During the last decade, educators have debated the benefits and disadvantages of online education methods, comparing them with traditional face-to-face classroom learning, as well as other “hybrid” teaching methods, i.e. the inclusion of a variety of learning modalities including interaction between teachers and students and among students, combined with different technological means of learning such as online course material, audio and video experiences. The latter instructional technique is known as “distance learning”, describing an environment in which the teacher is physically separated from the students and utilizing both low-tech and high tech correspondence to maximize the educational experience. There is a great deal of literature on the subject, ranging from studies that have been done to evaluate the effectiveness of distance learning to measuring and comparing the academic achievements of students involved in each form of instruction. Overall, it is felt that online learning methods provide a challenging and innovative way to deliver information to students, promoting the ability to engage in reflective thinking that leads to self-assessment and other abilities that improve overall academic and social skills for both professionals and their students.
The increase in online academics provided by universities and colleges in the United States has risen dramatically, and continues to do so at an unparalleled rate (Martyn, 2003.) Eventually, it is believed that nearly 90% of all institutions of higher learning will include at least some courses that are offered online. This form of instruction describes a variety of teaching methods that include the delivery of information via computer, audio, and video methods, and is known as “distance learning.” The definition of such instruction signifies any physical environment in which the teacher is physically separated from the student, as well as containing a broad spectrum of classes that range from low-tech to high-tech correspondence and delivery methods.
The classes that are taught using the Internet are generally divided into two forms: asynchronous, that is, instruction that is provided without a fixed time or classroom instruction that would provide interaction between the instructor and students, or between students; or synchronous, where there are certain elements built into the class that allows some degree of interaction, by utilizing Internet chat (Gregory, 2003.) Within the category of “asynchronous” learning experiences, however, here are a variety of modes of instruction. For example, a “hybrid” class usually involves a small amount of time in face-to-face sessions along with the rest of the class being taught on the Internet; other classes may be presented solely on the Internet while others may include some components of the synchronous teaching techniques that include interaction, either person-to-person or through live television.
Attitudes towards distance learning are extremely varied, with much concern directed at both the positives and negatives in relation to students and instructors. Teachers who are exclusively involved in online academic instruction can be viewed as missing out on valuable experiences that include both interacting with peers as well as students. The process of becoming a competent instructor necessarily includes receiving ongoing feedback from peers in order to engage in a reflective process; the principle behind this school of thought is that the best way to gain self-awareness about one’s performance as a teacher is by reflecting deeply, actively performing self-assessment, and obtaining feedback from other teachers (Yanes, 2004.) Other methods by which teachers may engage in professional development leading to self-reflection are by written observations, personal journals, class discussions, and exchanging ideas with teachers who serve as mentors.
Various studies have been undertaken to evaluate the effectiveness of distance learning. One such study determined that the distribution of online training material was a successful way of providing training to Department Of Defense employees as well as military personnel (Barker, 2005.) The factors that played a significant role in the amount of material learned were ability to receive immediate feedback, the relevance of the course to the students’ purposes, and the overall effectiveness of the class. Generally, it appears that the use of technology in the form of audio and video material provides a desirable means by which students are able to absorb material over the Internet, either in addition to or in lieu of face-to-face classroom experiences.
This paper will examine whether distance learning is as effective as utilizing hybrid learning, a crucial issue since the numbers of students enrolling in online coursework is increasing each year. Their success , or lack thereof, in learning the material offered is vital in order to understand the potential achievements for those subjects as individuals, as well as as contributing members of society as a whole. This research will seek to answer that question by employing quantitative methodology consisting of gathering information through surveys and questionnaires and administering them to a randomized control group of students taking online courses utilizing distance learning. The results will then be compared with those distributed to a randomized control group taking the same course in a hybrid classroom.
The students’ progress in both groups will be scored and evaluated, allowing the formation of a discussion and conclusions regarding the effectiveness of both methods of learning. The independent variable will be the mode of instruction received by the students, i.e., online instruction versus traditional classroom instruction that includes face-to-face contact. The dependent variable will be the students’ achievement as measured by their completion of a survey given at the end of the course. The key terms used in this research are:
- Distance learning, or educational instruction or learning via the Internet, audio, or video material obtained outside of the traditional classroom environment;
- Hybrid learning, or learning that is accomplished by combining a variety of methods, from classroom instruction to Internet and media resources; and
- Effectiveness, or the production of desired results.
Review of Related Literature
There is quite a range of literature pertaining to the subject of distance learning, as compared with hybrid learning, appearing during the last decade. Several of these articles will be summarized below.
