Online education is not only convenient for the learner, but, financially, a beneficial option for the institution. The growth of online education has caused a desire to have high-quality programs with high student satisfaction. Increased satisfaction will increase not only student retention, but the reputation of the educating facility. Historically, research has shown no significant difference in outcomes between a traditional and distance education course when looking at cognitive learning and achievement components of learning via a traditional method or distance education (Russell, 1999; Parkinson, Greene, Kim, & Marioni, 2003). Although there are multiple, historical, research studies addressing outcomes, there is an increased need to understand what elements are to be taken into consideration to ensure the development of effective online course since this type of education will continue to expand, causing an increase in the number of online students (Chugh, Ledger & Shields, 2017). The question then arises as to what elements are to be taken into consideration?
Four Learning Styles
This mixed-methods case study examined the predictors of student satisfaction in an online learning environment. The research was limited to graduate students at a university in the suburbs of Pennsylvania. Using an explanatory sequential design, the researcher distributed surveys followed by optional interviews. The surveys included the Honey and Mumford Learning Style Questionnaire, a researcher-created satisfaction survey, and an instrument to obtain the demographic information.
The Honey and Mumford Learning Style Questionnaire was used to assess the students’ learning style. Research shows that teachers and course designers should pay closer attention to students’ learning styles. This would mean first determining the students’ learning style, encouraging students to embrace the diagnosed learning style, and designing teaching to address the different types of learning styles. Additionally, to support the idea that learning styles should be considered in developing education, evidence shows students learn quicker and with more confidence when instruction is tailored to their learning styles (Coffield, Moseley, Hall, &Ecclestone, 2004).
The four learning styles identified in the Honey Mumford Learning Style Inventory are:
Activists are those who are interested in new experiences and seek attention from others. Reflectors are those who prefer to reflect on an experience before making a decision, considering the opinions of others and those items they personally experience. Theorists are those who come to a decision by working through the process in a logical fashion by performing much analysis. Pragmatists are those who prefer to try new experiences and prefer to create new ideas. Based on prior research results, the researcher in this study also wanted to determine whether age and computer familiarity was correlated with student satisfaction.
Through the use of descriptive statistics, the researcher was able to identify attributes that lead to a higher level of satisfaction. Specifically, younger students having a Pragmatist learning style had a higher level of satisfaction in an online course. The results also show a desire for students to have increased instructor and peer communication and collaboration to enhance their satisfaction. Through the use of frequency distributions and cross-tabulations, the research shows that those with a Pragmatist learning style have the highest percentage of overall satisfaction, followed by those with a Theorist learning style. Younger students appeared to be slightly more satisfied with the online educational experience. Assessing computer familiarity did not add to the results of the study since there was little variation in the students’ answers as all were highly familiar with a computer.
Room for Improvement
Based on the surveys and interviews, there appears to be room for improvement in the area of communication between the student/instructor and among students as the interviewees expressed dissatisfaction. This finding was seen more in the interviews than the surveys. There is opportunity to look further at the course design and teaching methodologies to ensure universities are meeting the needs of not only the institution and instructor, but also the student.
Pragmatics were not only the most represented portion in the research, but also the most satisfied with online education. Since Pragmatists want to see how information relates to the real world, it would be beneficial to teach using information students can relate to, along with actual real-life scenarios. Theoretical information should be tied to real-world instances in order to further promote learning because a higher level of satisfaction relates to higher levels of retention, which, in turn, leads to continued success for the university and the student (Parahoo, Santally, Rajabalee, & Harvey, 2016; Wu, 2014).
Honey and Mumford recognizes that learners can move between the four modes of learning, but tend to prefer one. In this limited case study, the Pragmatist learning style was prevalent and this group was the most highly satisfied with the online learning experience. However, instructors should always incorporate multiple learning styles into their instruction plan in order to effectively teach to different types of learners (Powell, 2012; Carjuzaa and Kellough, 2013). This approach would include not only providing real-life examples, but giving students time to process facts, increasing interaction among students, and teaching underlying concepts.
Continued Assessment Needed
The results of this study show there is room for further research in the area of student satisfaction with online courses. As the number of online schools and programs expand, there will be a continued need to assess student satisfaction as this is essential to the quality of the programs, completion rates, and student retention. Long-term success is essential when it comes to quality recognition in the growing, competitive arena of online learning. Since this case study was limited to a subset of students at one university, there is opportunity to expand the research to a larger population to determine whether statistical significance can be determined.
Carjuzaa, J, Kellough, RD (2013) Teaching in the Middle and Secondary Schools, 10th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson.
Chugh, R., Ledger, S. & Shields, R. (2017). Curriculum design for distance education in the tertiary sector. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, 18, 2, 1.
Coffield, F., Moseley, D., Hall, E., Ecclestone, K. (2004). Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning. A systematic and critical review. London: Learning and Skills Research Centre.
Parahoo, S. K., Santally, M. I., Rajabalee, Y., & Harvey, H. L. (2016). Designing a predictive model of student satisfaction in online learning. Journal of Marketing for Higher Education, 26(1), 1-19.
Parkinson, D., Greene, W., Kim, Y., & Marioni, J. (2003). Emerging themes of student satisfaction in a traditional course and a blended distance course. TechTrends, 47(4), 22-28.
Powell, SD (2012) Your Introduction to Education: Explorations in Teaching, 2nd edn. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Russell, T.L. (1999). The no significant difference phenomenon. Raleigh: North Carolina State University.
Wu, D. C. (2014). Learning styles and satisfaction in distance education. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, 15(4), 112-129.
Andrea C. Merritt, Ed.D., is a partner with Athena Compliance Partners and Compliance Athenaeum. Her experience includes development of interactive, online health-care educational courses for various providers. Dr. Merritt’s interests include effective, online course development, and various aspects of adult learning in higher education. Her doctorate is from Gwynedd Mercy University in Educational Leadership.
Ellen Henderson, Ed.D., is an assistant professor of Counseling in the Graduate & Professional School at Gwynedd Mercy University. Her area of focus is college student development and counseling. In addition to teaching and counseling field supervision duties, Dr. Henderson chairs the dissertations of select doctoral students in higher education with areas of focus in administration, teaching, and curriculum design. Her doctorate is from Temple University in Educational Administration and Leadership.