A Cross-Institutional Study of Instructional Characteristics and Student Outcomes: Are Quality Indicators of Online Courses Able to Predict Student Success?

Design and organization, instructor interactions, and content design and delivery are important to students’ experiences in online courses, but not for all students - we must do more to consider and design for underrepresented students’ and students with disabilities’ needs in online learning spaces.


A Cross-Institutional Study of Instructional Characteristics and Student Outcomes: Are Quality Indicators of Online Courses Able to Predict Student Success?

Key Takeaways for Practitioners

  • This instrumentation has been proven reliable and to have predictive validity. This means that not only can it be used in future theoretical studies, but it can also be used by educators and practitioners to guide instructional and course design efforts as a means of ensuring quality (p. 21)
  • The differences and relationships revealed in this data highlight the how crucial it is to consider design decisions from the perspective of not only the majority of students but to understand the specific needs students from underrepresented populations and students with disabilities. For example, in this study students with disabilities had lower perceptions of design and delivery than their counterparts.
  • There were few significant findings regarding the connection between instructional characteristics and grades in this study (p. 21) which indicates that practitioners should seek to explicitly design with and for other measures of success.

Citations

Barkley, E.F. & Major, C.H. (2015) Learning assessment techniques: A handbook for college faculty. John Wiley and Sons.

Crawley, A. (2012). Supporting online students: A practical guide to planning, implementing, and evaluating services. John Wiley & Sons.

Key Takeaways for Decision Makers

  • This instrumentation has been proven reliable and to have predictive validity. This means that not only can it be used in future theoretical studies, but it can also be used by administrators measuring key progress indicators (KPIs) surrounding quality in online course design (p. 21)
  • This study found that it is important to understand the relationships of the individual aspects of instructional characteristics due to the limitations of time and resources in designing online courses. The findings provide areas of prioritization for instructors and administrators.

Citations

Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2016). Online report card: tracking online education in the United States. Babson Survey Research Group.

Huba, M. & Freed, J. (2000). Learner-centered assessment on college campuses: Shifting the focus from teaching to learning. Allyn and Bacon: Needham Heights.

Key Takeaways for Theorists

  • Understanding the significant relationship of not only the individual constructs in this study has crucial implications for theory and practice (p. 21).
  • This instrumentation has been proven reliable and to have predictive validity (p. 21).
  • Historically, student success is documented by course completion and grade, yet other outcomes rather than summative grades should be considered in future studies (p. 21).

Citations

Dziuban, C.D., Picciano, A. G., Graham, C. R., & Moskal, P. D. (2015). Conducting research in online and blended learning environments: New pedagogical frontiers. Routledge.

Moore, M. G., & Kearsley, G. (2011). Distance education: A systems view of online learning. Cengage Learning.



Deep Dive into the Research

As educational opportunities in an online environment have grown over the past several decades, institutions and instructors have developed ways to determine quality in online courses.  Online courses are courses where learning is distanciated through space and potentially time using various technologies, able to deliver instruction as effectively as face-to-face courses, and seeing continued growth in their demand.  Although inconsistent findings in regard to the efficacy of online courses in comparison to face-to-face courses have been reported, meta-analyses indicate that online courses are just as effective if not more effective when it comes to comparing student outcomes  (e.g., Allen, Bourhis, Burrell, & Mabry, 2002; Allen, Mabry, Mattrey, Bourhis, Titsworth, & Burrell, 2004: Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, & Jones, 2009). Not only are online courses effective, demand in online course offerings continues to grow as students require more flexibility in where and when they learn due to work, family, and other obligations and efficacy of online courses has been established.  Allen and Seaman (2015) reported that “[d]istance education enrollments continue to grow at a healthy rate, showing a 7% increase overall between fall 2012 and fall 2014” (p. 13). With increasing demand for online courses that have shown to be just as good as face-to-face courses, research efforts continue to develop an understanding how to best design online courses and deliver instruction online to positively influence student outcomes.

 

There needs to be enhanced understanding as to what practices will positively influence student outcomes for all students and for underrepresented students.  There is a lack of research that examines the student demographics (e.g., underrepresentation) and how those demographics influence student perceptions of their courses and/or the relationships of these to student outcomes.  Jaggars and Bailey (2010) claim that they are unaware of any studies that examine an increase in enrollment of underrepresented students and note the significant barriers underrepresented students can face in enrolling and completing online courses.  Johnson and Cuellar Mejia (2014) reported that California community college students are less likely (10-14%) to complete an online course than a traditional on-site course. Even lower rates were found among minorities than White students (17.5-9.8% lower).  The decrease in student success was attributed to inconsistency in course quality. However, Shea and Bidjerano (2014) reported in their national study that community college students who take courses online have a significantly better chance of obtaining a degree than students who only take courses taught in a physical classroom.  Therefore, it is important to ensure that instructional characteristics are effective in improving student outcomes for all students.

 

Institutionally, identifying effective, evidence-based practices to ensure the quality of courses in higher education is pertinent to meeting the needs of students, requirements of academic programs, and federal standards.  How courses are structured and students' interactions within them can impact students’ success in those courses (e.g., higher grades, greater learning, and higher rates of completion). Additionally, these structures and experiences can also lead to higher satisfaction in online courses and online programs, which can impact students’ persistence or continued enrollment in online courses.  Despite the mode of instruction, academic programs need to provide a quality learning experience to ensure that students are fulfilling the required learning and program objectives. These objectives must meet the standards of the discipline and the labor market for which the student will obtain professional pursuits after graduation. Whether a course takes place online or on-site, the outcomes must be comparable.  As Allen and Seaman (2015) reported, the majority of academic leaders through the years believe that learning outcomes in online courses are the same or superior to those in face-to-face courses. Online courses and programs continue to be a part of institutional strategy in higher education. Finally, because many times accrediting bodies of higher education institutions want to ensure the courses are being appropriately designed and supported when delivered at a distance or online, institutions need to ensure they are meeting federal regulations in delivering instruction to students.  Quality of online courses and programs is paramount to institutional leaders.

References

Joosten, T. (2012). Social media for educators: Strategies and best practices. John Wiley & Sons.

Kaleta, R., Skibba, K., & Joosten, T. (2007). Discovering, designing, and delivering hybrid courses. Blended learning: Research perspectives, 111143.

Joosten, T. (2012). Social media for educators: Strategies and best practices. John Wiley & Sons.

Kaleta, R., Skibba, K., & Joosten, T. (2007). Discovering, designing, and delivering hybrid courses. Blended learning: Research perspectives, 111143.

Joosten, T. (2012). Social media for educators: Strategies and best practices. John Wiley & Sons.

Kaleta, R., Skibba, K., & Joosten, T. (2007). Discovering, designing, and delivering hybrid courses. Blended learning: Research perspectives, 111143.

Joosten, T. (2012). Social media for educators: Strategies and best practices. John Wiley & Sons.

Kaleta, R., Skibba, K., & Joosten, T. (2007). Discovering, designing, and delivering hybrid courses. Blended learning: Research perspectives, 111143.

Joosten, T. (2012). Social media for educators: Strategies and best practices. John Wiley & Sons.

Kaleta, R., Skibba, K., & Joosten, T. (2007). Discovering, designing, and delivering hybrid courses. Blended learning: Research perspectives, 111143.

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