Download Effectiveness Distance PDF

TitleEffectiveness Distance
File Size127.4 KB
Total Pages15
Table of Contents
                            The effectiveness of distance learning initiatives in organizations
		History of distance learning
		Advantages of distance learning
	Effectiveness of distance learning initiatives
		Trainees’ reactions
		Learning of trainees
		Behavior of trainees
		Organizational results
		Implications for practitioners
		Implications for researchers
	Further reading
		Distance learning resources*
Document Text Contents
Page 1


Journal of Vocational Behavior 63 (2003) 289–303
The effectiveness of distance learning initiatives
in organizations


Jennifer R.D. Burgess
a,*,1 and Joyce E.A. Russell


Department of Business Management and Administration, Bradley University,

1501 West Bradley Avenue, Peoria, IL 61625, USA
Van Munching Hall, 4508 Van Munching Hall, University of Maryland, College Park,

MD 20742-1871, USA

Received 21 February 2003

Today, organizations are increasingly adopting distance learning methods to train and de-

velop their employees. Despite the widespread use of these methods, little research has been

done regarding their effectiveness. The present paper reviews current literature on the effective-

ness of distance learning methods in terms of employees� reactions, learning, behavior, and
organizational results. Suggestions for future research and practice are also offered.

� 2003 Elsevier Science (USA). All rights reserved.
1. Introduction

‘‘Distance learning’’ is a training technique with which most people have become

familiar, in large part due to its coverage in practitioner journals and its widespread

use in organizations. To meet the challenges of a fast-paced work environment,

many corporations are using video, audio, computer, and internet distance learning

technologies to train and retrain their global workforces (Chute, Thompson, & Han-
cock, 1999). Topics such as management development, job skills training, customer
The authors wish to thank Maria R. Louis-Slaby for her help with the early conceptualizations of

this paper.
Corresponding author.

E-mail address: [email protected] (J.R.D. Burgess).
The authors contributed equally to this paper.

0001-8791/$ - see front matter � 2003 Elsevier Science (USA). All rights reserved.

mail to: [email protected]

Page 2

290 J.R.D. Burgess, J.E.A. Russell / Journal of Vocational Behavior 63 (2003) 289–303
education, and new products are among some of the many being taught by these


Anecdotal reports of distance learning�s success in combination with its supposed
cost savings and efficiencies are encouraging; however, few academic treatments, ei-

ther theoretical or empirical exist. This is disappointing, as improvements to this
training method are possible through the application of current behavioral theory

and related empirical research. As more organizations and educational institutions

adopt distance learning methodologies, it becomes increasingly important to ensure

that they are implementing programs that are effective in enhancing employees�
skills, rather than simply adopting the latest fad (Besser & Bonn, 1996).

The purpose of this paper is to review the extant literature surrounding the effec-

tiveness of distance learning programs in organizations. Initially, we define terminol-

ogy and potential sources of confusion with regard to the types of distance learning
programs that are being utilized. Then, anecdotal reports, surveys, and empirical

articles that provide evidence of both tangible and intangible outcomes are synthe-

sized. We conclude with suggestions for future practice and research.
2. Background

2.1. History of distance learning

Distance learning, although viewed as a ‘‘current’’ phenomenon, actually has a

long history. Both Rumble (1999) and James and Gardner (1995) described four gen-

erations of distance learning. Although their models are slightly different, both show

the iterative fashion in which technology has allowed trainers and educators to in-

crease the effectiveness of distance learning techniques.

Correspondence courses or self-study, first introduced in the late 1800s, were con-

sidered to be the first generation of distance learning. In their most traditional sense,
correspondence courses rely on print materials as the method of instruction and the

postal service for communication between instructor and student. Although this

method allows geographically dispersed students to participate in educational oppor-

tunities, feedback and interaction with the instructor is delayed which may disrupt

the learning process.

Correspondence courses, although rudimentary, were utilized for several years

until the dawn of audio and video conferencing and educational television. These

techniques allow more interaction between the instructor and the trainees, although
much of the communication is one-way, similar to the classroom lecture. Of course,

this method can be enhanced with print materials and interactive sessions at each

site. As enhancements have become more extensive and integrated, the third form

of distance learning emerged.

