Understanding Online Learning through a Qualitative Description of Professors and Students' Experiences

Article excerpt

Many things are not understood about distance education despite its popularity and growth in institutions of higher education (IHEs). That is why it is important to recognize faculty and students' attitudes, perceptions, and experiences to help faculty design and prepare an online course, to provide educators with information about recruitment, to assist students so they can achieve meaningful and positive learning, and possibly, to establish a successful distance education program at RSU. The purpose of this study is to find out the attitudes, perceptions, and experiences of professors and graduate students about teaching and learning in a distance learning environment using a web-based course delivery. Both professors and students are from the College of Education in a Southwest border institution. This research provides a qualitative description of faculty and students' attitudes, perceptions, and experiences, so awareness and understanding can be achieved to meet a new vision in teaching through distance learning.

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Many things are not understood about distance education despite its popularity and growth in institutions of higher education (IHEs). Because of this limited understanding, it is important to recognize faculty and students' attitudes, perceptions, and experiences about distance education to assist faculty in developing existing courses and to help them facilitate their classes effectively. As part if this research, professors and students from New Mexico State University were interviewed so they could provide a qualitative description of their experiences, perceptions, and attitudes about teaching and learning in a distance learning environment using a web-based course delivery platform.

GROWTH OF DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAMS

Research studies from Jacob (2001), Verneil and Berge (2000), Banas and Emory (1998), and Kang (2001) indicated that a technologically-driven and global economy in the 21 (st) century contributed to the emergence of online education and the growth of electronic communication, particularly the use of the Internet, in institutions of higher education (IHEs). Some of these institutions that have existing online programs include University of Phoenix Online, Davenport University, Capella University, Walden University, and Baker College Online. These online programs, which are also referred to as "asynchronous studies," "distributed learning," "online instruction," "web-based course instruction," or "e-learning" are now being offered extensively to the academic community.

These institutions recognize the potential for providing education to adult students. By being aware that the adult population is growing and that Internet-based technology is constantly improving, IHEs are forced to make changes with the way learners and teachers are connected (Hanna et al., 2000). With these changes towards a commitment to providing quality of education, these online institutions will continue to gain wide acceptance in the academic community. The institutions previously mentioned are successful in their online programs because they help extend the traditional universities' reach in the academic community and they serve as a response to problems with expansion and physical space (Hall, 1995).

In terms of students' attitude and perception about online education, studies have shown that students in IHEs, particularly graduate students, want convenience and flexibility in completing their academic goals. This entails being able to go to school while meeting the needs of work and family schedule. (Jaffee, n.d.; Kearsley, 1998; Schrum, 2000). The convenience and flexibility of online education, according to these students, are particularly beneficial to those who live in faraway locations (Adler, 2001). Access to the Internet has provided more working professionals an avenue to advance their careers and a tool to solve their daily problems (Guiton, 1999; Jaffee, n. …