Student Expectations for Distance Education

By Gibson, Shanan; Harris, Michael | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Student Expectations for Distance Education

Gibson, Shanan, Harris, Michael, Academic Exchange Quarterly


Students enrolled in both onsite and online management courses were surveyed to ascertain their expectations regarding interaction with professors and peers, the impact of outside obligations on course performance, and the amount of time required for completion of course activities. Findings indicated that the expectations of those enrolled in DE courses do differ from those in traditional classroom courses in some instances, however, not all.


Thirty years from now the big university campuses will be relics. Universities won't survive. The future is outside the traditional campus, outside the traditional classroom. Distance learning is coming on fast.--Peter Drucker (1997)

While overly pessimistic in our opinion, Drucker's point is well taken when one considers the rapid growth of distance learning in education and industry during the last decade (Salas and Cannon-Bowers, 2001). Although several factors have driven this upsurge in nontraditional delivery of instruction, developments in technology including the user-friendliness of computers and their affordability, as well as the demand for "just in time" learning that accommodates students' lifestyles have been primary motivators (Ricketts, Wolfe, Norvelle, and Carpenter, 2000). And the demand for distance learning shows no signs of abating. Distance learning is a broad term that encompasses both distance education (DE, a term commonly used in academia) and distance training (a term commonly used in industry). This paper examines expectations of university students enrolled in DE courses as defined by Bordeau and Bates (1997): education that is computer based, remote, or asynchronous and supported by some instructional system.

For universities and colleges, DE provides the opportunity to service more students who desire an education. For would-be students, the positives associated with DE are obvious. According to Webster and Hackley (1997), DE will continue to play an important role in higher education because it offers the advantages of increased convenience, access to courses which may not be available locally, and flexibility for those students who wish to combine an education with full-time employment and family responsibilities. DE may also provide an unintended, yet valuable, experience related to career development. The experience gleaned by students who have already been exposed to DE, which was once considered a novel medium, provides a distinct advantage to would-be learners--a sense of familiarity and self efficacy for learning virtually.

Distance education is not without its skeptics. Faculty frequently express apprehension with DE because of the frequent technological problems associated with delivering the material (which may lead to student frustration and poor evaluations) (Crow, Cheek and Hartman, 2003). Likewise, concerns related to student learning and outcomes persist, despite several indications that DE results in comparable, if not better, educational results (e.g. Merisotis and Phipps, 1999; Sankaran, Sankaran and Bui, 2000). Despite these uncertainties, the demand for DE courses appears to outweigh the reservations some articulate. As academics; however, we continue to wonder "what are the differences between a traditional onsite education and one obtained at a distance?" It is commonly accepted among many professors that students' perceptions of and expectations for a course are frequently a harbinger of their course evaluations, and it is an equally well accepted fact that students' expectations for a course frequently underestimate the amount of time and effort required to excel. In the following sections, we develop hypotheses regarding students' expectations in the areas of teacher-student and student-student interaction, external interference, and course instruction and preparation in regards to distance learning. While DE has been praised for its flexibility, we believe that management students enrolled in DE courses will expect to have significantly less interaction with both their peers and professors on a weekly basis. …

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