Teaching Statistics: A Comparison of Traditional Classroom and Programmed Instruction/distance Learning Approaches

By Harrington, Donna | Journal of Social Work Education, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview
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Teaching Statistics: A Comparison of Traditional Classroom and Programmed Instruction/distance Learning Approaches


Harrington, Donna, Journal of Social Work Education


This article compares grades earned by incoming MSW students in traditional classroom-based statistics courses and those taught using software-based content and no regular classes. Traditional-learning students earned high grades overall, regardless of prior undergraduate grade point average (GPA). Students in the electronic-learning course with high GPAs performed as well as students in the regular course. However, electronic-learning students with low GPAs earned lower course grades than students with high GPAs who took the same course and students in the traditional course, regardless of their GPA. Findings suggest students can learn statistics successfully in a programmed instruction/distance education course; however, some might need additional assistance or do better in a traditional format.

SEVERAL METHODS OF PROVIDING distance learning classes are currently available, including two-way interactive televised instruction (e.g., Thyer, Artelt, Markward, & Dozier, 1998; Thyer, Polk, & Gaudin, 1997), instruction through electronic mail and the Internet, and software-based programmed instruction (Thyer et al., 1008). Sixteen percent of social work programs in the United States reported using television and media technology-based distance education in a national survey (Siegel, Jennings, Conklin, & Flynn, 1998). Distance education has the potential to make graduate study accessible to students in a variety of settings, and several studies have found it to be as effective as traditional classroom instruction (Blakely, 1992). However, additional studies of students' learning and perceptions of distance learning approaches are needed (Thyer et al., 1998; Thyer et al., 1997).

Thyer and colleagues have conducted two studies evaluating distance learning through two-way interactive televised instruction (Thyer et al., 1998; Thyer et al., 1997). In both studies, one instructor taught the social work practice course and delivered approximately half of the classes live and half through televised instruction. At the end of the course, students who had experienced both the live and the televised instruction rated the live instruction higher than the distance instruction. This finding suggests the need for caution before implementing this instructional method. A strength of this work is that all students received both types of instruction and were therefore able to compare them. However, this approach did not allow for an examination of the effectiveness, in terms of student learning, of the two approaches. Studies are needed which examine student learning using the two approaches.

Most studies that have examined the relative effectiveness of in-person and distance education have found little or no difference in student learning. Rooney and Bibus (1995) found that participants in the distance learning course rated the training as slightly less useful, but they missed fewer sessions and were more likely to put action plans into practice than those in the in-person course; direct measures of learning were not obtained. In their recent review of the distance learning literature, Rooney and colleagues conclude that learning, as measured by exam, assignment, and course grades, appears very similar for in-person and distance education (Rooney, Macy, Hollister, & Freddolino, 1999). Importantly, these studies have examined distance education provided through interactive television instruction and have not examined the effectiveness of other types of distance education, such as programmed instruction or Web-based instruction.

In the one study found that examined the effectiveness of Web-based instruction of social work research methods, Royse (1999) found no significant difference in student grades for those taking an in-person course and those taking a Web-based course. These findings suggest that Web-based distance education may be an effective approach to teaching graduate-level research methods.

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