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DEVELOPING AN INSTRUMENT TO ANALYZE THE APPLICATION OF ADULT
LEARNING PRINCIPLES TO WORLD WIDE WEB DISTANCE EDUCATION
COURSES USING THE DELPHI TECHNIQUE

By
Sharon B. Colton
B.S., Oregon State University
M.Ed., University of Louisville

A Dissertation
Submitted to the Faculty of the
Graduate School of the University of Louisville
In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
For the Degree of

Doctor of Education

College of Education and Human Development
University of Louisville
Louisville, Kentucky

May, 2002

Copyright 2002 by Sharon B. Colton

All rights reserved

DEVELOPING AN INSTRUMENT TO ANALYZE THE APPLICATION OF ADULT
LEARNING PRINCIPLES TO WORLD WIDE WEB DISTANCE EDUCATION
COURSES USING THE DELPHI TECHNIQUE

By
Sharon B. Colton
B.S., Oregon State University
M.Ed., University of Louisville
A Dissertation Approved on

May 2002

By the Following Dissertation Committee:

____________________________________
Dr. Tim Hatcher, Dissertation Director

____________________________________
Dr. Mike Boyle

____________________________________
Dr. Margaret Jamison

____________________________________
Dr. Joseph Petrosko

___________________________________
Dr. Carolyn Rude-Parkins
ii

DEDICATION

To my beloved mother and father
Ann F. Hughes and Robert A. Lundberg (in memory),

My beautiful children
Brandis Ann Colton and Clay James Colton,

And my loving, extended family
Joan R. Biggs, Grant C. Bauer, Lynton G. Bauer, Bern W. Hughes, and Dennis J. Lisack

iii

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I want to thank the following people for their help and support with this dissertation:

Dr. Tim Hatcher, who had the courage and the audacity to push me to yet a higher level
with deadlines looming. There is no question this has made me a better person but I also
believe it substantially improved the dissertation. Thank you for enriching my life and for
believing in the importance of my research.
Dr. Carolyn Rude-Parkins, my advisor and friend through two educational degrees,
Dr. Margaret Jamison, my supporter and friend,
Dr. Mike Boyle, who gave me the basic foundation for research,
Dr. Joseph Petrosko, who gave me the tools and knowledge to pull the study together

Dr. Reid Bates (Louisiana State University), Dr. Dorothy Billington (New Horizons for
Learning), Dr. Brad Cahoon (University of Georgia), Dr. Gary Conti (Oklahoma State
University), Dr. Margaret Driscoll (Lotus/IBM MindSpans), Dr. Jacques Dubois (Public
Broadcasting Services, Adult Learning Services), Dr. Dale Huffington (University of
Missouri), Dr. Scott Johnson (University of Illinois), Dr. Marguerita McVay-Lynch
(Franklin University and Portland State University), Dr. Gary Morrison (Wayne State
University), Dr. Anthony Picciano (Hunter College), and Dr. Sharon Smaldino
(University of Northern Iowa).

iv

Those friends and co-workers who contributed something along the course of this writing
and who demonstrated friendship and patience with me during the process.
Bruce Wilder

Michael Fortin

Brandis Colton

Marji Settles

Jacqi Davis

Karen Fuller

Stephanie Tetter

Camille Frey

Alex Hulanicki

Marguerite Stark

Jamie Dagdigian
And many others unnamed here but not forgotten

My friends and colleagues at the Delphi Center for Enhancing Teaching and Learning at
the University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky: Arthur Schneider, Matt Wherle,
Elizabeth Martin, and Peggy Muller for their ongoing support, Linda Leake and Dirk
Griffin for their expertise and willingness to offer technical help with the Delphi
Research Website, and Ron Schildknecht for believing I would finish my quest.

My friends and colleagues at Monterey Peninsula College, Monterey, California.

v

ABSTRACT

Developing an Instrument to Analyze the Application of Adult Learning Principles to
World Wide Web Distance Education Courses Using the Delphi Technique
Sharon B. Colton
May 10, 2001

This exploratory study used the Delphi research method to develop the Online
Adult Learning Inventory, an instrument to apply the principles of adult learning to Webbased instruction and training. The instrument is a new tool for educators and trainers for
the purpose of developing and evaluating online courses for adults. A panel of twelve
experts in the fields of adult learning, instructional design, and online course
development constructed the instrument as a checklist and validated its content.
Principles of adult learning provided the structure of the instrument and instructional
methods that apply adult learning principles to online courses made up the body of the
instrument. A field test gave an indication of moderate to high reliability.
A pioneering feature of this study was the construction of a website and
conducting the Delphi process on the Web. A threaded discussion forum was used by the
experts to edit the adult learning principle construct appropriate to online adult learning,
then to develop a list of instructional methods that applied each principle to online

vi

learning. The experts were assigned pennames for anonymity. Web forms were used for
voting to determine consensus for each item of the instrument. The website also served as
an archive for draft instruments, previous discussions, and the results of votes.

vii

TABLE OF CONTENTS
PAGE
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS…………………………….……………………………….....iv
ABSTRACT…………………………………..………………………………….………vi
LIST OF TABLES …………………………..…………..……………………..……….xiv
LIST OF FIGURES ………..……………………………...………….……..………….xvi
INTRODUCTION………………….………….…………………….………..…………..1
Introduction…………………………………………………………………….….………1
Theoretical framework…………………………………………………………….………4
Problem statement…………………………………………………………….…….……..6
Research questions………………………………………………………………………...7
Significance of the study…………………………………………………………………..9
Assumptions…………………………………………………………………….………..11
Limitations and delimitations………………………………………………...………….12
Definition of terms ...…………………………………………………………………….13
LITERATURE REVIEW……………………………..……………………..…………..17
Introduction………………………………………………………………………………17
Adult education is driving distance education …………………..………………..18
The adult learner ………………………………………………………………….20
Convergence of adult education and distance education programs……...………………22

