Approximately one in six students enrolled in a college or university, or over 3 million individuals, participated in one or more online course in 2004. This was despite the fact that a leveling off was expected.
Another report for 2005 by Sloan showed that 850,000 more students took distance courses in the fall this year than 2004, an increase of nearly 40%. Once again the slowing or leveling did not come. Many secondary schools are putting considerable resources toward online learning, in expectation that this approach will be more economical than traditional classes and also expanding their reach.
In addition, a survey by the consulting and research firm Eduventures found 50% of the consumers who planned to enroll in a higher education program stated they would instead like to take some of their courses online. About 80% of online students are undergraduates, but are normally older and more apt to be working and have families. However, just about 50% are pursuing online degrees, according to Eduventures. The rest are enrolled in individual online courses or increasingly taking both online along with the more traditional onsite classes.
Distance learning may also be expanding because the distinction between brick and mortar and web classes is blurring. It is not rare even for on-campus courses to put up information, homework assignments and syllibi on the web or to include class discussions as part of the course structure.
The results from the Sloan survey also show that administration and faculty both are increasingly becoming more in favor with online classes. Approximately 62% of chief academic officers stated they believed their students acquired as much or even more learning opportunities from their online courses as their more traditional ones. On the other hand, there were still a large number, 38%, who felt online courses degraded the educational experience, and nearly all of these reported they are not sure distance learning will ever be more widely adopted. They list obstacles such as teachers having to spend more time preparing online courses, distance learning taking more discipline by the students and professors who still are not totally convinced that this is the best way for students to learn.
Students, however, are beginning to expect that most universities will have some online courses available to them, either for part-time or full-time class work. This changing need is noted in a study by Gifford (1994, p. 38)
We are going to move away from the school, the college, and the university as we know it, defined by buildings and physical boundaries, to an institution defined by its capabilities to distribute interactive learning experiences.
To meet student needs, it is necessary to clearly delineate the most effective instructional design elements of distance learning courses (Berge, 1997). It is thus becoming increasingly imperative that administration, faculty and course designers recognize the need for distance learning and develop the appropriate educational elements that will be the most effective online tools with the largest number of students. (Sims & Sims, 1995).
However, distance learners are anything but a homogeneous group. Adult learners have a wide variety of learning needs, personalities, experiences and backgrounds, goals and expectations when taking courses (Galbraith, 1994). Plus, their learning styles differ considerably. A number of studies have indicated that identifying the student's specific learning style and offering the necessary instruction to respond to that style can result in more effective learning (Rainey & Kolb, 1995; Davis, 1994; Grant, 1005; Mickens, 1005; Marshall, 1995; Hsu, 1996; Schroeder, 1996; Hartman, 1995; and Galbraith, 1994). These studies conclude that by improving their understanding of different online learning styles, schools can develop better knowledge-based curricula and opportunities to meet the expectations of a diverse group of learners.
Since student differences will impact how well they learn from any learning approach or methodology, effective teachers and coursework designers have to regularly link conceptual and empirical knowledge about instruction and acquiring knowledge to the ways that they actually do teach and facilitate learning activities (Caffarella & Barnett, 1994). This is the only way that professors and course designers can ensure that the education they provide through online learning meets academic standards. To do so, it is imperative that more studies be conducted to gain the inferences of more acceptable learning approaches for the use of online educational technology in secondary education instruction. These studies will be able to offer suggestions of unique learning style variances related to the choice of the best instructional methods for a wide number of different learning objectives (Wooldridge, 1995).
In the years to come, as larger numbers of colleges and universities expand their distance learning opportunities, there will a continually growing need for acquiring more information about effective web-based teaching approaches. More research is therefore needed to better understand the relationship that exists between communication in the online course, student learning, learner satisfaction and achievement of learning goals and objectives (Motiwalla & Tello, 1999).
The purpose of this present research is to provide additional information on different student learning styles and insights into how to best meet the needs of adult distant learners. The results of this study can be helpful for teachers and instructional developers of online curricula for continually improving the educational value of their distant learning opportunities.
BACKGROUND of PROBLEM
The introduction of the Internet and the development of distance learning through the web has caused a radical change in education (Cantelon, 1995). This change is very apparent when looking at the present numbers of ever-increasing distance education programs in colleges and universities. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that every year scores of higher education institutions are offering distance learning programs, while those that already have a program in place are putting many new courses and distance degree programs on the list. Administrators and instructors are spending a great deal more time to develop and expand their programs (Greene & Meek, 1998.)
There has been many articles written about the many benefits that distance learning offers adult students (Huang, 1996; Biner, 1993; Moller & Draper, 1996; James & Gardner, 1995). Olcutt and Wright (1995) recommend that earlier supporters of distance learning have stressed the technology as the innovation instead of the practice and process of distance instruction. The efficiency of distance learning, similar to any educational program, can be measured by the degree to which it meets its needs. As noted by Olcott (1993), distance learning is able to improve a renewed, although altered, view of the limitations and flexibility of ideas such as academic quality, discipline specialization, academic freedom, curricular control and classroom autonomy.
Aspects that are important to developing an efficient distance learning program are the level of quality of learning, the amount of students who find the course fulfilling their needs, and the price per student hour for both development and delivery (Bork, 1995). Moller and Draper (1996) said that the successful development of distance learning necessitates consecutively strategizing four key factors: effectiveness of learning, the technology used, cost and secondary effects on course participants. Olcott (1993) stresses that it is also essential to motivate faculty members, develop educational resources and establish an incentives program that formally recognizes teachers who participate in the creation and implementation of these courses. Wagner (1993), also notes that it is also important to have the teachers' positive support of distance learning to ensure an overall successful program.
Many types of media, such as telephone wires, microwave radios, cable, satellite dishes, and videotapes are needed to carry one-way transmission of instructional materials and lectures or two-way videoconferencing between faculty and adult learners at various locations. The establishment of computer technology and telecommunication infrastructure has led to a rapid growth in enrollment of web-based classes. Many colleges and universities are starting to include web-based classes in their distance education programs. A large number of institutions of higher education offer complete degree programs through the Internet or video delivery modes where the learners are required to attend campus several times a year, or not at all (Porter, 1997). Considerable research must be conducted on how to use the Internet as a form of delivery for distance education (Berge, 1997). Everyone involved with the development of online programs must be informed on what is the best way to enhance the efficiency of a web-based course that will meet the varied forms of adult learning styles
STATEMENT of the PROBLEM
This research studies the students' observations regarding the efficiency of web-based courses. Universities and colleges are spending a great deal of time and money to develop and implement technology, but many studies stress the need for additional research to be conducted in the areas of distance learning (Charp, 1999; Crow, 1995; Morgan, 1996; Motiwalla & Tello, 1999). Instructors and course designers need to become more aware of the importance of designing distance learning curricula, especially that meets specific learning styles. Students are becoming more demanding and are looking for very particular courses and approaches to education, due to the increased costs of education and the greater demands on their…