In a report that examined differences between on-and off-campus students’approaches to learning and attitudes toward the use of computers in their educational goals, it was found that on-campus students were “less positive about working with computers” and reported feeling confused about exactly what they were supposed to study from the unit covered (Armatas et al., 2003.) In contrast, the off-campus students were found to being more confident about their computer usage, as well as their plans for studying the material covered. Although all of the students felt that different available resources were important, again, the off-campus students valued electronic resources more and tended to use computer-generated media as part of their on-line learning experience, placing more value on this area, than their on-campus counterparts. The on-campus students preferred to study using print media, rather than online resources.
Gregory studied students’ perceptions of the effectiveness of online distance education methods, and concluded that the population studied–specifically, library and information science students–were essentially satisfied with the quality of the instruction that they were receiving, they also believe that their educational experience would be improved if they had received some degree of face-to-face interaction with their instructor, as well as their peers (Gregory, 2003.) The study recommended that these findings be taken into account in the future planning of distance learning academic offerings. In four out of the five pairs of courses that were examined for this study, classes that were consistently rated most valuable were those that included some synchronous aspects, either Internet chat or in-person classroom sessions.
A book review of Changing Educational Paradigms for Online Learning (Howard, 2004) discussed the book’s coverage of distance learning on a global level, much to the surprise of the reviewer. The review addresses three aspects of this form of instruction: approaches and paradigms, course development instruction as well as quality issues, and developing an organization that will result in successful Internet-based education courses. The authors of the book opine that distance education will only become more permanent as features in higher education in the future, and that it will potentially improve educational outcomes. The book describes many of the innovations and challenges that distance learning will present to faculty and students alike. Some of those challenges include initiating collaborative learning in every instructional method; placing a higher priority on utilizing well-trained, as well as effective faculty; and increasing responsiveness to pressures presented by both the market and educational consumers (Ibid.)
A completely different focus on the topic of distance learning is presented in an article that discusses the new terminology that has been developed to describe various aspects of the subject (Kanuka, 2003.) There is a tremendous range of vocabulary associated with distance education, such as technology-mediated learning, hybrid learning, computer-mediated conferencing, E-learning, virtual learning, and many other terms that relate to the incorporation of web-based methods into educational practice. This article distinguishes between similar terms that may all be mistaken for each other, and delineates the differences: for example, distance education, distance learning and distributed learning may appear to be interchangeable, but the Kanuka article explains what the terms have in common and what makes them distinct from each other. The author feels strongly that the inconsistency of language between researchers is an obstacle to useful dialogue, as well as impeding understanding of the strategic importance and effectiveness of distance education (Ibid.)
A detailed description of the hybrid model of learning is contained in an article by Yanes, as previously mentioned, emphasizing the importance of reflection, self-assessment, and feedback from other teachers in providing influence over how one becomes an effective educator (Yanes, 2004.) Yanes describes the concept of constructionism, the principle that knowledge is developed by the student who is actively involved in understanding the external world through social constructs of meaning and shared experiences. She conducted an evaluation and study of students who were engaged in group activities with each other, e-mails between the students, and the use of group forums onto which students could post comments and reactions at a time of their choosing. She found that students who experienced traditional classroom interactions combined with distance learning techniques including interactions between students and feedback from the instructor as well as other students contributed to the development of a sophisticated level of thinking that resulted in developing a strong foundation in the subject (Ibid.) Ultimately, Yanes concluded that Internet-based discussion groups tended to reinforce learned information more effectively in addition to increasing students’ ability to develop cognitively in the areas of self-reflection and self-awareness.
Finally, a study by Bradley Barker and David Brooks from the University of Nebraska assessed the success of on-line training materials designed to evaluate course effectiveness, the role of prior knowledge in the ability to learn material, and the subjects’ reaction to technology utilized in educational endeavors. The population utilized in this study were Department of Defense employees and military personnel. A survey, consisting of 27 questions was administered at the end of an online course, with 63% reporting that they had learned “a lot” and only 14% reported that they had only learned “a little.” The study concluded that online training when it had been distributed to the population described was an extremely successful mode of training. The most significant factors affecting mastery of the subject matter were found to be: receiving immediate feedback from students and teachers, the relevance of the course material and the overall effectiveness of the course (Barker, 2004.). In addition, the use of technology was reported to be a significant factor in the students’ satisfaction with the learning experience, methods that included computers, audio and video delivery of information. The survey that was utilized in this study was considered to be an effective way to evaluate short-term online training events, providing valuable feedback to program managers, experts in the field, software developers and curriculum designers (Ibid.) Overall, the implication was that utilizing various media for online education provides an opportunity for a different form of instruction that is of great interest to students and teachers alike, in military or civilian environments.
