Imagery of Regent people and campus

Dissertation Abstract

Interaction in the Computer-Mediated Adult Distance Learning Environment: Leadership Development Through Online Education

Linda Grooms
Regent University

The advent of computer-mediated communication (CMC) in the distance classroom has caused many to proclaim its ability to exponentially increase interaction and interactivity; yet to date, the literature has appeared to build upon an intuitive assumption that interaction is important, rather than an empirical foundation. Through the survey research method, this exploratory study sought to empirically answer three overarching questions: Is interaction important to the adult online learner? If so, what types are important and how would this interaction look? Using an interdisciplinary approach, the fields of adult, distance, and online education were reviewed with specific focus upon interaction and communicative learning. Further insight was gleaned through the small group, CMC, and interaction literature. From this, three Domains of Interaction emerged: the Sociological, the Psychological, and the Situational. The Sociological Domain embraced two common dimensions centering on task and socio-emotional issues. Three components operationally comprised the Task Dimension: (1) Intellectual Discussion, (2) Informational Feedback, and (3) Corrective/Evaluative Feedback, while two components constituted the Socio-Emotional Dimension: (1) Socializing and (2) Motivation and Support. The Psychological Domain highlighted the lack of learner interaction or isolation, while the Situational Domain was operationalized as group size, quantity, and frequency. Each of these was explored within the context of the Learner Interaction Model, which is a visual depiction of three types of interaction: Learner-Content, Learner-Facilitator, and Learner-Peer. Employing a 7-point Likert scale and with a reliability of .86, the Computer-Mediated Interaction Questionnaire produced a descriptive profile of learner expectations from the perception of adult online distance students enrolled in a doctoral leadership program. Through the use of nonparametric statistics, the significance and rank order of responses unveiled that (1) interaction was overwhelmingly important, (2) interpersonal interaction was considered more important than that which occurred intrapersonally, (3) faculty interaction was considered more important than that among peers, and (4) task interaction was considered more important than that of the socio-emotional nature. In terms of quantity and frequency of response, two dichotomous nuances surfaced: overload and isolation. Contributing both theoretically and in praxis, the results of this study infer several suggestions for online instructional design and course facilitation.