«The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine how communication preferences, learning preferences, and perceptions about online learning ...»
For Shannon, an older boomer and the oldest participant in the study, satisfaction would be gained by working with peers who are around her age. Shannon said working in similar age learning communities would foster class satisfaction. She said, I know you probably cannot do this because it would probably be discriminatory, but it would be nice to set up the work for people of the same age group, made up of the same age group for like-minded [people].... But you know, working with younger people can drag everyone down because everyone doesn’t participate and that drives me crazy. (PI, 5/10/10) Similarly, Angel felt that she could relate to comments made by students who shared her
years and experience:
I could just relate to nontraditional students in conversations online. You can be in a class and in a discussion with traditional students, but their minds are just so vastly different. [It] is easier to engage in a conversation when you feel like you can relate to that person. So I did start to pick and choose who I would respond to because it’s easier respond to someone who did a good, thorough post instead of to someone who posted one sentence—even though we had a minimal word requirement. (PI, 5/10/10) Sheila shared the same sentiments as Shannon and Angel. She, too, wanted to connect to students who were older. She felt that mature students took learning seriously. When she described her process for posting discussions to other students, she said, I look through the majority of them, and it sometimes is going to depend on how the person responded if it seems like they have the same kind of thought process I do. Or it looks like they prepared their responses then that’s the one I’m drawn to.
... It looks like they respond just so they can respond. I try to shy away from those a little bit more. Or if it looks like someone who prepared as much, then those are the ones that I’ll usually respond to. (PI, 5/13/10) “Impatience is a Virtue”: Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Learning Advantages of Learning Online All of the participants spoke about the convenience of learning online as an influential factor affecting their desire to register in the online world literature course. In fact, six participants took world literature online purposefully; three had to take the course online because face-to-face courses were filled; and one participated in online learning because the Honors section of world literature was taught as a blended course.
Nine participants were women. Three out of nine women discussed how the flexibility of being able to take courses online while juggling numerous responsibilities of motherhood as key to their registration in an online course. According to Mariah, who is a member of Generation X and a single mother of two children under five, “it’s just easier, especially when you have children” (PI, 5/10/10). Tenille, a member of Generation X and a busy mother of two small children, echoed Mariah’s sentiments. She added the convenience of working around her community involvement and the freedoms from the hassle and expense of securing babysitters as a benefit to online learning. She said, Just the convenience of being able to take the class. It fit into my schedule; it was just really convenient taking it online. Like it fits into school, church, and work. I didn’t have to find a babysitter to watch the kids and all that. (PI, 5/11/10) Sheila, a member of Generation X and a grandmother, also spoke of the convenience of online learning based on her ability to complete her womanly responsibilities, too. She
also added the benefits to her career and life in general:
The convenience of being able to take classes online by me working, being a wife, mom and a grandmom (pause), the convenience of being able to take classes online has allowed me to accomplish things career-wise that I wanted to accomplish. For me, personally, in terms of my responsibilities and what I have to do, I think it’s perfect for a nontraditional student who wants to further their education, but yet still participate. (PI, 5/13/10) Though three participants discussed how online learning helped them juggle the responsibilities of work, school, and family, three other participants spoke about the flexibility, record keeping, and reduction in stress which accompanied online learning.
Jasmin, also a working mother, spoke about the way online courses allowed her to fit all of her coursework into her schedule. She said online learning “fits into my schedule and doesn’t conflict with my other classes. Because I have lab classes, it is hard to get classes that fit my schedule. So I try to take classes online when I can” (PI, 5/14/10).
Likewise for the only male participant and member of generation Y, Joshua, who is single with no children, stated that online courses allowed him to take an 18-hour
course load and still maintain a desired average:
Well, I just wanted to work at a certain pace. I was taking a certain amount of hours and it was really overboard for me. To have an ability to take the online class was convenient for me. It would be better off for me so that I could make the grade that will be acceptable to me. (PI, 5/12/10) In addition, Joshua added how he found the flexibility of the coursework allowed him
ample time to complete assignments. He recalled:
I know she [the professor] gave us enough time to get our assignments done. She gave us room to work at our own pace. There is more flexibility... So let’s say an essay—is due at the end of May. The assignment is posted today and you might have to May 28. It gives you time to read it, read the subject, consider your other classes and have time to summarize and meet up with other students to be familiar with the other people’s view point. (PI, 5/12/10) Shannon also discussed the flexibility of online learning. The oldest participant, Shannon, initially wanted to take world literature face-to-face but found those sections closed.
