Online Student and Instructor Characteristics

Online Student and Instructor Characteristics

Michelle Kilburn, Martha Henckell, David Starrett
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch465
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As technological advances become mainstream in higher education, many universities have begun delving into online learning as an effective means of course delivery. Transitioning from the Industrial Age to the Digital Age of learning has forced some evaluators to rethink standards of success and the idea of productivity and learning (Leonard, 1999). Understanding the positive attributes of students and instructors in the online environment will contribute to the understanding of how we can enhance the learning experience for the student and the teaching experience for the instructor. This article will also assist students and instructors in understanding the differences that may be experienced in the online environment vs. the face-to-face environment and provide the opportunity to consider whether online learning or teaching is a “good fit” for them. Understanding why students or instructors might choose the online environment will also assist administrators in developing successful, quality online programs that enrich the experiences for both students and instructors.
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In 1981, the first online classes were developed at the School of Management and Strategic Studies at Western Behavior Sciences Institute in La Jolla, California. An evaluation of the program, and the discussions that took place, revealed that the quality of the online course was higher than the information collected in the traditional classroom setting (Feenberg, 1999). Jung, Choi, Lim, and Leem (2002) also found that online instruction showed significantly better results on examinations, complicated problems, or student’s perception of learning outcomes.

With the popularity of the Internet, and the continuing demand for online courses, many college and university administrators might find it challenging to incorporate online technology. Many may feel pressured to jump on the “online bandwagon” in order to keep up with the student demand for these types of courses.

Kilburn (2005) developed the following conceptual map (see Figure 1) regarding student motivations to take an online course at a particular university in the Midwest:

Figure 1.

Student motivations to take an online course at a Midwest university


In the upcoming section, an examination of student and instructor characteristics and how each of those different roles contributes to the quality of an online course will help provide insight into the foundational underpinnings of Web-based learning.


Student Characteristics

It is estimated that five out of six students taking an online course are employed and would not be able to attend traditional classes (Thomas, 2001). Moore and Kearsley (1996) and Hardy and Boaz (1997) found that most distance learners are working adults, primarily female. Literature suggests that the growth in online courses is based on attracting new students rather than “stealing” from students enrolled in current on-campus programs (Mangan, 2001; Thomas, 2001).

Some researchers have attempted to identify student abilities that will suggest whether a student will complete an online course, or be less satisfied with an online course, in comparison to the traditional classroom setting. Kilburn (2005) found that positive characteristics identified in studies stress the importance of an active vs. passive student role in an online course and include: self-motivation and the ability to organize thought (Hardy & Boaz, 1997), prior experience with technology (Richards & Ridley, 1997), positive attitude regarding the subject matter (Coussment, 1995), learning and personality styles (Saunders, Malm, Malone, Nay, Oliver, & Thompson, 1998), self-selection of online courses vs. forced-choice (Thomerson & Smith, 1996), intrinsic motivation, and self-reported explorative behavior (Martens, Bastiaens, & Kirschner, 2007).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Academic Interaction: Occurs when learners study materials and get task-oriented feedback from the instructor ( Moller, 1998 ; Moore, 1993 ).

Synchronous Learning: Adjective used to describe an operation performed at the same time as another event ( Boaz et al., 1999 ).

Distance Learning: Learning that occurs when the instructor and students are separated by physical distance and technology is used to bridge the instructional gap ( Boaz, Elliott, Foshee, Hardy, Jarmon, & Olcott, 1999 ).

Web-Based Instruction: A media-rich online environment allowing people to interact with others asynchronously or synchronously in collaborative and distributed environments ( Harasim, 1995 ), to gain access to remote multimedia databases for active and resource-based learning ( Jung & Leem, 1999 ), and to manage self-paced individual learning in a flexible way ( Reeves & Reeves, 1997 ).

Online Learning/Course: A context for learning in which students interact using technology and do not meet in a physical classroom with the instructor.

Asynchronous Learning: Electronic communication in which the student and teacher interact via e-mail and listservs, but do not do so by being on the Internet at the same time ( Berge, Collins, & Day, 1995 ).

Distance Education: “Any formal approach to learning in which a majority of the instruction occurs while educator and learner are at a distance from one another” ( Clark, 1983 , p. 8).

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