A comparison of online instruction versus traditional classroom instruction in an undergraduate pharmacology course

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Mirakian, Emily A.
Hale, LaDonna S.

Online instruction has become a vital element in higher education. Most published research finds no significant difference between online (OL) and traditional (TD) instruction.

Purpose: Compare student satisfaction and learning outcomes of an undergraduate OL pharmacology course to a TD lecture course taught by the same instructor.

Methods: The OL and TD courses for Fall 05 and Spring 06 Clinical Pharmacology used the same notes, text, learning objectives, and exams. Three validated surveys measured aptitude for OL instruction, preferred learning styles, and student satisfaction with the course and self-perceived progress on relevant objectives. Learning outcomes were also objectively evaluated using exam scores and withdrawal rates.

Results: Mean satisfaction scores for both courses were high, generally > 4.0/5. Mean scores in the TD courses were significantly higher than OL courses regarding overall course satisfaction, instructor’s displayed level of interest in students, students’ perceived ability to share ideas, and self-perceived gains in factual knowledge, fundamental principles and application of material. Mean scores related to difficulty of subject matter were similar between courses. There were no significant differences in objective exam scores or withdrawal rates.

Conclusion: Overall, the OL and TD pharmacology courses had similar withdrawal rates and course grades, indicating similar learning gains. Although the OL students were highly satisfied with the course and their self-perceived knowledge gains, the OL satisfaction ratings were generally lower than those found in the TD courses.

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A project presented to the Department of Physician Assistant of Wichita State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Physician Assistant.