viii

Overview of adult education …..………………………………………………….23
Overview of distance education ….……………………………….………………26
The nature of human learning ….………………………………………..………………30
Learning theory applied to adult learning …………………………...……………36
Psychosocial differences among adults …………………………………..……………..37
Instructional design as a framework for adult instruction and training ………...……….39
Instructional design applied to Web-based learning …………………...…………42
Instructional design applied to adult learning …………………………...………..43
Emergence of adult learning principles: Research and conceptual publications ………..45
The learner‘s need to know: Research and conceptual publications ………….….54
Self-concept of the learner: Research and conceptual publications ……...…...…..55
Prior experience of the learner: Research and conceptual publications …….....…57
Readiness to learn: Research and conceptual publications ………………..…...…59
Orientation to learning: Research and conceptual publications …………...…...…60
Motivation to learning: Research and conceptual publications ……………….….61
Situational and individual differences: Research and conceptual publications …..63
Goals and purposes of learning: Research and conceptual publications ………....68
Instructional methods applied to Web-based distance education courses ………………68
Applications of ―The learner‘s need to know‖ ……………….…………………69
Applications of ―Self-concept of the learner‖ ……………..………….…………70
Applications of ―Prior experience of the learner‖ ………...……………………..71
Applications of ―Readiness to learn‖ ….…………………..……….……………73
Applications of ―Orientation to learning‖ ……….………..…….……………….73

ix

Applications of ―Motivation to learning‖ ………..…..………………...………..74
Applications of ―Situational and individual differences‖ ….….………..……….75
Applications of ―Goals and purposes of learning‖ ….…………..………………76
Unassigned instructional Web applications …….………………..…..………….76
Delphi research method …………………………………………...…………………….78
Summary of the literature review ……………...………………………………….…….83
METHODOLOGY ……………………………………………………………..………85
Introduction ………………………………………...……………………………………85
Overview of the methods ……………………...………………………………….85
Review of the literature ……………………………...…………………………………..90
Practical and quality screens for adult learning principles ……………………….91
Practical and quality screens for applied instructional methods ……….…………92
Additional resources ………………………………………………….…………..93
Expert panel members …..……………………………………………………………….93
Role and bias of the researcher ……….…………………………………...…….97
Review of instrument for readability …….………………,……………………………..97
Web-based discussion forum ……………….…,………………………………………..99
Delphi method ……………………………….…………………………………………108
Delphi procedures ……………………………………………………………….108
Round one ………………………….……..……………………………..110
Round two ………………………….……………………………………121
Round three ………………………….…………………………………..128

x

Development of instrument items …………………..…………………………………132
Validity of the instrument …………………….…………………………………133
Field test for reliability of the instrument …….……………..…………………………134
Summary of the methods ………………………………………………………………138
FINDINGS ………..……………………………………………………………………140
Introduction …………………………………………………...………………………..140
Findings of research question one ………………………….…………………………..143
Adult learning principles as structure for the instrument ………………………143
Instructional methods as sub-scales of the instrument …………………………144
Findings of research question two ……………………………………………………..147
Test for readability ……………………………………………………………..148
Round 1 findings ……………………………………………………………….150
Section A of the instrument: Adult‘s readiness to learn ……….…..…..151
Section B of the instrument: Adult‘s need to know …………….…..….152
Section C of the instrument: Adult‘s experience ………………………154
Section D of the instrument: Adult‘s self-concept …...……….………..155
Section E of the instrument: Adult‘s orientation to learning …..………156
Section F of the instrument: Adult‘s motivation ……………………….157
Section G of the instrument: Adult‘s individual differences ………..…158
Section H of the instrument: Adult‘s situational differences ……….….159
General comments on the instrument ………………….…..…………..161
Round 2 and round 3 findings ………………………………………………….167
Section A of the instrument: Adult‘s orientation to learning ....………..169

xi

Section B of the instrument: Adult‘s need to know ………...………….179
Section C of the instrument: Adult‘s experience ………...………….…187
Section D of the instrument: Adult‘s mental habits ..……………….….197
Section E of the instrument: Adult‘s self-concept …………….…….…205
Section F of the instrument: Adult‘s individual differences ……….…..212
Section G of the instrument: Adult‘s situational differences …..…...….220
Field test …………………………………………………………………………….….230
Findings of research question three ……………………………………………...…….233
Summary of the findings ………………………………………………………...……..242
SUMMARY, DISCUSSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS…………………………243
Summary ……………………………………………………………………….………243
Discussion of findings, research question one …………………………………………245
Discussion of findings, research question two ………………………………..………..257
Delphi research process …………………………………………………..……263
Discussion of findings, research question three ………………………………………..264
Recommendations for further study ……………………………………………...…….268
REFERENCES …………………………………………………………………..…….272
APPENDICES…………………………………………………………………….……297
APPENDIX A: Item pool …………………………………………………..………….298
APPENDIX B: Telephone script ……………………………………………..………..320
APPENDIX C: Delphi expert panel members …………………………………………324
APPENDIX D: Delphi discussion, comments, and correspondence …………..………326
APPENDIX E: Draft instruments …………………………………………………...…434

xii

APPENDIX F: Instructions for expert panel members ……………….…….………….472
APPENDIX G: Ballots …………………………………………………………….…..479
APPENDIX H: Voting results for round 2 and round 3………………………….…… 502
CURRICULUM VITAE ………………………………………………..……………..518

xiii

LIST OF TABLES
TABLE

PAGE

1.

Procedure for selection of expert panel members …………………….…………94

2.

Field test procedures …………………………………………………………...136

3.

Tabulation of instructional methods ……………………….……………..……146

4.

Results of vote 1 ……………………………………………………….……….164

5.

Rationale for retaining, editing, eliminating Section A vote 2 ….…………..…174

6.

Rationale for retaining, editing, eliminating Section A vote 3 ……….…..……177

7.

