Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Distance Learning: Business Student Experiences and Perceptions

Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Distance Learning: Business Student Experiences and Perceptions

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Technology mediated distance learning is changing the pedagogical environment for business schools. Two major factors that have spurred the growth of distance learning are the exponentially increasing power of informational technology and a dramatic increase in the ranks of non-traditional students. Compression technologies, increased computing power and speed, reduced costs, and an increased comfort level with technology have all combined to contribute to the growth in distance learning. In addition, the remarkable growth of part-time, non-residential, non-traditional students has further increased the demand for distance learning (Hubbard, 1997; Green, 1996).

An increasing number of universities, both large and small, currently offer entire degree programs in a distance learning environment. A recent survey indicated that more than half of the 2,215 four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. offer distance learning courses (Gubernick & Ebeling, 1997; Vasarhelyi & Graham, 1997). The trend toward distance education has been so strong that Peter Drucker, in a recent issue of Forbes, commented that the demise of university campuses was inevitable.

Distance learning offers a number of benefits. First, it allows the sharing of information and costs among multiple sites, giving schools that implement distance learning programs a competitive advantage (Webster & Hackley, 1997). Second, it provides educational opportunities for distant or disadvantaged locations, giving schools that offer this program the opportunity to tap new market segments (Walsh & Reese, 1995). Third, it introduces students to the use of information technology used by businesses (Leidner & Jarvenpaa, 1993).

While distance learning may be a growing trend, there is limited evidence regarding student experiences and perceptions of distance learning courses and the effectiveness of this method. This paper examines student responses to a questionnaire administered in a distance learning course. 565 business students, enrolled in a variety of distance learning business courses at a regional university are surveyed. The purpose of this study is to examine demographic differences between on-site and remote students and investigate differences between on-site and remote students' perceptions regarding quality of instruction, effectiveness of class discussions, group projects, quality of technology, and support services. Also, student willingness to enroll in future distance learning courses and comments about the advantages and disadvantages of enrolling in a distance learning course are examined. These results have implications for school administrators and policy makers who are either considering expanding the number and range of courses offered in a distance learning format or are getting ready to offer these courses for the first time. Also, instructors of distance learning courses can benefit tremendously from feedback about students' perceptions of these courses.

The remainder of this paper is organized as follows. First, various distance learning delivery formats are reviewed. Next, the class environment in which distance learning courses are offered at a regional university is described. The following section provides a review of prior research and the development of hypotheses to be tested in this study. Then, the data collection process and research methodology is discussed. This is followed by the results of the test of the hypotheses. The final section summarizes the results of the study and provides conclusions and implications.

DELIVERY FORMATS

A wide variety of delivery formats are used in distance learning courses. Traditionally, print-based correspondence courses have been the dominant delivery mechanism, primarily due to affordability (Potashnik, 1998). More recently, however, delivery tools have expanded to include interactive videos, television, Internet based-courses, compressed video, cable television, and satellite broadcasting (Potashnik, 1998; Chadwick, 1995). …

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