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A study of the factors influencing satisfaction with distance learning. (Lessons Learned: Online Business Relationships & Knowledge Management).


The author of this issue's column, Dr. Sheida Shirvani, revisits one of the mainstays of distance learning, compressed video. As the "delivery medium pendulum" swings back from fully online work to blended work (some "face to face" and online platforms) compressed video may be poised for a come back as the medium of choice for many institutions. There is a glaring disparity when you observe the rising inclusion of technology in training or education while there exists a relatively low measurement of its effectiveness. There has been a tremendous explosion in the types of technology used to deliver learning objectives, with web-based training platforms growing fastest. The key challenges that educators and trainers face when integrating online technologies into their delivery systems include technology developments occur faster than adoption; technology adoption occurs faster than assessment; and the most immediate evaluation challenges involve focus on expertise and commitment. Dr. Shirvani's review and study of compressed video as an effective medium focuses on satisfaction of the medium by students and related correlations. Stepping back and reviewing technology mediums that we have more experience with is one way to keep track of the gap in assessment to technology options. The other way is to focus our assessment on performance variables, this column will address the first approach. Our next column will be addressing the inter-generational dynamics in online project collaboration. We will review the differences between different generations' approach and interaction using online tools to communicate and accomplish tasks. - Brian Hoyt


Distance learning is hardly a new phenomenon. For more than a century, it has allowed busy professionals, whose schedules prevented them from taking regular classes, to continue their education. But mainstream access to the World Wide Web, compressed video, and microwave systems has transformed this largely electronic access to a bona fide educational option. About two-thirds of the 3,200 accredited four-year colleges and graduate schools in the United States now supplement campus offerings with classes via one or more of these media (Clarke, 1999). Among the schools cited were Stanford, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Purdue University, all known for their willingness to adopt innovative approaches to education. Distance learning courses can be a great way to stay competitive in today's rapidly changing workplace, if a person has what it takes to thrive outside the traditional classroom structure. Before trading in pencil and paper for a computer or TV screen, some old fashioned homework is advisable.

The American workplace has undergone significant changes. Technology is making it possible for employees to work from anywhere in the world. Employees are being given more power, responsibility, and flexibility. All of these changes are leading to better opportunities and more skills. Now, those changes are trickling down to the educational system. Both commercial and traditional educational institutions offer distance learning or education programs. Some programs offer complete degrees while others only provide courses toward professional development, personal enrichment, or partial programs. Whatever these programs offer, distance learning is here to stay. So are innovations in live broadcast and live Internet instruction. Distance learning technology increases the flexibility with which students may participate in higher education, and makes many programs available to the students who could not otherwise participate. Distance learning may decrease the opportunities for peer interaction, but it is a medium for increasing community access to education. Students gain access to courses from wherever they choose.

Several distance education programs offered at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Mid-Extension University, Clonlara School, University of Phoenix, University of Alaska-Anchorage, America Online, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and New York University are resources for distance education. Ohio University has, within the last few years, offered different courses via distance learning technology. Most of the courses are via microwave, compressed video, tapes, and Internet. Their success is of concern to university administrators and to the faculty as a whole. According to an Annenberg/Corporation for Public Broadcasting report, over 900 universities and colleges offered at least one video telecourse as far back as 1984-1985 (Riccobono, 1986). This investigation is of one particular distance learning medium, compressed video, as specifically used on regional campuses of Ohio University within the last two years.

New technology changes in population demographics have made television an increasingly viable medium for the delivery of university curriculum (Arnall, 1984). A number of studies report on how students learn with distance learning environments and about their satisfaction with the courses. These studies report that the students who received their education through distance learning received similar grades to the students educated in face-to-face classrooms. The studies reported no intrinsic differences between the two environments (Milton et al, 1986, and Richmond et al., 1987). Nonetheless, there is evidence of fundamental differences. Learner satisfaction is based on the learner's perception of the lecturer's effectiveness, and conversation, an essential characteristic of effective distance education, is missing in distance learning. This affects the learners' perceptions (Hackman & Walker, 1990).

Boulet, Boudreault, and Guerette (1998) indicated that distance learning courses can decrease the learning of fundamentals for students enrolled in a full-television distance education course. However, the investigators suspect that distance learning technology added value for the learning of attitudes for the students and that these courses have different effects on the overall learning. Ward (1996) recognized that to be able to work as an effective professional in this type of distance learning environment, a person must show proper attitudes and excellent problem solving capabilities. But Boulet, Boudreault, and Guerette (1998) also indicated that the delivery mode -- distance learning or face-to-face interaction -- has different effects on the learning of problem solving. There is no decrease of learning due to the change of the delivery mode.