Rationale for retaining, editing, eliminating Section B vote 2 …………...……182

8.

Rationale for retaining, editing, eliminating Section B vote 3 …………...……185

9.

Rationale for retaining, editing, eliminating Section C vote 2 ……………...…191

10.

Rationale for retaining, editing, eliminating Section C vote 3 ……………..….194

11.

Rationale for retaining, editing, eliminating Section D vote 2 …………...……200

12.

Rationale for retaining, editing, eliminating Section D vote 3 …………..…….203

13.

Rationale for retaining, editing, eliminating Section E vote 2 …………………208

14.

Rationale for retaining, editing, eliminating Section E vote 3 …………………210

15.

Rationale for retaining, editing, eliminating Section F vote 2 ……………..…..215

16.

Rationale for retaining, editing, eliminating Section F vote 3 ……………..…..218

17.

Rationale for retaining, editing, eliminating Section G vote 2 …………..…….224

18.

Rationale for retaining, editing, eliminating Section G vote 3 ……………...…227

xiv

19.

Field test statistics by section …………………………………………….…….232

20.

Rationale for final instrument ………………………………………………….234

21.

Results of the Gunning FOG Index for readability ……………………...……..241

xv

LIST OF FIGURES
FIGURE

PAGE

1.

Diagram of the methods…………………….……………………………………86

2.

Home page of the website ………………….…..………………………………101

3.

Dissertation topic screen ………………….……..……………………………..102

4.

Delphi method screen ……………………………..…………………………...102

5.

Assignments screen ………………………………..………….………………..103

6.

Calendar ……………………………………………..…………………………104

7.

Discussion areas ……………………………………..…………………………105

8.

Threaded discussion topics …………………………………….……..………..106

9.

Sample discussion thread ………………………..……………………………..107

10.

Website directions for task 1 ………………………………….………………..111

11.

Website directions for task 2 ………………………………….………………..112

12.

Website directions for using the discussion forum …………….………………113

13.

Website directions for task 3, vote 1 ……………………………..…………….114

14.

Screen capture of vote 1 ballot ……………………………………..…………..116

15.

Example of a vote as received by e-mail …..………………………..…………120

16.

Website directions for task 4 …………………………………………..……….123

17.

Website directions for task 5 ……………………………………………..…….125

18.

Website directions for vote 2 …………………………….………...…………..126

xvi

19.

Website directions for task 7, vote 3 ………………………………...…………130

20.

Overview of the data collection ……………………………………….....…….142

21.

Round one forum discussion statistics ……………………….………….....…..151

22.

Round two forum discussion statistics ……………………………………...….169

xvii

CHAPTER I
INTRODUCTION

The population of part-time adult learners is growing and driving the distancelearning market (Green, 1999). As reported by Merrill Lynch (Carr, 2000), the market in
online education, up from $1.2 billion in 1999, is expected to reach $7 billion in 2003 in
the U.S. alone and much of that growth is due to the influx of older students. Nearly half
of college students are over 25 years of age according to the United States Department of
Education (1999). The profile of the student population is changing to a greater number
of full-time working adults (Wiesenberg, 1999). Furthermore, adults are increasingly
demanding the opportunity to learn at a distance either as supplemental to or as a
replacement for conventional education or training (Simonson, 1997). Distance education
is now regarded as an important setting within which a great deal of significant adult
learning occurs (Gibson, 1992). Online distance education is defined as, ―a separation of
teachers and students interacting through mediated technologies under the auspices of an
institution‖ (Cahoon, 1998, p.33).
Cahoon, (1998) in his book, Adult Learning and the Internet, makes the comment
that distance learning and Web-based courses are becoming synonymous. Other formats
for delivering instruction at a distance are used less frequently, giving way to the online
format. He goes on to say that students are expecting Internet access for lifelong learning,
yet most program administrators and course developers are poorly prepared to construct
1

Web-based learning environments effectively. Instead, trainers and educators are learning
how to teach on the Web as they go along. Cahoon further suggests that an instructional
Web site should be evaluated continuously throughout its life cycle. The use of
technology for Web-based learning should assist in meeting clear instructional goals
rather than being an end in itself. Good instructional applications are not inherent in the
technology but must be fostered by course design. He suggested the development of a
checklist of guidelines for web-based course development and evaluation.
Adult education has been described by Cotton (1968) as a fourth level of
education, beyond pedagogy. Knowles borrowed the term, andragogy, from a
Yugoslavian adult educator, Dusan Savicevic, to apply to the principles behind adult
learning theory (Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 1998, p. 58). Adult learning and
instruction now had a name, andragogy, which separated this field from that of teaching
children. Knowles defined andragogy as ―the art and science of helping adults learn‖
(1970, p.38). In The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species, Malcolm Knowles (1990)
described his andragogical model that differs substantially from the pedagogical model.
His principles for adult learning include:
1. The adult learner‘s need to know: The facilitator can relate the benefits of the
learning which often causes adults to invest more time and effort in gaining
the learning. Real or simulated experiences can point out the gap in learning.
2. The importance of their self-concept: Adults see themselves as being
responsible not only for their learning but for their lives. They see themselves
as self-directed and expect others to see them in that light as well. Adults,
however, often enter the classroom with their previous pedagogical experience

2

and say, ―Teach me.‖ This learning dependence conflicts with their selfconcept to such an extent that dropping out was often common.
3. Prior experiences: Adults not only have a greater volume of experience but it
is a different type of experience from that of youths, which may include a job,
voting, marriage and children, all part of an adult‘s self-concept. Adults can
be encouraged to contribute their experiences. This broad experience level
may also indicate a wider range of individual differences, requiring multiple
or personalized teaching and learning strategies.
4. Readiness to learn: Adults become ready to learn those things they need to
know and be able to do in order to cope effectively with their real-life
situations (Knowles, 1990).
5. Orientation to learning: Adults are motivated to learn to the extent that they
perceive that learning will help them perform tasks or deal with problems that
they confront in their life situations (Knowles, 1990).
6. Motivation: Although adults are motivated to some extent by external factors
such as promotions and better salaries, the more potent motivators are
internal. These may include quality of life, job satisfaction, and self-esteem.
Since Knowles‘ first book on adult learning (Knowles, 1973), other principles
have been discussed and debated by practitioners and theorists, including Knowles. These
include goals and purposes of learning and individual and situational differences
(Knowles, et al., 1998). The literature review discusses more thoroughly this body of
knowledge.

