basis and rated a degree of satisfaction. In an attempt to find a correlation between satisfaction and temperament, the author compared the results from the satisfaction survey to the results from the
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temperament survey. The results indicated that there was no correlation between the sets of data; Varying temperaments expressed a high level of satisfaction. The author recommended that other factors related to satisfaction should be studied further. As a result of satisfaction, success will emerge. The author maintains that if these factors are studied and focused upon, the level of satisfaction will be higher.
Reflections This study offers some excellent insights to satisfaction as related to educational success, although the author’s hypothesis was not supported by the data collected from the administered questionnaires. One downside to this research study was its limited scope. The degree to which the study can be generalized to the larger population is very small due to the population that was sampled. These two classes did not include a wide variety of demographics. Furthermore, this study did not determine other factors which could be related to satisfaction, e.g. only the correlation between temperaments and satisfaction were researched. In online environments, a difference in ability has been found between extroverts and introverts, yet all types of personalities and types of learners can adapt towards one medium or another with regards to the type of learning environment. Therefore, it is not a surprise that temperaments did not play a major role in the satisfaction of an OLE, due to the fact that many other factors can play an important part in the level of satisfaction, such as gender, age, students’ ability to adapt to a new environment, and technology competency.
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Still, this study does present another way to think about success in an OLE. Questions to be answered in the future in relation to this research would be, “what factors do play a role in satisfaction?” and once determined, “how can these factors be supported to assure satisfaction?.” Once satisfaction is ensured, a positive attitude will follow which will then lead to the success of students.
Related References Berens, L. V. (1998). Understanding yourself and others: An introduction to temperament. Telos Publications, Huntington Beach, CA. Chute, A. G., Thompson, M. M., & Hancock, B. W. (1999). The McGraw-Hill handbook of distance learning. McGraw-Hill, New York. Hiltz, S. R. (1997). Impacts of college-level courses via asynchronous learning networks: Some preliminary results. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 1(2), 1-19. Schroeder, C. C. (1993). New students—new learning styles. [Online] Available at http://www.virtualschool.edu/mon/academia/kierseylearningstyles.html. Accessed August 15, 2000. Wright, V. (1999). A comparison of the achievement and perceived satisfaction of graduate students in synchronous and asynchronous courses. Dissertation Abstracts International, 60. 1995 Doctoral dissertation, The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, 1999.
Teaching Over the Web Versus in the Classroom: Differences in the Instructor Experience Caris, M., Ferguson, D., & Smith, G. G. (2002). Teaching over the web versus in the classroom: Differences in the instructor experience. International Journal of Instructional Media, 29(1), 61. Problem
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With the popularity of web-based education, faculty that were once in the traditional face-to-face environment are now being asked or forced to teach in the online environment. This study takes a qualitative approach to understanding the differences between teaching online and teaching in the online environment from an instructor viewpoint.
Summary To understand the differences between the two environments, the authors conducted a qualitative, ethnographic interview of twenty-one instructors, via telephone and e-mail, which had taught in both environments being studied. The interview was then read over, coded, and themes were developed from the interview transcripts. The online and traditional environments were then compared in terms of their differences. Many findings came from these interviews. One problem in online environments, as identified by the participants, were problems in technology as well as communication. Another problem with the online environment was the timely process of developing and participating in online courses. OLEs, however, have advantages that were presented. There are more channels that can be used to reach students. Instructors could integrate guests into discussion boards more seamlessly than introducing guests into the classroom, and there was a deeper level of thinking due to the amount of reflections that students have before making responses. Further benefits were also identified by the authors of this study. Introverts can become more functional in an online learning environment. Finally, a feeling of equality
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was created by the ability of every student to create deep meaning and having the same chances for reflection and voicing of their opinions. Reflections This exceptional qualitative study presents many themes experienced by online students and instructors everyday. Much research and experience supports the authors’ findings from their interviews. Although there were not an extremely large amount of participants, and as always in qualitative research some bias exists, the qualitative information creates a “big picture” view of the differences between the online environment and the face-to-face environment. The authors include interesting and supportive quotes from participants to further exemplify the themes developed from the study. All of the results in this study present some of the positive and negative impacts that an online learning environment can present for learners as well as the instructors. This useful study offers insight from instructors with first-hand experience. Information such as this is useful to understand for those new to the online environment and can aid in the development of a successful OLE.