Konstam and Molotsky (1998) stated that distance learning has been a viable education technique for over one hundred years in the form of correspondence courses. However, correspondence courses were not meant to replace on-campus classroom education. With technological advancements in the form of video technology, Internet, and distance learning programs, the replacement of traditional classroom education replaced with technological teaching has become possible. Distance learning programs bring about new educational problems that must be addressed from the points of view of administration, faculty, and students. It becomes obvious that administration can benefit from the reduced costs associated with distance learning. However, institutions have to finance the initial investment of the innovation. There is concern that they may have to reduce faculty size in order to afford technology Neumann (1988) claims society may find that electronic teaching loses many of the deeper advantages of traditional universitie s where smaller classrooms are more effective. But electronic education is a new approach to education and requires a lot of work, a "painful and time consuming period of reengineering, restructuring, and organization redesign" (p.2).

Konstam and Molostsky (1998) further argue the positive and negative aspects of technology in education. On the positive side, faculty can reach many more students by using Internet, web-based courses, and distance learning. Faculty are also aware that they can use technology to enhance their instructional presentations. However, faculty have several legitimate concerns about using new technology in their teaching, including time for preparation and the overall expense of these classes. An instructor will have to invest double or triple normal preparation time for one of these courses. And there are questions about protection of individual and intellectual rights. There can be no expectation of privacy when the Internet is involved. Finally, evaluation of programs and teaching effectiveness are critical faculty concerns. Faculty is faced with downsizing as a result of advances in technology and distance learning.

The research also suggests that the effects of technology on students are of the greatest importance. On the positive side, distance learning offers customization of the learning process. It offers convenience for students; reaches students located physically removed from a campus, and may be less expensive. On the negative side, many experts feel students miss out on a great deal of learning when they do not have an on-campus experience. Also, face-to-face interaction is lacking in this type of technology. Many scholars concerned with the issue of distance learning and innovative classroom technologies have discussed the issue of positive and negative aspects of technology. Each of these areas has been evaluated, and suggestions were offered to help expand this innovation to the full benefit of institution, learners, and faculty as a whole (Boverie, Negel, McGee, & Garcia, 1998; Biner, Dean, & Mellinger, 1994; Boulet, Boudreault, & Guerette, 1998; Dillon & Walsh, 1992; Hackman & Walker, 1990).

In regard to the educational risks, Neumann (1998) indicated that creating high-quality teaching materials is labor intensive and very challenging. To be successful, distance learning requires even more organization and forethought than a conventional class. Loss of interaction among learners and of learners with the instructor raises serious potential risks. In particular the provider or instructor does not realize that the students or learners are not grasping what is being taught. There are simply no "live" clues!

Other research investigated the factors underlying distance learners' satisfaction with televised courses. Biner, Dean, and Mellinger (1994) identified seven dimensions underlying distance learner satisfaction with live, interactive courses: the instructor/instruction, the technology itself, course management, personnel at-site, promptness of material delivery, support services, and out-of-class communication with the instructor. The authors concluded that the dimensions of their research could provide program personnel with a measure of distance learner satisfaction. Also, these dimensions allow personnel a measure of distance learning education program that can assist program managers as they organize program funding. Finally, student satisfaction measures of distance learning may be used to help predict future course success.

The pressure for technology comes from college administrators and state officials eager to reach new students and cut costs. One issue they discuss is the prospect of extending college access to students with disabilities or who for other reasons could not attend college, for example, students in remote areas who are not easily able to leave those locations. Another issue includes students working full-time who would appreciate an opportunity to learn or need a college degree for professional advancement. There is also the assurance that online libraries will be at students' fingertips. However, many of these savings supposed to accrue from technology are misleading and raise serious questions about educational quality. But the fact is that the impression of doing more for less is always powerful. In fairness to the administrators and state officials, the pressure to adopt the technologies in the classes comes also from technology pioneers among faculty.

According to the report of the Task Force on Technology in Higher Education (1996) commissioned by the American Federation of Teachers, many faculty used new technologies in their classrooms and introduced innovations to their teaching strategies. According to this report, one-third of faculty have made use of software in their classrooms, 2% of college classes now use commercial courseware, 4% use multimedia, 9% employ computer simulation, and 13% use electronic mail. The report indicated that half of the state colleges and universities reported that they offer distance education courses. Ten percent offered full degree programs through distance education. The report also pointed out that almost all universities provide faculty with free access to the Internet. What makes technology so attractive to faculty is the genuine educational gains it offers. In reality it is possible to bring new views and increased volume of information into the classroom in order to cultivate the learner's mind and to ease communication among the learners and faculty.

The distance learning approach is powerful. It is here to stay. There are other benefits to this new, innovative approach to education. Sayre (1998) indicated that distance learning via satellite links gives new meaning to the saying "the sky is the limit." It gives the opportunity for employees or learners to learn while they earn. Another benefit is the distribution vehicle: so long as the programs are received at one site, they can be transmitted to many different sites. Internal networks may then transfer programs to individual desktops, or the programs may be stored on local servers for later use.

With the global economy becoming increasingly dependent on an educated and well-trained workforce, distance learning is producing a bridge to the 21st century. A comprehensive review of the literature on distance teaching identifies factors such as face-to-face interaction, audience characteristics, availability of the instructors, and outstanding equipment as keys to effective distance learning education. The purposes of this study were to examine the keys to the success of Ohio University's Campus Centers' distance learning initiative and to make recommendations to faculty and administrators for future programs.