3

The principles of designing curricula based on the learner‘s needs have become a
tenet in the field of adult education (Hassanein, 1983). More recently, Bates, Holton and
Seyler (1996) theorized that CBI (computer-based instruction) design principles for
adults might be different than principles for younger students and that there are few wellestablished technical or instructional guidelines for designing effective computer-based
instruction for adults.
The purpose of this study was to construct an inventory, validated using a Delphi
process (DeLap, 1998; Cooter, 1983) and literature review, to evaluate instructional
methods as they apply specific adult learning principles to distance education courses.
Both sources, the Delphi and literature review, were used to maximize the rigor and
content of the study.

Theoretical framework
The theoretical framework of this study was based on a synthesis of andragory,
instructional design theory, and adult development theory. An instrument was drafted
which will enable course developers to apply principles of andragogy, or adult learning
principles, to the instructional design of a Web-based course.
Andragory and its established list of adult learning principles provide the overall
framework for the study and for the draft instrument. Principles of adult learning are
discussed by Brookfield (1986), Cross (1981), Houle (1961), Knowles (1980), Knowles,
Holton, & Swanson (1998), and many others.
Wilson (1995) described instructional design theory and practice as based on
research in learning, and in the instructional methodology with which to apply

4

instructional theory to teaching and learning. He stated that it was primarily prescriptive
and specifies how the end product should look. Instructional design rules serve as a
vehicle to deliver learning models to the instructional process. Importantly, instructional
design and learning theories are based on a knowledge base that has evolved from
primarily a behaviorist and objectivist basis to a more humanistic basis with a mix today
of behaviorist and humanist practices (Wilson, 1995).
Today‘s knowledge base or learning theories underlying instructional design start
with the behaviorist theories of Skinner. Behaviorists favor instruction done in a step-bystep format along with continuous feedback to keep the student on the right track and to
encourage motivation. The behaviorist view states that professional knowledge rests on a
foundation of facts, that truths are testable, and that all disagreements are resolvable by
reference to the facts (Wilson, 1995). Some practitioners of sequential learning systems
include Gagné (1985), Bloom (1956), Dick and Carey (1990).
Humanistic learning theories include various models of constructivism.
Humanistic theories are based on the concept that we construct our own reality and
meaning-making (Schön, 1987). Proponents of humanistic models of learning include
Piaget (1971), Bruner (1961), and Vygotsky (1978). Constructivism and related
humanistic learning practices are a result of advancing theories in cognitive development
and brain research. Humanistic learning practices give the learner more control over the
learning process and provide for interaction among students, other students, content
experts, and facilitators or teachers (Marti, 1997).
Although stages of development are usually though of in terms of children and
youth, Levinson (1978) and Sheehy (1976) describe the stages of adult development.

5

Jung is considered by some to be the father of the modern-day study of adult
development (Apps, 1981, p.100) and theorized that it is only after age 40 that adults
become fully functional and complete as a person (p. 100).
This study uses the vehicle of instructional design, along with adult development
theory, to bring examples of instructional methods that apply adult learning principles to
the relatively new instructional medium of the World Wide Web, with its opportunities
for new forms of instruction.

Problem statement
Brookfield (1995, p.4) articulated three trends in the study of adult learning that
have emerged during the 1990‘s, and that promise to exercise some influence into the
twenty-first century. These concerns are: (a) the cross-cultural dimensions of adult
learning, (b) adults‘ engagement in practical theorizing, and (c) the ways in which adults
learn within the systems of education (distance education, computer assisted instruction,
open learning systems) that are linked to recent technological advances. Utah Governor
Michael Leavitt, while commentating on distance learning programs, stated that, ―…all
kinds of courses and educational options are available from all sorts of sources, but there
is no universal standard or protocol to assure their quality‖ (Blumenstyk, 1998, p. A-23).
There are some rating systems for Web page style (Jackson, 1998; Waters, 1996;
Cyberhound, 1996) and rating systems for various applications of adult learning
principles, such as to measure the degree of practitioner support of the collaborative
teaching–learning mode for teaching adults (Conti, 1979), Suanmali, (1981), to measure
self-directed learning readiness (Guglielmino, 1992), and Competencies for the Role of

6

Adult Educator/Trainer (Knowles, et al. 1998, p. 140). In addition Wentling and Johnson
(1999) developed the Illinois Online Evaluation System to judge online instructional
efforts in general. Thus, this study‘s central problem was that no evaluation instrument
that specifically deals with the application of adult learning principles to Web-based
courses has been identified. Also a note requesting information on possible rating
systems was posted to the ASTD (American Society of Training and Development)
discussion list and two replies were received stating that adult learning evaluative tools
for Web courseware were not known to be available. At present, course developers face a
problem because there is no validated list to aid in applying adult learning principles to
course development or its formative or summative evaluation.
The purpose of this study was to develop a validated instrument that will help
educators, researchers and instructional designers evaluate and apply the use of adult
learning principles to fully-mediated World Wide Web-based distance education courses.
The instrument constructed in this study will provide an additional evaluative tool to
assess Web courses or to apply adult learning principles to course or training design.