The participants in my study will consist of 30 students enrolled in a distance learning class, and 30 students enrolled in a hybrid course, evenly divided between males and females. In order to qualify for distance learning, students automatically have to score 18 or higher, and must have completed at least one year of college, so that presumably they will be at least 18 years of age. The research will be conducted in Kemper County, Mississippi, at East Mississippi Community College. There will be a range of participants regarding socioeconomic status, and given the area in which the study will be conducted, approximately 60% of the students will come from low income households with 40% coming from middle to high socioeconomic groups. The ethnic/racial makeup of the groups will reflect the community in which it is held: 55% will be African-American students, and 45% of the students will be Caucasian.
The type of sample used for this research will be a simple random sample, and the participants will fill out forms that identify them with numbers rather than names, as a means of providing anonymity that will preserve confidentiality of the subjects. Inclusion criteria, as stated, will be students who have scored at least 18 on the ACT, and have completed at least one year of university. Conversely, exclusion criteria will be students who scored lower than 18 on the ACT and have not completed at least one year of college. The study can be generalized to the population of students who are included in this study as defined above; therefore, the results could be generalized to students who have completed their first year at East Mississippi Community College and are currently enrolled in the program there. An obstacle to using this population to generalize to a larger group would be the size of the sample: it is relatively small, which may make generalizing to larger groups unfeasible.
This study will utilize achievement tests to measure outcomes, and will be developed by the researcher; a pre-existing instrument will not be applied to this research. The achievement test will measure student performance in a specific class as well as his or her command of the course material. The specific instruments to be applied will be weekly assignments, a midterm and a final exam. The students’ scores will be evaluated by the instructor and recorded into a computer entry system. The researcher will ultimately interpret the results by using a quantitative analysis approach, which will reflect the knowledge of material that has been presented in the class, both for distance learning students as well as for the hybrid learning students.
Internal consistency of the study will be measured by evaluating the weekly assignments, midterm grade and final exam score. The stability, or reliability over time, will be indicated by a weekly evaluation to ensure that the students are all participating in the course and completing their weekly assignments. Validity will be measured by comparing the scores of students enrolled in distance learning class with the scores of the students enrolled in the hybrid class. There are certain threats to the internal validity of this study, however. One of these factors is location, because the distance learning course is not in a specific location, but rather will occur through correspondence via e-mail, which will also serve as a way to count attendance of each class session. In addition, attitude towards the subject of the course is a threat to internal validity, because the students do not have the benefit of regular class meetings and peer contact, as well as face-to-face contact with the instructor, to keep them motivated to complete the required work. Therefore, to minimize this threat, students will be required to communicate each week on discussion boards that will allow students to provide motivation , as well as support, to each other.
Implementation is another possible threat because the manner in which the material is presented will be different for each group of students that is evaluated; one way to minimize this threat will be to have the instructors provide outlines to the distance learning students to help them in their understanding of textbook chapters and other reading materials in lieu of attending lectures.
Another threat to internal validity is testing, because the students who have hybrid learning experiences have the benefit of having the instructor available on-site to answer any questions that come up regarding exams. In an effort to minimize the advantages that this provides to the hybrid students, as compared with their distance-learning counterparts, it will be requested that the tests feature identical components and that the instructors refrain from answering any questions during testing. In order to increase the validity of the study’s results, it will be crucial to plan implementation techniques carefully and uniformly, ensuring that all the students receive their tests and assignments in the same format. Finally, all possible efforts will be made to ensure that the instruments used to measure student progress and achievement are valid and reliable.
Anderson, K. (2010) Does the Method of Instruction Matter? An Experimental Examination of Information Literacy Instruction in the Online, Blended, and Face-to-Face Classrooms. The Journal of Academic Librarianship v. 36 p. 495-500
Armatas, Christine; Holt, Dale; Rice, Mary. (Oct 2003) Impacts of an Online-Supported, Resource-Based Learning Environment: Does One Size Fit All? Distance Education 24. 2 l 141-158.
Gregory, Vicki. (2003) Student Perceptions of the Effectiveness of Web-Based Distance Education. New Library World 104. 10: 426-431.
Howell, Scott. (2005) Distance Learning and University Effectiveness: Changing Educational Paradigms for Online Learning. Quarterly Review of Distance Education 6.2 169-172, 182.
Kanuka, Heather; Conrad, Dianne. (2003) The Name of the Game; Why Distance Education Says It All. Quarterly Review of Distance Education 4. 4 385-393.
Yanes, Martha. (2004) Distance Education in Traditional Classes: A Hybrid Model. Quarterly Review of Distance Education 5.4 265-276, 310-311.