With technology progressing at a rapid rate, and the advent of more and more sophisticated interactivity programs, the field of on-line education has experienced enormous growth in recent years. The literature dealing with on-line education is extensive and varied. The focus of this discussion is the personal characteristics of on-line students; the types of students that are more successful in on-line education; and the differences between on-line students and traditional students.
On-line students demonstrate a greater level of comfort with, and use of, computers (Maki and Maki 2000). The notion of successful on-line students being adept at using computers is intuitive (Maki and Maki 2000; Maki and Maki 2002; Shany and Nachmias 2002). Successful online students are technologically capable, but this conclusion is less than revelatory. What other characteristics do successful on-line students possess? Some research has shown that introverted students are more successful in on-line courses, as are students high in intellect and imagination (Maki and Maki 2003). The research was unclear, however, if these traits were predictive of success for on-line students especially or for all students. Shany and Nachmias (2002) identified students with a "liberal" thinking style (i.e. student goes beyond existing rules and procedures, to maximize change, and to seek out situations that are somewhat ambiguous) as the most successful on-line students. But within that study, the most significant predictor was not a personality characteristic/trait at all, but prior experience with information and communication technology, which was consistent with prior research (Maki and Maki 2000; Maki and Maki 2002). Other research has shown that, for the most part, the only significant personal differences in on-line students are demographic in nature (e.g., age and marital status), except for the counterintuitive finding of higher levels of motivation for on-campus students (Qureshi and Antosz 2002). In 2008, Bayram, Deniz, and Erdogan found that the personality traits of achievement, counseling readiness, and ideal self were significant predictors of academic success for e-MBA students in Turkey. The researchers also positively correlated two of those personality traits (achievement and ideal self) with a positive attitude toward web-based education, which itself was the most positive predictor of success in the courses.
Kim and Schniederjans (2004) offer the most compelling evidence for a definitive personality aspect of on-line education. The researchers administered the Personality Characteristics Inventory (PCI) to 140 undergraduate students in "totally web-based education" courses. They ultimately identified the "ideal totally web-based education student" as someone who is compliantly cooperative, considerate, even-tempered, self-confident, a creative thinker, and committed to work. This student also showed leadership, needed to achieve, and had a positive learning orientation. Conversely, research indicates that students who procrastinate may be very ill equipped for success in on-line education. Elvers, Polzella, and Graetz (2003) found that while there was no difference in procrastination tendencies between on-line and lecture students, the on-line students who did procrastinate were likely to perform more poorly than the lecture student procrastinators.
As the aforementioned studies show, there is little consistency in previous findings. Little replication can be found in this particular field. Despite numerous efforts to identify the traits necessary for success in on-line education, the research to this point is inconclusive. Nearly all of the previous studies used at least slightly different methodology and/or variables, making it nearly impossible to compare their findings. Future emphasis in the field should be placed on replicating the findings of previous researchers, to obtain consistent results. …