Research questions
This study describes an exploratory study using a review of the literature and the
Delphi research method to collect and synthesize expert knowledge using an Internetbased format. The primary means of content validation was a Delphi panel assembled to
develop the instrument from the adult learning construct and an item pool of instructional
methods or applications. The Delphi panel was composed of experts in the fields of
distance education course design and adult learning. Reliability was addressed using a

7

field test and statistical analysis of data. From the review of literature was derived the
adult learning principles which provided the structure of the instrument, along with an
initial pool of instructional methods and the rationale for the research study. The
following research questions provide the structure, content, and purpose in creating an
instrument to apply adult learning principles to Web-based instruction and training.
The research questions are:
1. What are examples of specific instructional methods and techniques that
demonstrate the application of adult learning principles to fully-mediated
World Wide Web-based distance education courses as reported in the
literature?
2. To what extent can an instrument be developed by a Delphi expert panel to
measure the application of adult learning principles to fully-mediated World
Wide Web-based distance education courses, either as an ex-post facto
evaluation (summative) or as an in-process formative evaluation?
3. To what extent is there consensus among Delphi panel experts in the fields of
adult education and Web-based course development to validate specific
instructional methods and techniques that demonstrate the application of adult
learning principles to fully-mediated World Wide Web-based distance
education courses?
From the above research questions, the Delphi panel was presented with a
statement of the task, ―Review the list of adult learning principles derived from the
literature and make any suggestions. The main points of consideration are: Is the
principle relevant to web-based course development, and, if so, is it worded correctly?

8

Then, construct a list of instructional methods that apply a principle to Web-based course
development. You will be asked to then vote on each principle and instructional item to
establish its validity for application to Web-based course development for adults.‖
The final product was a draft instrument that was expert-content validated and
tested for reliability that can be used as a guide to apply or as a tool to evaluate the use of
adult learning principles to fully-mediated Web-based courses or training. The principle
barrier to designing an instrument for measuring adult learning principles in web-based
environments is the high level of difficulty in establishing its validity and reliability. To
overcome this barrier, this researcher utilized experts in andragogy and Web course
development to assist in developing the instrument.

Significance of the study
This exploratory study added a validated tool, the Online Adult Learning
Inventory, for the evaluation of Web courses to promote excellence in adult learning
programs. In 1998 the U.S. Department of Education survey identified 54,000 online
courses (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2000). This instrument will be particularly
useful in developing online courses. Dubois (1997) describes the impact of the
Information Age on education where ―the majority of higher education students will be at
least 25 years old and where lifelong learning will be ubiquitous‖ (p. 2). Businesses can
also apply this tool to adult training and educational courses delivered at a distance by
the World Wide Web, a mode that is becoming increasingly common (Brown, 1999).
Presently, no other instruments have been developed specifically for fully-mediated
World Wide Web courses to apply adult learning principles to the instruction.

9

Distance learning is now an important venue where significant adult learning
occurs (Brookfield, 1995). ―Depending on the type of Internet technology a distance
course employs, adults will tend to learn differently‖ and ―…the use of the Web may
require a new commitment to andragogical principles‖ (Cahoon, 1998, p.29, 34). As a
research area for consideration, Bates, et al. (1996) asked, ―What are the optimal
computer-based instruction characteristics for adult learners?‖ and put forth the challenge
to establish normative criteria based on adult learning principles (p.18). Faculty need to
focus on learning theory in the design of instructional technology so that they can create
lessons that not only are meaningful to adults but also focus on their requirements as an
adult (Fidishun, 2000). ―The technologies available today enable totally new learning
processes‖ and ―with the help of learning environments it is possible to break out of
limitations imposed by the classroom and individual educational institutions and offer
new opportunities for training for companies and adults‖ (Ruokamo & Pohjolainen, 2000,
p. 122).
Numerous citations (Cahoon, 1998; Brookfield, 1995; Bates, et al. 1996;
Simonson, 1997; Ryan, Carlton, & Ali, 1999) reflect the need for further research in
computer-mediated instruction for adults and suggest that computer design principles for
adults may be different (Bates, et al. 1996). Tom Reeves, University of Georgia, strongly
argues that more money has been invested in marketing computer-based education than
in evaluating it. He goes on to say that, ―…it is imperative that criteria for evaluating
various forms of CBE (computer-based education) be developed that will result in more
valid and useful evaluations‖ (Reeves, 1995. p. 2). He also recommended that any
evaluation instrument be subject to ―rigorous expert review‖ (p. 11). This challenge and

10

the difficulty in designing a valid instrument was met by employing ―rigorous expert
review‖ by utilizing experts in the fields of andragogy, instructional design, and Web
course development to construct the content of instrument.
Also of importance was the method developed by the researcher to conduct a
Delphi expert study utilizing the resources of the World Wide Web. Rather than
employing the traditional paper and pencil Delphi techniques, the researcher developed a
Web site with a threaded discussion forum for discussions related to developing content
and validity, Web forms for voting purposes to determine the level of expert consensus,
and as an archive to hold draft versions of the instrument and the text of previous
discussions available for review at any time by the expert Delphi panel. Time was
allotted for expert panel members to reflect on the content of the draft instrument, then
add additional commentary to the discussion forum at any time and from any place.

Assumptions
The research design and procedures for this study were based on the following
assumptions:
1. A thorough review of the literature and agreement by experts in the fields of
adult learning and Web-based course development on the characteristics of a
theoretically sound instrument fulfill the requirements for content and/or
construct validity in an instrument to measure the strengths and weaknesses of
the application of adult learning principles to Web-based courses.
2.

Experts can share their information with this researcher.

11

3. Since this research method was relatively new with reference to the Delphi
process taking place on the World Wide Web and allotting time for reflection,
it was assumed that this pioneering method meets the overall standards which
have been developed for the Delphi research method.
4. The Delphi process for this study, although web-based, followed the generally
established and accepted processes and procedures for the Delphi research
method.
5. Since the instrument is western-cultural bound, it requires validation in other
cultures.
6. A need exists for this instrument.

