Academic journal article Journal of Instructional Psychology

Comparison of Student Learning Outcomes in Online and Traditional Classroom Environments in a Psychology Course

Academic journal article Journal of Instructional Psychology

Comparison of Student Learning Outcomes in Online and Traditional Classroom Environments in a Psychology Course

Article excerpt

Promoting distance education is an important policy on many college campuses, so evaluating to what extent online learning environment may affect learning outcomes and/or student satisfaction should continue to be a research priority. This study investigated whether students in an online class performed differently than students in a traditional classroom setting on weekly quizzes, and whether their satisfaction with the course and instructor differed from students in a traditional classroom setting. Participants were two classes of students (N = 69) in Theories of Counseling. Results indicated no difference between the scores of the two groups on the weekly quizzes, but students in the online class were less satisfied with the course and instructor overall. These findings support other research indicating students may perform as well in an online environment as their counterparts in a traditional classroom, but their satisfaction with the educational experience may suffer.

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Distance education (DE) is an increasingly popular solution to campus problems of overcrowding and student requirements for flexible schedules. Changing the traditional environment of the classroom has encountered enthusiasm from some camps of faculty, administrators, and students at the same time it has received resistance from others. A primary potential benefit for institutions is more efficient use of resources, whereas students may potentially benefit from increased critical thinking, leadership, communication, and problem solving skills (Spangle, Hodne & Schierling, 2002; Swan, 2001). Correspondingly, critics have highlighted potential drawbacks of distance education for students including increased isolation from peers, lack of engagement, and lack of sufficient technical support. Empirical research validating these perspectives has been contradictory and sometimes methodologically flawed. Therefore, as the number of online course offerings increase in higher education, evaluating to what extent online learning environment may affect learning outcomes and/or student satisfaction should continue to be a research priority.

Learning Outcomes

Early reviews of empirical studies comparing DE to traditional classroom learning found no difference between learning outcomes in these different settings (Russell, 1999; Phipps & Merisotis, 1999), and mounting evidence indicates many forms of learning environments may have the potential to be just as effective as traditional classroom learning experiences (Bernard et al., 2004; Tallent-Runnels et al., 2006). Moreover, an important finding from a large-scale study based on the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) found a positive relationship between the use of technology and self-reported learning outcomes by students (Chen, Lambert & Guidry, 2010).

Accordingly, several authors have established best practices for online learning based on these evaluations (e.g., Sunal, Sunal, Odell & Sundberg, 2003). Some of these include the importance of creating an online community, positive student attitudes toward online learning, high levels of professor interaction, and sufficient technical support. However, with so many variables potentially contributing to effectiveness of DE, relatively few studies have investigated the differences associated with learning environment alone. Furthermore, many studies that have tried to isolate these effects have included other variables that could potentially confound the results. For example, Borthick and Jones (2000) compared test scores of an online class and a traditional class taught during different semesters, which may pose a threat to the internal validity of the study. As Nora and Snyder (2008) conclude in their review of the literature related to e-learning and student outcomes, "there is a huge gap in the research literature specifically devoted to ... investigations of the link between technology and performance indicators/outcomes . …

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