Online Education: Exploring Uses and Attitudes toward Web-Based Learning in Public Relations

By Drake, Jeanette L.; Drake, Jeffrey P. et al. | International Journal of Instructional Media, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Online Education: Exploring Uses and Attitudes toward Web-Based Learning in Public Relations


Drake, Jeanette L., Drake, Jeffrey P., Ewing, Michele E., International Journal of Instructional Media


A boom in enrollment and broad satisfaction of online education is fueling its continued growth. (1) Due to soaring gas prices, already impressive growth rates are surging with some colleges reporting 20% to 30% increases in their online educational causes during the summer of 2008. (2)

Nearly half of all education and training is projected to be delivered online by 2050. (3) Online instruction, also known as e-learning, is a subset of distance learning (4) that relies on digital content, technology-based experiences, and an online network. (5) Learning communities and collaboration are hallmarks of computer-mediated education. Emerging technology is driving Internet instruction, but relatively few public relations courses are currently being taught online. (6) The Commission on Public Relations Education underscored the need for public relations curricula to keep pace with the rest of professional education by including online education in its mix of delivery methods.

How will students of public relations respond to a new educational delivery system that assimilates old and new ways of learning? What experiences and opinions do they already have? In light of the push toward e-learning, it is necessary to answer these questions. This research combined survey and depth interviews to explore uses and attitudes toward Web-based learning in public relations. The remainder of this paper examines the online education literature, details the methodology of this study, presents and discusses findings, and concludes with recommendations for future research.

REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE

The Internet has introduced to education myriad new modes for delivering course content. Despite the popularity of the tools, they must align pedagogically. Therefore, it is helpful to examine the scope and effectiveness of Web-based instruction.

The last decade has witnessed an explosion in e-learning, and the majority of academic leaders project that growth will continue. Some 3.5 million students took online courses in 2006, up nearly 10% from the previous year and up 20% from 2004. (7) Enrollment in U.S. online programs is growing exponentially. As many as 20% of all U.S. college and university students reported taking at least one online course in the fall of 2006 (8). Not surprisingly, the 9.7% growth rate in e-learning class population outpaces the 1.5% growth rate of the overall higher education enrollment, but how effective is online education? To answer this question, it is important to consider learner satisfaction and learning outcomes.

LEARNER SATISFACTION

Measuring teaching effectiveness is an ongoing challenge. Learner satisfaction is one way to assess instruction, and it plays a major role in an individual's success. (9) Reasoned Action Theory was used to explain the results in a study of undergraduate psychology students' attitudes about instructional decisions. (10) Students' evolving attitudes were weighed against prior beliefs throughout their time in an online class. Some students believed online classes would hinder faculty interaction vital to learning, therefore were less likely to enroll in online classes. Other students, having the opposite attitude, were more likely to favor online alternatives and reported greater satisfaction with online instruction. Clearly, preexisting beliefs can define one's attitude about an experience.

Based on the assumption that student empowerment can be facilitated through new technologies, data on the use of technology and corresponding student attitudes toward computer-mediated instruction were compared. Molesworth found that students have mixed attitudes to learning new technologies with many students preferring face- to-face seminars. (11) The study concluded that these attitudes were not fixed and that students would benefit by more consistent exposure to specific technologies.

Accommodating all types of learners can be done online, (12) but one study found that online learners did not expect to experience a virtual learning community and had less value for it in their online learning process. …

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