Limitations and delimitations
The research design and procedures for this study had inherent limitations.
1. The Delphi panel, although consisting of esteemed representatives from the
fields of andragogy and Web course design, did not include all experts in
these fields.
2. The field test was conducted on a relatively small sample of the potential
audience, thus only an indication of reliability could be estimated.
3. A principle barrier and limitation to a study of this type is the high level of
difficulty in designing a valid, reliable instrument for measuring Web sites

12

Definition of terms
For the purpose of this study, the following definitions are used.
Adult: An individual who has achieved full physical development and who
occupies adult social roles (Houle, 1972).
Adult Education: The education of people whose main business is not learning but
living (Flesch, 1943, p.1), or, adult education takes place when adult learning outcomes
and learning process rules and requirements are located in the individual (Knowles, et al.
1998, p. 121), or, adult education is a process whereby persons whose major social roles
are characteristic of adult status undertake systematic and sustained learning activities for
the purpose of bringing about changes in knowledge, attitudes, values, or skills
(Darkenwald & Merriam, 1982, p. 9).
Andragogy: The art and science of helping adults learn. In this model, the
instructor/trainer acts as a facilitator of learning rather than the sole source of instruction
(Knowles, 1980).
Checklist: A type of rating scale in which the categories are dichotomous, i.e.
requiring a yes or no answer (Aiken, 1996, p. v).
Community: A definable unit separated from the rest of the world by geography,
political system, or a complex interaction between people and groups (Houle, 1992,
p.66-67).
Computer-Based Instruction (CBI): Software program that displays information
and instructions on a video screen, requiring learner participation and choices (Morrison,
Ross, & Kemp, 2001).

13

Constructivism: A theory of how we learn. Learning means constructing,
creating, inventing, and developing our own knowledge (Marlow & Page, 1998, p. 10).
Content/construct validity: Content validity relies on human judgment and this
judgment emanates from experts in the field or from relevant literature (Aiken, 1996,
p.90). A content validation study assesses whether the instrument items represent the
construct of interest (Crocker & Algina, 1986).
Critical Thinking: The habit of examining experiences reflectively to assess their
truth or value so as to transform ideas and beliefs (Brookfield, 1988a).
Delphi Research Method: A method for achieving consensus among experts about
a given problem (Linstone & Turnoff, 1975).
Distance Learning: The broad range of teaching and learning events in which the
student is separated at a distance from the instructor or other fellow learners (Bee & Usip,
1998, p. 265). It encompasses many methodologies including Web-based training, oneway and two-way audio/video teleconferencing, video broadcast, and even
correspondence courses. Distance education may be delivered in real time or it may be
delayed (asynchronous). Also, the separation of teachers and students interacting through
mediated technologies under the auspices of an institution (Cahoon, 1998).
E-mail: Electronic mail messages sent across a network to an individual or a
group (Porter, 1997, p.252).
Evaluation Instrument: An objective instrument whose purpose is to take a
comprehensive, unbiased and cooperative look at a program and indicate what
modifications or changes, if any, should be made (Rauch, 1970, p.244).

14

Instruction: A purposeful interaction to increase a learner‘s knowledge or skills in
a specific, predetermined fashion (Ritchie & Hoffman, 1996).
Instructional Design: A process of selecting a series of events to facilitate learning
(Sims & Sims, 1995, p. 12).
Interactive Learning: A process that assists learning through interaction with
responsive technology (Hatcher, 1994).
Learning: A process of gaining knowledge and/or expertise. (Knowles, et al.,
1998, p. 17).
Learning Style: The complex manner in which learners most efficiently and most
effectively, perceive, process, store, and recall what they are attempting to learn.
(Flannery, 1993, p. 47).
Non-Traditional Student: A student over 25 years old, who may have a job,
family, and community responsibilities (Rossman & Rossman, 1995, p. 5).
Pedagogy: The art and science of teaching children (Knowles, et al. 1998, p. 36).
Rating Scale: An instrument that requires ―the respondent to make evaluative
judgments on an ordered series of categories‖ (Aiken, 1996, p. v).
Self-Directed Learning: A purposive mental activity, dependent on metacognitive behaviors such as attending, focusing, questioning, comparing, contrasting, etc.
that are personally controlled by the learner with little or no supervision (Long, 1992). A
process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in
diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and other
resources for learning, choosing and implementing learning strategies. Evaluating
learning outcomes and self-directed learning usually takes place in association with

15

various helpers, such as teachers or mentors, resource people or peers (Knowles, 1975,
p.18).
Validity: ―The validity of an account is relative to the standards of a particular
community at a particular place and time. The validity of an account by interpretation is
judged in terms of the consensus about words, concepts, standards, and so on in a given
community of interpreters‖ (Schwandt, p. 169).
Weak Consensus: For this study weak consensus was defined as a mean of 3.0 or
above but with an interquartile range greater than 1. (Consensus to include an item for
this study was defined as a mean of 3.0 or above with an interquartile range of 0 or 1.)
Weak consensus was used to carry over an item to the next voting round in order to give
the opportunity for expert panel members to change their vote (Turoff & Hiltz, 1995).
Web-Based Training: WBT is ―training delivered using TCP/IP and http
protocols, the protocols that define the World Wide Web. Internet-based training (IBT) is
training delivered using TCP/IP protocol, but not necessarily http, thus IBT might use
proprietary protocols and applications. Training, in this sense, means instruction to
improve skills, change attitudes, or enhance knowledge, principally in the workplace.
Web-based learning (WBL), Web-based instruction (WBI), and Internet-Based
instruction (IBI) use the same respective technologies‖ (Kirby & Bloak 1998).
World Wide Web (WWW, Web): Information available in hypermedia through
the Internet and accessible through a variety of interconnected links (Porter, 1997, p.254).

