Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Self Selection of Learning Mode in an Online Course

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Self Selection of Learning Mode in an Online Course

Article excerpt

Abstract

Online learning approaches differ depending on whether the audience is a higher education or corporate one. In higher education, the favored approach is a collaborative, cohort model, intended to build community between learners. Distance Learning Assessment and Evaluation is one of the required courses that learners must complete in the DLDD program offered by the University of Washington. In this study, the investigator was interested in the effects of self-selection of self-paced versus a collaborative-group learning mode on class performance. Forty-one post-graduate professionals participated in this course. Initially, 71% of the learners chose the self-paced option, and 29% chose the collaborative-group option. Performance comparisons show no significant differences between the groups, apart from a slight bias toward the self-paced mode. These data refute the popular conception that the most effective online learning model for higher education is the "community of learners" model.

Introduction

Professionals outside of the academic community have recognized that there are distinct differences between online learning intended for corporate training and online learning intended for a higher education audience (Johnson et al., 1998). Corporate training favors self-paced methodologies, in which learners interact primarily with computer-based simulations and exercises, with infrequent or no interaction with other people (American Society for Training and Development, 1999, 2000; Schreiber & Berge, 1998). Self-paced methodologies allow learners to complete learning activities without the confines of start and stop dates, at the pace the learner determines, and without the need to spend time organizing collaboration with others (American Society for Training and Development, 1999, 2000; Johnson & Ruskin, 1977).

In contrast, the literature on best practices in online learning for higher education audiences suggests that courses should be (and, in reality, usually are) cohort-based (American Federation of Teachers, 2000; Gunawardena, 1992; Institute for Higher Education Policy, 2000; McCormack & Jones, 1997; Moore, Winograd, & Lange, 2001; Palloff & Pratt, 1999, 2001; White & Weight, 2000). Such courses have defined start and stop dates and learners are expected to complete assignments at the pace set by the online instructor. Furthermore, many higher-education online learning offerings also require collaboration between learners, such that activities often are completed in groups (Moore, Winograd, & Lange, 2001; Palloff & Pratt, 1999, 2000; White & Weight, 2000). Unlike the multimedia-rich exercises typically found in self-paced, corporate training, activities most often found in cohort-collaborative higher education models include discussion forums, text-based presentations, and web links. Interaction in this model usually refers to text-based discussion, synchronous chat, file transfer, and email between learners and with the online instructor. Engagement, therefore, largely depends on the ability and willingness of learners to interact with each other.

The rationale behind the cohort-collaborative model is the notion that working collaboratively helps build a "community of learners" (American Federation of Teachers, 2000; Gunawardena, 1992; Institute for Higher Education Policy, 2000; McCormack & Jones, 1997; Moore, Winograd, & Lange, 2001; Palloff & Pratt, 1999, 2001; White & Weight, 2000). However, the imposition of due dates and forced collaboration may build unnecessary boundaries, limiting the "anytime" in the popular catch phrase "anytime, anyplace" that is often associated with online learning.

The cohort model may be favored by institutes of higher education because of reasons such as budget, faculty resources, and, perhaps most significantly, the similarity with traditional, cohort-based face-to-face classes. …

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