Though she reluctantly enrolled in the online version, one aspect that she grew to love
about online learning was the flexibility:
I love it because you got your syllabus up front. You knew your time frame. You can manage your time accordingly. You knew what you need to do and when. I didn’t have a problem with it. From the online perspective that is the way to go because you have unlimited access. You don’t just have class at certain time and not be there from a certain time.... If you really want to be online, you have 24hour access. Everybody has equal access. You may have something to do. You have a lot of flexibility. (PI, 5/10/10) Like Joshua and Shannon, Amy also discussed how she found online learning as a
I think it’s a wonderful thing. I think is a great resource to help people. It can help people further their education because of the time constraints. I think is great to be at the four o’clock in the morning and be working on your class work. And maybe have the rest of the day to do the other things that you need to take care of. So I think this is a wonderful opportunity. I think in the future [online learning] may be something that we use a lot more of. (PI, 5/12/10) In addition to flexibility, Amy also mentioned how one of the benefits of online learning
was her ability to maintain course records:
Yes I can go back into my biology class and been able to use some information related to another class to take like that. So I hope it stays like that. Okay, so sometimes in the course of time, you don’t have time to just download everything on your flash drive. It is great that I can go on my computer and just pull up information. And you know, sometimes I’ll have my flash drive on me. I think that that is just an excellent resource that you have to carry a bunch of books is just really all right there. It is just really awesome. (Amy, PI, 5/12/10) India, who is from Generation Y and single with no children, also discussed the benefits of online learning. She related it to record keeping. She said, “The convenience is the ability to look up the information and maintain the information from my professors” (PI, 5/14/10).
Angel added a new advantage to taking online courses when she talked about how online learning helped her to reduce additional stress in her life. Attempting to take the course face-to-face, Angel soon dropped it after she realized that taking world literature
face-to-face would have been too much of a hassle:
Actually when I got started this semester, I went in to take one class of face-toface and the other three I wanted to take online. I opted to take one of the classroom courses. I wanted the camaraderie experience interacting with the students, be face-to-face with the teacher. But after one day of class I realized it was just too taxing for me to try to get off for work and make it to class even though I get off at five o’clock. I am not an hourly employee. So I don’t punch a clock; I am a salaried employee. So even though I get off at five o’clock, it’s very rarely that I leave at five o’clock. And I was pressed just to get to my first class, and it started at six o’clock and I work 10 minutes from... campus. I work downtown, so I thought with this was my first day and some days it would had taken time to try to find a parking space. I knew it was going to just add stress, and even more stress with me trying to balance the day and go back to school.
This was just going to be hard to try to get to campus so I thought well, well, I’ll just go ahead and take all of my classes online. It would afford me more flexibility with not having to worry about how to get to class and still being able to do my homework at seven o’clock at night, at 10 o’clock at night, whatever it took to get the work done. (PI, 5/10/10) Another benefit to online learning was the ability to use technology and have a virtual class at one’s fingertips. In fact, four of the participants discussed how the course design made learning easier. Shannon, the participant who had never taken an online course before, discussed the ease of getting assignments and interacting with other students.
They make it easy. Basically, they put a link out there to do the assignment and it is relatively simple, even for someone who is not technologically savvy. I think it is probably one of the best that I have been exposed to taking classes in the past.
Just the level of interaction online let me know that there is a whole new world
Those who considered themselves to be knowledgeable about computers had similar remarks to Shannon’s. Sheila reported having no problems with Blackboard. She said, “I haven’t had any problems navigating around Blackboard. I’m fortunate to be pretty computer-literate” (PI, 5/13/10). Echoing Sheila’ findings, Badesha considered Blackboard to be, “[an] excellent tool to use and have” (PI, 5/12/10).
In addition to having used the technology easily, two participants in the study found materials needed for class to be readily available. India, who took the world literature class partially online and partially face-to-face talked about the benefit of having everything one needs on a computer screen. She said, It is very beneficial... Well, I think it is when you have information that you can look at. It just helps me learn because it’s right there. Like if you are looking in front of a computer screen and you are on the computer, it just makes it easy for you to do your work in the first place. And if you don’t understand something you have the ability to go to another website and look it up. (PI, 5/14/10) Shannon also liked the quick access to online information. Shannon discussed how online links helped her explore additional information, see videos of some reading assignments,
There were links to different sites. You could actually see like Medea, at least certain segments of it.... There was also information... to learn about the author.... There was this online website, like a study guide... It has a lot of information there. (PI, 5/10/10) Three participants also talked about the ease of online testing. Shannon, the oldest participant of the study, discussed how e-learning allowed her to use her textbook while
taking tests. Having the textbook while she took tests alleviated some of her test anxiety:
It is better to be familiar with the material and still be able to use the resources in your book then if you work a full time job and you have to memorize all of this is stuff and go to the classroom and take a test. (PI, 5/10/10) Angel echoed Shannon’s perceptions and shared how online testing helped lessen test
I always struggle with test taking and memorization so that will probably be my biggest fear, even at just 40. Sometimes I don’t remember what the conversation was 30 minutes ago let alone try to study and remember all the stuff I’ve done.
... Well [online] I just don’t panic as much when it’s exam time, when the book is right there... [T]o use your book, you really can apply what you’ve learned. I like being able to have my book there as my security blanket. (PI, 5/10/10) For Angel, the thought of getting an education without having to memorize information
for a test was her second draw to online learning:
Flexibility was the first draw. And the second was that even though I had taken classes before at __________ [name of a local community college], I wasn’t aware of the demands and requirements for studying online. And I thought well, you know, it’s just a lot easier to take the test online. It is better to be familiar with the material and still be able to use the resources in your book than if you work a full time job and you have to memorize all of this is stuff and going to the classroom and take a test. (PI, 5/10/10) Another benefit to access one participant relayed was the access to the professor.
Jasmin found that the process of contacting the professor is made easier online. Jasmin said, “So I got into my classes online, and I can communicate with the teacher by email. So you don’t have to try to run her down and fit into her schedule and go when they’re in the office” (PI, 5/14/10).