Distance learning is a system that connects learner with learning resources. Distance learning also includes a variety of delivery and forms. They are characterized by separation of place and time between sources and learners. The interaction between learner and sources conducted through one or more media. (In this particular paper, the media is required to be electronic media.)

Learner: An individual or group that looks for a learning experience offered by a provider.

Provider: The individual or organization that creates and facilitates the learning opportunity.


Distance learning classes conducted via compressed video (two-way audio and video) at Ohio University Campus Centers were selected to participate in this study. All the courses were conducted through the 1997-98 academic year. Electronic mail, PowerPoint[R], and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) were used for group discussions and learner support. Participants for this study were students who registered for compressed video classes anywhere across the campus system. Questionnaires distributed at the end of each class were used in this study. The data were combined and analyzed using the SPSS[R] statistical package.


* What is the relation between faculty performance and perception of student learning in the distributed class?

* What is the relation between learning outcome and student satisfaction with the distributed classes?

* What are the relations among gender, student satisfaction, and success in the distributed classes?

* What are the relations among age, student satisfaction, and success with the distributed classes?


A total of 338 usable questionnaires were collected during a fifteen-week period of evaluation. Predominately, the courses were offered to undergraduate classes in nursing, communication, information systems, education, and business. Although there was only one graduate class in the study, some 49 respondents were graduate students. There were also 128 seniors, 97 juniors, and 65 freshmen and sophomores. There were 211 females and 66 males in the classes. The majority were taking at least one other compressed video course. For only 29% of this was the first such course. Some 53% of subjects were interested in taking televised courses from Ohio University delivered directly into their homes via local cable TV. It was interesting that 151 of the subjects had Internet access at home and that 14.8% of them had access some other way. Almost 70% of the subjects were satisfied with the program.

Chi-square test produced one interesting but statistically insignificant result and two significant relations. Students were asked to respond to the statement, "I was less apt to ask questions or interact with the instructor because the course was televised." Referring to Table 1, notice that the older students (">25") were far more likely to agree, disagree, and express no opinion about this. These older students represent a very mixed bag of abilities and adaptive skills.

When the same statement is viewed from the perspective of class ranks, students in upper classes indicated they were less apt to interact is statistically significant (cf., Table 2, C_ (10, N=289) = 22.618, r< .05). What is interesting about this is that these same higher classes are more likely to be populated by the older students.

Class rank was also statistically significant (C_ (10, N=277) = 20.968, r< .05) when considering overall satisfaction with the course (Table 3). If in fact older students fill the ranks of the upper classes, the initial dispersion of responses across the three response categories (Table 1) is not easily understood. Older students might have been less apt to interact, but that did not diminish their satisfaction with the course.

In addition to descriptive statistics, correlations were sought between and among the variables of each question. A bit surprising was that the only significant finding was that seniors and graduate students reported higher overall satisfaction with the course than were freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. However, because the statement ("Overall, I was satisfied with this course") is very general, the result cannot be interpreted as an endorsement of course delivery by compressed video.

Frankly, the researcher was surprised that the answer to each of the four questions of the study was "None." The absence of significant finding is, perhaps, due to the pervasiveness of video media in the lives of students. Almost half of the respondents were under 25 years of age. They had grown up in a highly visually stimulated society -- they are, after all, the "Sesame Street Generation." The remaining half of the students were classified simply as ">25." Anecdotal evidence suggests most of them were under 40. They, too, have been heavily influenced by and are very accustomed to learning through visual media. For all of them, then, the use of compressed video is more a natural phenomenon than a revolution in education.

There is no doubt that compressed video can provide valuable experiences and education for both students and instructors. Providing access and good interaction with resources help the learner to enjoy this type of educational experience. Compressed video opens a world of opportunities for students and instructors. Granted instructors may have to plan and prepare more than usual to take advantage of this new medium, but strategies which work best with this medium are likely to improve student motivation. The payoff in a positive experience for students more than compensates for the extra investment of time and effort.

The world is changing, technology is improving, and humans are adapting to new media rapidly. Therefore, those for whom the media is available need to take advantage of it. Educational consumers demand innovation in delivery. As the suppliers, universities should respond open-mindedly.
Table 1

"Less Apt to Interact" by "Age of Student"

 Age of Student

 18-20 21-23 24-25 <25 Total

agree 13 32 15 97 157
no opinion 5 6 4 16 31
disagree 11 12 8 69 100

TOTAL 29 50 27 182 288
Table 2

"Apt to Interact" with "Class Rank"

 Class Rank

 Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior Graduate Other

agree 7 7 58 74 11
no opinion 3 1 12 15
disagree 5 8 27 39 21 1

TOTAL 15 16 97 128 32 1


agree 157
no opinion 31
disagree 101

Table 3

"Overall Satisfaction with "Class Rank"

 Class Rank

 Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior Graduate

agree 7 9 64 85 28
no opinion 4 5 12 20 1
disagree 4 2 20 15 21

TOTAL 15 16 96 120 29


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Author:Shirvani, Sheida
Publication:International Journal on E-Learning
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2002
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