While distance education has been available in many forms for a long time, the technologies associated with the Internet are opening up new ways of delivering the educational product. In addition, the acceptance and use of these technologies are widespread, easing the transition from the traditional classroom in the eyes of university administrators, students, and academics—at least at first appearances. Coupled with this, the worldwide shortage of academic staff in the business schools, particularly in information intensive areas (Diamond & Wergin, 2002) and engineering (Thompson, 1999), and the general “graying of academia” (Hall, 2002) is encouraging school management to experiment with alternative forms of delivery. University administrations can see attractions in increasing numbers of students. Under what conditions will the Internet and its associated technologies provide an acceptable answer? While teaching in foreign parts and living at home may be attractive to some academics, what problems will be encountered by institution administrations in the use of these telecommuters?
There is a considerable body of literature outlining potential differences in the performance of students undertaking distance education courses as compared to traditional classroom courses; see, for example, Neal (1998), Taylor (1998); Wetzel, Radtke, and Stern (1994), Storck and Sproull (1995), and Hara and Kling (1999). In general, these studies indicate that there are no significant differences in achievement and the satisfaction of students in distance education classes when compared to the more traditional modes of delivery. It should be noted, however, that finding empirically based research specifically related to online distance education is difficult, no doubt partly due to the recent nature of such delivery (see also, Schell, 2001). A number of studies do provide some indication of student perceptions of online distance education (Hara & Kling, 1999; Hiltz, 1997; Hornby & Anderson, 1995; Hsu and Backhouse 2001; Pear & Novak, 1996; Stahlman, 1996). In general, the benefits identified by students include convenience and flexibility, greater motivation to work, learning more and greater understanding of the course material, higher quality of education, better access to and communication with the professor, more communication with other students, and more active participation in discussion. Some also liked the unlimited access to self-assessment and immediate and extensive feedback. There has also been work done in relation to the Technology Acceptance Model (see, in particular, Cheung, Lee, & Chen, 2001), which indicated that perceived usefulness had the greatest effect on the behavioural intentions of students.