Systems-based distance learning includes multi-media such as print, audio, and vi-

deo coupled with interaction by phone and face-to-face; this is the third generation

of distance learning. While this generation does not include any strikingly ‘‘new’’

learning modalities, it is the systems perspective, the interactive feature, and the

Page 7

J.R.D. Burgess, J.E.A. Russell / Journal of Vocational Behavior 63 (2003) 289–303 295
As distance learning and, more broadly, e-learning become more firmly estab-

lished as viable training techniques, growing attention is being paid to the factors

that make such training a success. It appears that internal marketing, support,

and incentives are key factors in the acceptance of these courses (When do employ-

ees, 2001). Moreover, in 2001, ASTD produced a report examining e-learning at 16
US companies and obtained feedback from 700 learners. One of the most important

findings was that the amount of support trainees received from co-workers and man-

agers for participating in e-learning programs was one of the primary indicators re-

garding their level of involvement in the programs (Sloman, 2002). Despite these

examples, little attention has been paid to the effectiveness of such programs aside

from anecdotal evidence of their success. Somewhat disappointingly, academic re-

search provides little empirical evidence supporting or discounting the use of such

techniques. In the following section, we review the current research on the effective-
ness of distance learning initiatives for enhancing trainees� reactions to the program,
learning, behavior, and organizational results in accordance with Kirkpatrick�s
(1976, 1998) well-known model of criteria. Our summary focuses on reviews of dis-

tance learning initiatives, although it also includes some research evaluating distance

3. Effectiveness of distance learning initiatives

3.1. Trainees’ reactions

In many cases, reactions to distance learning and education programs have been

positive, although more research is needed. Roberts (1996) reported that both train-

ees and trainers were satisfied with the methods used. In addition, Foell and Fritz

(1995) found that students taking a distance education course were satisfied with

the instructor, teaching methods, and course content. Gallagher and McCormick
(1999) found that students perceived telecommunications as an acceptable method

for delivering course content. Similarly, when a control group was used, Spooner,

Jordan, Algozzine, and Spooner (1999) found few differences in overall perceptions

of a course taught by distance learning methods. This result was replicated in a meta-

analysis of satisfaction ratings between traditional classroom and distance learning

methods (Allen, Bourhis, Burrell, & Mabry, 2002). Interestingly, in one study, in-

structors felt as though distance education courses were equal or lower quality than

on-campus courses, but students rated them favorably (Inman, Kerwin, & Mayes,

Not all results are positive, however. In a review article, Phillips, Phillips, and Zun-

iga (2000) reported that most of the evidence indicates that trainees prefer traditional

classroom instruction to e-learning methods. For example, they report that trainees in

face-to-face groups were more satisfied with the course than those in an online course.

The traditional trainees reported greater communication with other participants,

more shared learning experiences with their peers, a greater sense of team atmosphere,

and higher instructor support. In another study, students consistently suggested

Page 8

296 J.R.D. Burgess, J.E.A. Russell / Journal of Vocational Behavior 63 (2003) 289–303
that the distance education format was less effective in course content, format, and

effectiveness when compared to classroom instruction (Ponzurick, France, & Logar,

2000). Also, Gallagher and McCormick (1999), found that despite distance learning

being an acceptable delivery method, students would prefer traditional learning meth-

ods if given a choice. This has also been cited by managers, who claim that distance
learning is not a substitute for classroom training (Alexander, 1998). Employees seem

to agree with this in that only 38% of employees preferred e-learning to classroom

training (When do employees, 2001).

Some work has been done identifying the variables influencing trainees� ratings.
Inman et al. (1999) found that trainees� ratings were most heavily influenced by
the quality of the materials, the presence of an on-campus orientation session,

and the perceived availability of the instructor. Similarly, Webster and Hackley

(1997) found that the reliability and quality of the technology used impacted several
attitudes variables such as attitudes toward distance learning, relative advantage of

distance learning, and usefulness of the technology. Comfort and convenience have

also been repeatedly cited as positive aspects of distance education (Spooner et al.,


3.2. Learning of trainees

As noted by Chute et al. (1999), testing for distance learners is in many ways sim-
ilar to the testing of students in face-to-face classes. Traditional essay exams or ob-

jective tests can be used, but they will have to be distributed differently (e.g., on the

web) where issues of test security must be addressed. In general, few studies have

been conducted on the effectiveness of distance learning methods for enhancing

learning, but those that have been done have been mixed. Phillips et al. (2000) re-

ported that often the evidence has shown that traditional and e-learning methods

are similarly effective in terms of learning outcomes. They also cited the Distance

and Open Learning Scale (DOLES) and Dimensions of Distance Education
(DDE) as appropriate tools to assess online instruction and learning.

