A Quasi-Experimental Study of Three Online Learning Courses in Computing

Thomas Connolly
Ewan MacArthur
Mark Stansfield
Evelyn McLellan


This paper presents the results of a 3-year quasi-experimental study of three Masters courses in computing. The purpose of this study was to investigate the extent to which the teaching and learning of these courses were enhanced by being developed and delivered in an online format as compared to face-to-face full-time and part-time delivery. Key methodological questions and issues to be examined were: (a) any observable difference in student performance as measured by end-of-module grades/marks, (b) any observable between coursework and exam performance in the technically-oriented modules, (c) any observable difference in dropout rates, student satisfaction and faculty satisfaction. The study examined the results from 4684 module enrolments, consisting of 269 online students, 796 part-time students, and 3619 full-time students distributed across 7 modules and 79 module instantiations. The data was gathered using a variety of different means which included interviews, end of module questionnaires, student records and enrolment data. The results show that the online students consistently perform better then the face-to face students and the paper reflects on this finding.


Adult learning, Interactive learning environments, Evaluation of CAL systems, Learning communities, Pedagogical issues


This is a quasi-experimental study based on seven modules from the three online courses. The modules examined were: Business Information Technology Systems (BITS), Fundamentals of Database Systems (FDBS), Information Systems Theory and Practice (ISTP), International Technology Management (ITM), Software Development (SD), Strategic Management of IT (SMIT), and Technologies for Global Commerce (TGC). Six semesters worth of data was gathered from autumn 2000 to summer 2002 for inclusion in the study.
Hypothesis examined were:
1. Is there any observable difference in student performance as measured by end-of-module grades/marks?

2. Is there any observable difference between coursework and exam performance in the technically-oriented modules? Parker and Gemino (2001) found that their online students demonstrated better conceptual
understanding in the final examination while the place-based students were more proficient with respect to technical skills. There was no significant difference in the overall final grades between the online and classroom-based students. There were two modules that we specifically wanted to test this hypothesis on: Fundamentals of Database Systems and Software Development, which consist of both conceptual and technical material (the
latter based on Microsoft Access and Visual Basic, respectively).
3. Is there any observable difference in dropout rates?
It has been reported that dropout rates tend to be higher in distance education programs than in traditional face-to-face programs. Carr (2000) noted that dropout rates are often 10–20% points higher in distance education courses than in traditional courses. One of the key design decisions made early on in the development of the online courses was to develop a sense of community. Tinto (1993) emphasized the importance of community in reducing dropouts when he theorized that students will increase their levels of satisfaction and the likelihood of persisting in a course if they feel involved and develop relationships with other members
of the learning community.
The quantitative analysis of results shows that online students have consistently performed better than the part-time face-to-face students, who in turn have performed better than the full-time students. The latter result is perhaps not surprising, as the full-time students have less work experience
and may be less mature and less motivated.

APA Citation

Connolly, T. M., MacArthur, E., Stansfield, M., & McLellan, E. (2007). A quasi-experimental study of three online learning courses in computing. Computers & Education, 49(2), 345-359.

About the Study

Links to Article https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=5%2C50&sciodt=0%2C50&cites=14662407790207206853&scipsc=&q=a+quasi-experimental+study+of+three+online+learning+courses+in+computing&btnG=
Mode Online
Publication Type Journal Article
In Publication Computers & Education
Type of Research Quantitative
Research Design Experiments
Intervention/Areas of Study Student-student interactions
Level of Analysis Course-level
Specific Populations Examined Graduates
Peer-Reviewed Yes
Specific Institutional Characteristics of Interest 4-year Institution
Specific Course or Program Characteristics STEM
Outcome Variables of Interest Academic achievement or performance, including assessment scores and course grades, Course completion
Student Sample Size 500 +
Citing Articles https://scholar.google.com/scholar?cites=11250842987800435857&as_sdt=5,50&sciodt=0,50&hl=en