Learning Outcomes in Online Graduate Education Courses

Learning Outcomes in Online Graduate Education Courses

Greg Kearsley (University of New England, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-985-9.ch006
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This chapter examines the relevance of transformative learning theory as it applies to online graduate courses. It is argued that the nature of learning that occurs in such courses involves a high degree of reflection and critical analysis and hence is well described by transformative theory. Discussion forum postings from 3 different courses at different institutions are analyzed in terms of the meaning structures defined by Mezirow. The results support the assertion that meaning schema and perspectives are being created and changed as a consequence of interaction with peers and instructors during online classes. A number of suggestions for refining the study of transformative learning in online courses are provided.
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Prior Research

There has not been a lot of research addressing the role of transformational theory in online learning (see Taylor, 2007, for an overall research summary). Cragg et al (2001) applied transformational theory to the learning process of nursing students in a distance learning context. Benson, Guy & Tallman (2001) attempted to document the perspective change that occurred in four students who completed two online library media courses. Reushle (2008) used transformation theory as the framework for an online teacher training course. King (2002) examined transformational theory in graduate educational technology programs, but these did not involve learning online. These studies suggest that transformational theory may be a useful framework for understanding the online learning process, but don’t provide much detail.

On the other hand, there is a large body of research about online learners and this may include studies relevant to transformational theory. For example, Schou (2007) found that students had a more positive attitude towards statistics after completing an online course and Chia, Poe & Wuensch (2009) identified changes in cultural attitudes in a virtual course on cross-cultural understanding. Wickersham & Dooley (2006) showed that students employ critical thinking skills in online discussions.

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