Improving Online Learning: Student Perceptions of Useful and Challenging Characteristics

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Internet and Higher Education 7 (2004) 59 – 70

Improving online learning: Student perceptions of useful and challenging characteristics Liyan Song *, Ernise S. Singleton, Janette R. Hill, Myung Hwa Koh University of Georgia, 604 Aderhold Hall, Athens, GA 30602, USA Received 4 September 2003; received in revised form 3 November 2003; accepted 4 November 2003

Abstract Online courses and programs continue to grow in higher education settings. Students are increasingly demanding online access, and universities and colleges are working to meet the demands. Yet many questions remain re: the viability and veracity of online learning, particularly from the learner perspective. The purpose of this study was to gain insights into learners’ perceptions of online learning. Seventy-six (76) graduate students were surveyed to identify helpful components and perceived challenges based on their online learning experiences. Results of the study indicated that most learners agreed that course design, learner motivation, time management, and comfortableness with online technologies impact the success of an online learning experience. Participants indicated that technical problems, a perceived lack of sense of community, time constraints, and the difficulty in understanding the objectives of the online courses as challenges. Suggestions for addressing the challenges are provided. D 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. Keywords: Student perceptions; Online learning; Implication strategies

1. Introduction What makes a learner successful in an online environment? What creates barriers or challenges? Answers to these questions, among others, gain increasing importance as Internet technologies become more readily available and accessible, in formal and informal contexts (Hofmann, 2002). By the year 1997, there were more than 762 institutions in the United States alone that offered courses at a distance (Gubernick and Ebeling, 1997, as cited in Cereijo, Young, & Wilhelm, 1999). The Making the Virtual

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +1-706-542-3810; fax: +1-706-542-4032. E-mail address: (L. Song). 1096-7516/$ - see front matter D 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2003.11.003


L. Song et al. / Internet and Higher Education 7 (2004) 59–70

Classroom a Reality (MVCR) online program at the University of Illinois alone had admitted over 1000 individuals from various states and foreign countries by December 2002 (Santovec, 2003). Some of the top institutions in the United States (e.g., MIT, Indiana University, Pennsylvania State University) are offering entire degree programs on line, ranging from business to education, criminal justice to nursing. In addition to programs and courses, most universities now require access to basic course information on line (Leonard & Guha, 2001). This includes information such as the syllabus, resource lists, and office hours for the instructor. At University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), for example, all arts and science courses are required to have course Web sites (Noble, 1998). Even when it is not required, educators are increasingly developing an online presence for their courses via the Internet (Brown, Kirkpatrick, & Wrisley, 2003). The increasing online access to programs, courses, and course information is exciting. Initial research exploring the potential of online learning has provided some overall insights (e.g., Cereijo et al., 1999; Conrad, 2002; Hartley & Bendixen, 2001; Hill, 2002). For example, some sources indicate that online learning enables institutions and/or instructors to reach new learners at a distance, increases convenience, and expands educational opportunities (Bourne, McMaster, Rieger, & Campbell, 1997; Hara & Kling, 1999, 2001; Hill, 2002; Hofmann, 2002; Owston, 1997; Rourke, 2001; Schrum, 2000). Yet, the movement toward online learning is not grounded in compelling empirical evidence that it is effective and/or...
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