Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Conceptualization and Measurement of Perceived Risk of Online Education

Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Conceptualization and Measurement of Perceived Risk of Online Education

Article excerpt


Online education (OE) is coming of age. Over the past few years, a stream of technological innovations, from video streaming to virtual online classrooms, has allowed educational institutions and their faculty members the opportunity to experiment with new teaching methods and to offer new types of degree programs beyond the traditional classroom setting. As a result, students are able to enhance their knowledge and to earn degrees without leaving their jobs and families, and in some cases, without setting foot on a college campus. Today's OE programs can allow students to attain their educational goals in a manner that is flexible, convenient and cost effective (Furst-Bowe & Dittmann, 2001; Anderson, Banks & Leary, 2002). The question is, how do they perceive this opportunity? That is, do students perceive online programs as comparable to on-campus work, or do they perceive such offerings as higher risk alternatives?

Recent trends appear to suggest that perceptions of OE are becoming more positive. In the five year period from 2002-2007, the number of online students more than doubled (Allen & Seaman, 2008). During the fall 2007 term, nearly 3.9 million students, approximately 20-25% of all students in U.S. colleges, took at least one online course. While many of these students are off-campus students with a wide variety of ages, work experience and family circumstances, about half of all online enrollments are estimated to be traditional students seeking online courses for reasons of convenience (Mayadas, Bourne and Bacsich, 2009). Most of these students are at public institutions; more than two-thirds of all higher education institutions in the United States have implemented some form of online offerings (Allen & Seaman, 2007).

Yet, research has shown that the perceptions of people about risk rarely coincide with the actual risk of certain activities (Kaspar, 1979). Moreover, in the context of OE, there is no comprehensive research that measures the way that people assess multiple aspects of risk in relation to their intention to enroll. That is, they may be attracted to this form of education for its convenience, while at the same time, concerned about its effectiveness, their ability to communicate with other students, or their likelihood of success. Understanding these factors is important in the short run, because they may differentially affect students' intention to enroll in online classes at all or their decision to enroll in one program versus another (Campbell and Goodstein, 2001). In the long run, a better understanding of the risks associated with OE may help faculty and administrators to influence the learning process in a positive way. For instance, if social factors constitute an important dimension of the perceived risk associated with OE, then programs can be designed to enhance interaction throughout the learning process using processes that range from old-fashioned team assignments to technologically driven virtual classrooms. Consequently, this study takes the first steps in developing a scale for measuring multiple dimensions of perceived risk in OE programs.

The study is organized as follows: First, it describes the notion of perceived risk in OE and defines the types of perceived risk in the OE context. Second, the study creates the item pool that matches the potential dimensions of perceived risk in the OE context and ensures construct validity by using focus groups and a panel of experts to judge the face validity of the construct. Third, the study relates the dimensions of perceived risk to a variety of student demographics to see how different students view online education.


Mitchell (1998) defines risk as "the variation in the distribution of possible outcomes, their likelihood and their subjective values" (Mitchell, 1998). The decision to enroll in an online class involves risk because doing so could lead to unexpected or uncertain consequences, some of which could be negative. …

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