Related References Moore, M. (1993). Three types of interaction interaction, in K. Harry, M. Hohn, and D. Keegan (eds.) (1993) Distance Education: new perspectives, Routledge, London. Peters, O. (1993). Understanding distance education, in K. Harry, M. Hohn, and D. Keegan (eds.) (1993) Distance Education: new perspectives, Routledge, London. Williams, V., & Peters, K. (1997). Faculty incentives for the preparations of web-based instruction, in book, Web-based Instruction, edited by B. H. Khan, 1997, Educational Technology Publications, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.
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An Examination of Asynchronous Communication Experiences and Perspectives of Students in an Online Course: A Case Study Vonderwell, S. (2003). An examination of asynchronous communication experiences and perspectives of students in and online course: A case study. The Internet and Higher Education, 6(1), 77-90. Problem In successful and effective online learning environments, proper implementation of asynchronous communication is essential. To truly understand the factors that build a foundation for a well-implemented virtual class, such as asynchronous communication, faculty must understand how these various aspects impact and are used in conjunction with the type of environment to aid successful student learning. The author, Vonderwell (2003), conducted research to understand what role asynchronous communication plays in the interaction of participants and how critical this type of communication is in a successful online learning environment.
Summary In a qualitative attempt to understand what part asynchronous communication plays in online learning, the author conducted interviews of participants and examined discussions, as well as the surrounding online environment which contained the asynchronous communication, and developed themes related to these examinations. The materials analyzed during the research were transcripts of e-mails, discussion boards, interview questions, and discussion board reviews by peer reviewers.
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From the analysis, the author identified many patterns among the interactions between class participants in the online environment. Students were more willing to be open and express themselves, as opposed to being afraid to talk in a face-to-face classroom. However, it was found that e-mail collaboration was not often implemented by students due to the factor of the “unknown.” In other words, students did not have face-to-face contact so it became harder to interact with others that were unfamiliar. Another pattern discovered was the loss of “personal touch” in the online environment. Students felt that they did not fully know everyone, including the instructor, in the class in the same way that would have taken place in a face-to-face environment. Real personalities became stifled by the technology and sometimes never developed. This became an obstacle for some students that need this aspect of social interaction. Feedback is a problem experienced by online learners. In a face-to-face environment, students can receive feedback immediately by their instructors. In online environments, however, even the most timely response has some reasonable delay. This was found to be frustrating by students. A last finding was related to interaction with others in groups and discussions. Some students became frustrated with having to rely on others in collaborative assignments and others found the interaction fulfilling. Some students found this collaborative environment tedious, while others appreciated the interaction. In addition, many found clarity an important feature of successful asynchronous communication. Another positive feature was the ability to reflect on topics before responding to peers and discussions.
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From these findings, the author made many conclusions and recommendations. Among these conclusions were that asynchronous communication allows students to freely express themselves and inquire about course material, this type of communication can cause students to feel that they are not obligated to respond to others, and that careful and timely feedback can be a critical part of an instructor’s duties.
Reflections Asynchronous learning plays a major role in online learning environments. Through planning and proper implementation, instructors can create a nurturing and successful online learning environment. However, some aspects of face-to-face learning, such as colleague personas, may never fully develop, which can greatly impact how successful students are in the environment. Instructors must be skilled communicators to take full advantage of this communication medium. Without proper implementation, as this study illustrates, students can be frustrated, hindering the learning process. Vonderwell’s study can aid instructors in realizing the potential of asynchronous learning, as well as the barriers that must be overcome to create a successful online learning environment.
Related References Agostinho, S., Lefoe, G., & Hedberg, J. (1997). Online collaboration for learning: A case study of a post graduate university course. Paper presented at the 1997 Third Australian World Wide Web Conference, AusWeb97, Southern Cross University. [Online]. Available: http://www.ausweb.scu.edu.au/proceedings/agostinho/paper.html. Retrieved February 10, 2002. Breithaupt, K., Farres, L. G., Gabriel, M. A., MacDonald, C. J., & Stodel, E. J. (2001).