16

CHAPTER II
LITERATURE REVIEW

Introduction
The purpose of this study was to identify a gap in the literature for the application
of adult learning principles to Web-based instruction or training and also to develop an
instrument to assess the application of adult learning principles to Web-based instruction
or training. The review of the literature provided both the foundation for and the periodic
check of the content validity in developing the Online Adult Learning Inventory. In
addition, the gap in the literature was identified, research questions and the research
method for this study were derived from the literature, expert panel members were
identified, and the importance of the study became apparent.
In order to identify the gap, develop the instrument, and assess the
appropriateness of the method, it was necessary to comprehensively review the literature.
Because the purpose of developing the instrument was to merge the principles of adult
learning with Web-based instruction or training, the obvious starting point was with adult
learning principles and the opportunities and limitations of Web-based distance
education. Learning theory gives substance to instruction and instructional design
provides structure to the learning. Of additional interest to this study was the
psychosocial differences among adults, particularly the life stages and events that
17

motivate adults to seek learning. Western (American and Western Europe) overviews of
adult education and distance education provide background for the study.
Adult education is driving distance education
―Learning itself has no limits‖ (Club of Rome, 1979, p. 21). In the current context
of the ―knowledge society‖, the speed with which things are changing leads us to think
that ―the more we know, the more we introduce change, and the more we need to reflect
on it‖ (Gelpi, 1999, p. 26). The United Nations World Report on Human Development,
stated that the three main priorities for persons, whatever the level of national
development, are: (a). having a long and healthy life, (b). acquiring knowledge. and (c)
having access to the necessary resources in order to obtain decent living conditions
(Gelpi, 1999, p. 45, 13-14). Arnaud (1999) argues that the health and continuation of
society rely more on flexibility, knowledge dissemination and human creativity than
merely on individuals‘ capacity to adapt to work.
Since people are living longer and changing careers more often, education is
becoming a must instead of an option, and universities are a place for adults to go back to
school (Shoemaker, 1998). Also, leading employers and enterprises have shown that
investing in the adult learning of their workers is essential for competitiveness and
growth. There appears to be continuing demand for higher qualifications emerging from
rapid changes in work and technology (Gelpi, 1999).
For lifelong learning to become a reality, a fundamental revision is required at all
levels of education. Adult education systems must emphasize the development of flexible
learning systems adapted to the needs, language and culture of the learner. Stressing the
need for competency-based education, the development of a symbiotic relationship

18

between schools and local communities is needed for the acquisition of vocational skills
for daily life and employment (Singh, 1999).
A major factor behind the silent explosion in adult learning demand is the
universalisation of primary education and the incentive created by the increasing uses of
literacy in today‘s societies, that educational development is a lifelong endeavor and
tends to be a cumulative process. The more people go to school in the first phase of their
lives, the more they tend to participate in learning activities during adulthood. This is
reinforced by the similar quiet revolution of information technology and by the
emergence of information-intensive life and work contexts (Bélanger, 1999).
Leading employers and enterprises have shown that investing in the adult learning
of their workers is essential for competitiveness and growth. In the field of training, there
appears to be continuing demand for higher qualifications emerging from rapid changes
in work and technology (Gelphi, 1999).
Online instruction is being rapidly adopted by many educational institutions and
businesses to deliver instruction (American Society for Training and Development,
1997). Adult learning programs have been the driving forces behind distance education
initiatives. The histories of adult education and distance education programs have been
intertwined and today are closely bonded. Bates, et al. (1996) recognized the
effectiveness in using computers for learning and estimated that by the year 2000, fifty
percent or more of all industrial training will involve computers. Malcolm Knowles in
1989 predicted that most educational services and much learning will be delivered by
computers at the learner‘s convenience in terms of time, place, and pace, and that

19

learning programs will be highly individualized (p. 149). There is little doubt that this is a
continuing trend.
According to futurists, the greatest unrealized job market is in unsolved problems,
and solutions to solving problems often lies in insights gained through education
(Shoemaker, 1998). Vocational education and training must be designed as a lifelong
learning process (Bogir & Peltzer, 1999).
Georgia Tech researchers noted that 36,000,000 people in the US were on the
Internet in 1997 (Cahoon, 1998). From a 1999 survey by the Kentucky Virtual
University, the majority of Kentucky citizens (52%) have Internet access and of those
who do not, over half expect to have access in the next three years. The survey also
indicated that the majority of Kentucky adults who are interested in pursuing postsecondary education in the next three years preferred online access to onsite access. Selfimprovement (52.3%) was the number one reason Kentuckians desired more education,
while convenience (57.2%) was the top reason given why they wanted it online
(Kentucky Virtual University, 2000). Furthermore, the option of learning online increases
adult interest in professional development programs from 47.8% to 65.1% if offered
online (Kentucky Virtual University). The number of adults on the Internet will continue
to grow and intelligent tutoring systems will make Web-based instruction smarter
(Cahoon, 1998).
The adult learner
Adult learning is defined as ―the process of adults gaining knowledge and
expertise‖ (Knowles, et al., 1998, p. 124). Approximately 36% of college students are age
25 or older (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1999) and 46% of adults

20

participate in some form of formal learning activities (National Center for Educational
Statistics, 1999). When returning students give reasons for returning to seek further
education, they allude primarily to internal factors: they want to prepare for jobs, enlarge
their horizons, refresh their skills or spirits, gain personal independence, self esteem, all
positive forces working to attract them to learning (Apps, 1981; Justice & Dornan, 2001).
A study referred to by Apps (1981) discovered that 83 percent of adult learners named
some change or transition in their lives as motivation to start learning. Apps interviewed
professionals in adult education and found six reasons for returning to school:
occupational-related reasons, social acceptability, life enhancement, change in life
situation, society‘s premium on degrees, and university recruiting. The College Board
predicts that the adult student population will be the fastest growing segment of higher
education in the 21st century (Rossman & Rossman, 1995, p. 5) and the National Center
for Educational Statistics (1999) predicts a yearly rate of adult education increase at 9%
through 2010.
Apps goes on to say that traditional students are primarily students where
returning students are primarily business people, homemakers, parents, and community
volunteers. In addition, the returning students are no longer distracted by the problems
that concern growing up. The motivation in returning students is high. They are much
more purposeful, because they know what they want and have definite goals. Returning
students are highly practical. They want to see a direct relationship of what they are
studying to job performance improvement or a new career, as adults change jobs three or
four times, maybe more during their working years. Learning environments for returning
students must be holistic in that educators or trainers cannot deal with adult students in

