Management educators in most forms of organizations, from multinational corporations to small business companies, have increasingly engaged in the use of online delivery of instruction (Aguinis & Kraiger, 2009). A similar situation occurs in higher education where approximately 96% of colleges and universities offer online courses (Chapman & Henderson, 2010). Online courses are a form of distance education as students are physically dispersed from each other and the instructor (Smith & Mitry, 2004). Online learning relies on network technology to transfer information and instructions to participants (Welsh, Wanberg, Brown & Simmering, 2003). Although substantial research has followed the growing academic interest in online education (Arbaugh, Godfrey, Johnson, Leisen Pollack, Niendorf, & Wrensch, 2009), opportunities exist for original studies measuring its effectiveness and means of improvement not only in business college settings, but also in corporate management education contexts as well. The rush to offer competitive online teaching delivery methods raises questions for all educators concerning the quality and effectiveness of this approach. Are, for instance, students or trainees actually learning the material online as well as in classroom settings?
A recent meta-analysis, sponsored by the U. S. Department of Education, compiled empirical studies of online learning (Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, and Jones, 2010). Approximately ninety of these studies, published between 1996 and 2008, used an experimental or quasi-experimental design, compared some outcome of online or blended learning to face-toface instruction, and focused on students in higher education. Of note, most if not all of these studies were from various academic areas outside the business college setting. Results indicated that students who participated in online conditions performed at least equally (or even slightly better) than those in purely classroom settings (d = 0.05; k = 27; p > .05). These results suggest that online delivery can be an effective teaching option. Therefore, further research is needed to advance our knowledge of the conditions (moderators) accounting for online delivery effectiveness. This line of investigation is especially relevant in light of the different outcomes that have been reported when classroom and online learning are contrasted. For example, the effect sizes (d) of the studies included in Bernard, Abrami, and Wade (2004) meta-analysis ranged from - 1.31 to + 1.41. Such substantial dispersion suggests the presence of significant factors that might be moderating learning outcomes in online education. Given these results in the broad context of higher education, our study took place in the narrower context of business college education and more specifically the teaching of management.
Although our study involved business college students, we devoted a significant part of our research effort to the application of our results to corporate management education. We perceive online learning in business college settings to be very similar to corporate training, especially after contemporary business schools' efforts toward making education more applicable and skill driven (see Datar, Garvin, & Culler, 2010). Indeed, significant parallels can be established between management education and corporate training. For example, empirical criteria in both settings clearly overlap. There is some consensus in management-education research to consider learners' affects, cognitions, and skills as central criteria (e.g., Rubin & Martell, 2009). Similar factors can be observed in Kirkpatrick (1974) classification of training criteria wherein trainees' reactions (affects), learning (cognitive retention) and behaviors (skill development) primarily indicate the effectiveness of the intervention. Parallels between management education and corporate training can also be observed in their pedagogies. …