Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

The Effects of Flow on Learning Outcomes in an Online Information Management Course

Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

The Effects of Flow on Learning Outcomes in an Online Information Management Course

Article excerpt


Web-based courses are being offered by colleges and universities as a means of delivering education to students facing location and time constraints (Carr, 2000; Honan, 1997). For example, web-based classes are becoming popular in business schools as alternatives or supplements to traditional on-campus courses (Alavi, Yoo, and Vogel, 1997; Arbaugh, 2000). Although researchers have shown that the traditional classroom learning environment still offers some advantages (Zhang et al., 2004), student interest in and demand for online courses are increasing over time (McFarlane and Hamilton, 2005/2006; Lundgren and Nantz, 2003).

The present study seeks to increase our understanding of the underlying psychological experiences of students participating in an online course in business schools. Specifically, the study examines the effects of flow, a psychological state associated with improvements in task performance, on learning outcomes in an online graduate-level course in information management. We examine the effects of flow on several types of learning outcomes including objective measures of learning, student perceptions of learning, and student satisfaction. The effects of flow on learning outcomes are examined through a field study in which data were collected during the course of an online information management course offered through an MBA program in a public university.

The remaining sections of the paper discuss (1) the literature on flow and learning outcomes, (2) the theoretical framework underlying the study, (3) the research question and hypotheses examined in the study, (4) the methodology of the study, (5) the findings of the study, and (6) the implications of the results.


We begin by discussing the motivation for improving our understanding of learning outcomes in online courses offered in business schools. Next, a review of the literature on flow and learning outcomes is presented.

2.1 Learning Outcomes in Online Business School Courses

Much of the literature on online courses has focused on the question of whether online courses or campus-based courses are more effective in terms of student learning. This literature suggests that there is not a significant difference between the two mediums. For example, Borthick and Jones (2000) found no significant difference when comparing student test scores from an online class with the on-campus version of the class taught the previous semester. Piccoli, Ahmad, and Ives (2001) also discovered no significant difference in the exam scores of students when comparing online and on-campus courses. Harrington (1999) compared on-campus and online social work graduate students and concluded that students, by and large, could perform equally well in both learning environments. Also, Thirunarayanan and Perez-Prad (2001) reported in their comparison of education students in both an online and on-campus group that there was no significant statistical difference on the class post-test between the two groups.

Although several studies have found no significant difference in student performance between the online and on-campus class environments, it may be too hasty to conclude that equivalent learning outcomes are guaranteed in online learning environments. A deeper understanding of learning outcomes in online course environments may be gained by examining how underlying psychological phenomenon associated with learning affect students taking online courses. Such an understanding may help students learn more effectively while taking online courses, help instructors teach more effectively in the online environment, and provide guidance for more effective design of online courses. To date, there has been little research that examines psychological phenomenon associated with student learning in online courses offered in business schools. With faculty and institutions of higher learning facing concerns involving financial, workload, and curriculum limitations regarding providing online educational programs (Arnone, 2002a, 2002b; Gehring, 2002), finding an effective role for online courses in the curriculum can be aided if scholarly research can shed light on how various factors such as flow are involved in the learning process. …

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