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The demand-driven model: A framework for Web-based learning. Internet and Higher Education, 4, 9-30. Cagiltay, K., Craner, J., Duffy, T. M., Graham, C., & Lim, B. (2001). Seven principles of effective teaching: A practical lens for evaluating online courses. Technology Source. [Online]. Available: http://www.ts.mivu.org/default.asp?show=article&id=839. Retrieved May 30, 2002. Daugherty, M., & Funke, B. (1998). University faculty and student perceptions of webbased instruction. Journal of Distance Education, 13(1), 21-39. Dunlap, J. C., & Grabinger, R. S. Rich environments for active learning: A definition. In: D. Squires, G. Conole, and G. Jacobs, Editors. The Changing Face of Learning Technology, University of Wales Press, Cardiff. Jung, I. (2001). Building a theoretical framework of web-based instruction in the Context of distance education. British Journal of Education Technology, 32(5), 525-534. McLoughlin, C., & Marshall, L. (2000). Scaffolding: A model for learner support in an online teaching environment. In: A. Herrman and M. M. Kulski, Editors. Flexible Futures in Tertiary Teaching. Proceedings of the 9th Annual Teaching Learning Forum. Curtin University of Technology, Perth. [Online]. Available: http://www.cea.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2000/mcloughlin2.html. Retrieved April 13, 2002.
Implications One may ask in the end, what does it all mean? To ensure that a student participating in an online learning environment will gain the most knowledge, it must first be ensured that the support for that student to succeed is present. Online learning environments have many differences from face-to-face environments, which in turn means that many aspects do not translate. With this in mind, understanding what makes a student successful in an online environment can assist instructors in creating effective
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virtual environments. As a result of the studies examined, several factors can be related to a successful online learning environment. Overcoming barriers such as communication problems, technological problems, and how prepared users are for this type of environment are key issues in a successful OLE. Keeping these goals in mind and focused upon can result in a step closer to a welldesigned course. Another factor is the preparedness of students for an online learning experience. Preparedness is controlled and influenced by students’ positive outlook of the environment. If this positive outlook can be fostered, motivation (a vital key factor in the success of online learning) will be an enforced byproduct, causing students to excel in their studies. A third critical factor to success is satisfaction. Although satisfaction is not related to temperament, determining factors of satisfaction will aid faculty in the structuring of successful online learning environments. A fourth vital construct needed to develop an online course is related to understanding the differences in online and traditional learning environments. This understanding can aid in the structuring of successful learning environments. Factors that can cause problems in online environments can be overcome and advantages can be enforced if they are understood and identified. A final factor that can impact the success of an online learning environment is the effective implementation of asynchronous communication. Asynchronous communication is one of the main channels utilized in online learning. If this main channel is not correctly utilized, a breakdown in the learning process will occur.
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With the implementation of these success factors in an appropriate manner, students will be satisfied and reap the benefits of a truly collaborative online learning environment. Online instructors should not only be aware of these factors, but should strive to implement and structure their classes accordingly because by doing so, can mean the difference between the success and failure of an online student.
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References Alexander, M., Perreault, H., Waldman, L., & Zhao, J. (2002). Overcoming barriers to successful delivery of distance-learning courses. Journal of Education for Business, 77(6), 313. Retrieved February 14, 2003, from the Expanded Academic ASAP database, Nova Southeastern University Online Library. Caris, M., Ferguson, D., & Smith, G. G. (2002). Teaching over the web versus in the classroom: Differences in the instructor experience. International Journal of Instructional Media, 29(1), 61. Retrieved February 14, 2003, from the Expanded Academic ASAP database, Nova Southeastern University Online Library. Hong, N. L., Lee, J., & Ling, N. L. (2002). An analysis of students’ preparation for the virtual learning environment. The Internet and Higher Education, 4(3), 231-242. Retrieved February 14, 2003, from the ScienceDirect database, Nova Southeastern University Online Library. Stokes, S. P. (2001). Satisfaction of college students with the digital learning environment: Do learners’ temperaments make a difference? The Internet and Higher Education, 4(1), 31-44. Retrieved February 14, 2003, from the ScienceDirect database, Nova Southeastern University Online Library. Vonderwell, S. (2003). An examination of asynchronous communication experiences and perspectives of students in and online course: A case study. The Internet and Higher Education, 6(1), 77-90. Retrieved February 14, 2003, from the ScienceDirect database, Nova Southeastern University Online Library.