Many other distance education studies have shown few differences between dis-

tance learning and traditional programs in their relative ability to increase knowl-

edge (Spooner et al., 1999; Webster & Hackley, 1997). In a highly integrated

course offered by two professors at two different universities, Alavi, Yoo, and Vogel

(1997) found no differences between the perceived and actual learning reported by

local students and that reported by students at the distant location. Russell (1997)

compiled results on the effectiveness of distance learning over a 30 year period based
on over 250 research studies and reported that there were no significant differences in

the achievement of students in traditional versus distance learning programs in stan-

dard learning measures. This was considered to be an encouraging finding for dis-

tance learning advocates as critics had previously charged that students would not

be able to learn as much in a distance learning program as in a traditional classroom


In a large-scale study of distance learning in industry, learning outcomes were

higher when training was delivered via classroom training rather than electronic

Page 14


302 J.R.D. Burgess, J.E.A. Russell / Journal of Vocational Behavior 63 (2003) 289–303
Osberg, C. (2002). How to keep e-learners online. Training and Development Journal, 56(10), 45–46.

Peterson�s Distance Learning. Retrieved October 31, 2002, from

Phillips, J., Phillips, P.P. & Zuniga, L. (2000). Evaluating the effectiveness and the return on investment of

e-learning. American Society for Training and Development. Retrieved January 23, 2003 from http://

Ponzurick, T. G., France, K. R., & Logar, C. M. (2000). Delivering graduate marketing education: An

analysis of face-to-face versus distance education. Journal of Marketing Education, 22, 180–187.

Primelearning, Inc (2001).

Roberts, B. (1998 August). Via the desktop:// HR Magazine 43, 99–100, 102, 104.

Roberts, J. M. (1996). The story of distance education: A practitioner�s perspective. Journal of the
American Society for Information Science, 47, 811–816.

Rourke, L., & Szabo, M. (2002). A content analysis of the Journal of Distance Education 1986–2001.

Journal of Distance Education, 17(1).

Rumble, G. (1999). Cost analysis of distance learning. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 12, 122–137.

Russell, T. (1997). The no significance difference phenomenon. NB TeleEducation (on-line) (http:// Or Raleigh, NC: North Carolina State University. Office of Instructional


Sabia, C., & Cassarino, C. (1999). Best of all worlds. Inside Technology Training, 44, 45, 47.

Sayre, A. (1998). Intelligence in space: How satellites are put to the test in the learning environment.

Satellite Communications, 22, 28–32.

Segers, G. (2002). Dazed and confused about e-learning. Training and Development Journal, 56(10),


Sloman, M. (2002). Breaking through the e-barriers. Training and Development Journal, 56(10), 37–41.

Spooner, F., Jordan, L., Algozzine, B., & Spooner, M. (1999). Student ratings of instruction in distance

learning and on-campus classes. The Journal of Educational Research, 92, 132–140.

Taylor, C. R. (2002). The second wave. Training and Development Journal, 56(10), 25–28, 30–31.

Thompson, M. M. (1994). Speaking personally with Alan G. Chute. The American Journal of Distance

Education, 8(1), 72–77.

Webb, W. (1999). Show me the return. Inside Technology Training, 19–20, 22.

Webster, J., & Hackley, P. (1997). Teaching effectiveness in technology-mediated distance learning.

Academy of Management Journal, 40, 1282–1309.

When do employees accept e-learning? (2001). Retrieved June 18, 2002 from

Further reading

American Society for Training and Development, 2003. Introduction to E-Learning. Retrieved January

30, 2003, from

Distance learning resources�

American Center for the Study of Distance Education.

American Society for Training and Development.

Center for Distance Learning Research.

Distance Education and Training Council.

Federal Government Distance Learning Association.

International Center for Distance Learning.

International Society for Technology in Education.

International Teleconferencing Association.

Network for the Evaluation of Education and Training Technologies.


Page 15


J.R.D. Burgess, J.E.A. Russell / Journal of Vocational Behavior 63 (2003) 289–303 303
Office of Learning Technologies.

Primelearning, Inc.

Society for Applied Learning Technologies.

Society for Human Resource Management.

United States Distance Learning Association.

Note. The resources listed above are not meant to be exhaustive. In addition, for information on actual

types of distance learning programs and methods available refer to a special issue (Training, 1998,


Similer Documents