Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Investigation of Interaction, Online Support, Course Structure and Flexibility as the Contributing Factors to Students' Satisfaction in an Online Certificate Program

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Investigation of Interaction, Online Support, Course Structure and Flexibility as the Contributing Factors to Students' Satisfaction in an Online Certificate Program

Article excerpt

Introduction

The recent emergence of information and communication technologies allows universities to offer distance education programs to meet the needs of nontraditional students. With the help of these technologies, the number of online courses and programs has increased drastically in the recent years. It was also expected that the number of online students will grow in the long-term (Allen & Seaman, 2004).

With the increasing number of online courses and programs, the number of institutions that provide them is also increasing. This causes competition among providers in the field of distance education (Tricker, Rangecroft, Long & Gilroy, 2001). There are factors that affect the teaching quality such as good teaching, clear goals, appropriate workload, appropriate assessment and emphasis on independence (Ramsden, 1991). Even though it is not the only factor that affects teaching quality, in this new competitive field, the focus has been shifted to learners' needs, expectations and satisfaction. Especially, learner satisfaction is more important than ever before in this new field (Roach & Lemasters, 2006). While promoting the quality of online programs in today's market, higher education institutions consider student satisfaction as one of the major principles (Moore, 2002; Moore & Kearsley, 2005). Feasely and Olgren (1998) mentioned that according to Kirkpatrick's (1998) four levels model of learning which consists of reaction, retention, application, and results, the learner's reaction to course material is categorized as the first level. In the part of reaction level, measuring learner satisfaction provides valuable information about the attentiveness of the student, the overall learning experience, and the effort exerted to learn. High level of learner satisfaction leads to lower attrition rates, an increase in learners' enrollments and motivation, and a more productive learning environment (Biner, Dean, & Mellinger, 1994; Schwitzer, Ancis, & Brown, 2001).

Student satisfaction is seen as one of the key variables in determining the success or failure of distance learners, courses, and programs in the literature. Therefore, there are many published studies on distance learner satisfaction. However, earlier studies tended to focus on learner satisfaction measured for once only at the beginning or at the end of the course with questionnaires, grades given on tests and other course assignments. Therefore, Sener and Humbert (2003) stated that more longitudinal studies are needed to investigate this issue. Phipps and Merisotis (1999) stated that a major shortcoming of the distance learning research to date was the emphasis on student outcomes for individual courses rather than for whole academic programs. Roach and Lemasters (2006) mentioned that the researches in the literature were not specific to online professional programs.

To sum up, with the help of multiple sources that were used to collect data, such as questionnaires, student and instructor interviews, chat and discussion list transcripts, this study will help to answer questions related to offering entire online programs. Further, the results of the study help us avoid the pitfalls of a one-shot measure of student satisfaction, and provide a better understanding of changes in student satisfaction in a long period of time and in entire programs. At this stage, the theoretical framework about student satisfaction is provided to form a base for this study.

Learner Satisfaction

Learner satisfaction in distance education depends on a number of factors (Sener & Humbert, 2003). In this study, satisfaction is defined by learner-reported feelings about interaction with instructors and peers, course structure, institutional support, and flexibility.

Interaction is an important part of learner satisfaction. Research suggests that both quality and quantity of interaction with the instructor and peers are much more crucial to the success of online courses and student satisfaction than that are in traditional courses (Woods, 2002). …

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