21

isolation from the rest of their lives. Adults usually participate in learning because they
want to, but mandatory continuing education or training is on the increase across the
country. Another characteristic of adult learners is that they will not put up with poor
teaching (Apps, 1981).
Knowles (1986) described adult learners as having the self-concept of being an
adult, with the desire and capability of taking responsibility for planning and managing
their own learning. They bring with them a rich background of experience that is a
valuable resource both for their own learning and for the learning of others. They are
most ready to learn those things that they perceive will contribute to performing more
effectively in their life tasks. They are unique, each with their own styles and paces of
learning, outside commitments and pressures, goals, and internal motivations. Therefore
their learning plans and strategies must be highly individualized. ―When adults naturally
learn something (as opposed to being taught) they are highly self-directing. What adults
learn on their own initiative they learn more deeply and permanently than what they learn
by being taught‖ (Knowles, 1986, p. 27).

Convergence of adult education and distance education programs
―Distance learning and Web-based courses are becoming synonymous‖ (Cahoon,
1998, p. 40). In addition, Cahoon states that the number of adults on the Internet will
continue to grow and intelligent tutoring systems will make Web-based instruction
smarter. In instruction, the technology should assist in meeting clear instructional aims
rather than being an end in and of itself (p. 75, 29). Rossman & Rossman (1995, p. 3)
made the point that the Internet or Web has encouraged and enabled distance learning to

22

be more effective. Furthermore, the use of the Web may bring about, even require, a new
commitment to andragogical principles (Knowles, 1990).
Overview of adult education
Distance postsecondary education for adults has been available since the
nineteenth century. At that time, the Chautauqua movement brought continuing education
to millions of adult Americans long before anyone used (technology-based) distance
education (Rossman & Rossman, 1995, p. 3).
Josiah Holbrook of Connecticut in 1826 started the American Lyceum, which was
a national network of local study groups primarily for adults. The purpose of these three
thousand groups was self-improvement of its members through lectures, readings, and
discussions, and the promotion of tax-supported public schools. In the 1840s, once public
schools became common, the lyceum movement declined and was replaced by local
clubs, Chautauqua, and university extension (Knowles, 1989).
Later in Great Britain during the late 1870s, Oxford and Cambridge Universities
initiated a program to extend liberal studies to working class adults. This foray into adult
education gained momentum and established the field of adult education as we know it
today (Houle, 1992). In 1919, the British Ministry of Reconstruction issued a report of
the role of adult education in a free society. In essence it stated that adult education is ―a
permanent national necessity, an inseparable aspect of citizenship, and, therefore, should
be both universal and lifelong‖ (Houle, 1992, p. 7). Modern adult education dates from
this report. Prior to this report there was no organized attempt toward adult education in
Great Britain or the United States except sporadic programs for remedial education
(Cotton, 1968).

23

Of enormous importance to education, particularly vocational education, was the
passage of the Land Grant Act of 1862, otherwise known at the Morrill Act, after its
sponsor Senator Morrill of Vermont. This act set aside land for state colleges for the
research and study for average students in agricultural and mechanical arts. Some fifty
years later, the Cooperative Extension Service would be added to these colleges and was
instrumental in promoting the concept of adult education (Harrington, 1977; Knowles,
1989).
During the next many years, significant contributions to the literature were made
by Eduard C. Lindeman (1926), with The Meaning of Adult Education, the first
American book to explore the meaning of adult education; Dorothy Canfield Fisher
(1927), with Why Stop Learning? an avocation of adult education as a balance to the
problems of materialism, and The Adult Education Journal, among others. Common
themes of the time were concern for the dehumanization of people by machinery and that
adults could be educated to deal with their situations and exert control over their destiny.
John Dewey greatly influenced the American writers toward a democratic view of adult
education, summed up with the statement, ―education is life‖ (Cotton, 1968, p. 53).
In the early 20th century Antonio Gramsci, writing from prison, espoused adult
education as a means to reform society and defeat political oppression. Later, Eduard
Lindeman and Paulo Freire also believed adult education to be an instrument of social
reform for empowerment and active democratic citizenship and for social transformation
(Houle, 1992; Mayo, 1999). Lindeman‘s book, The Meaning of Adult Education, first
published in 1926 states his values for adult education and his arguments for complex,
urban societies to develop using adult education as a basis for social reform.

24

Freire, from Brazil, was considered to be one of the greatest thinkers on education
this century (Mayo, 1999). His ‗pedagogy of the oppressed‘ program increased literacy
allowing people to become eligible to vote. Thus he became a threat to the status quo and
was subsequently arrested and deported. He eventually returned to Brazil to continue his
work and writing in adult education. Gramsci, Freire, and to some extent Lindeman
advocated transformative adult education, recognizing its political force for change.
Freire‘s teaching methods included a process to facilitate authentic, critical dialogue to
uncover social or political contradictions. Whereas funding for adult education was
primarily for the purpose of upgrading vocational skills, Freire contended that educating
is a political act and that one cannot deny the political aspect of education.
In 1926, the American Association for Adult Education was founded to
communicate in the field of adult education (Knowles, 1980). The association promoted
both adult education and training and the two fields have become closely related.
―Training is concerned with the development and maintenance of competencies to
perform specific roles by persons holding positions in existing systems…and education is
concerned with the more general growth of the individual‖ (Griffin & McClusky, 1981,
p. 97). The processes of learning in each is similar as are methods used in their
implementation (Griffin, & McClusky, 1981).
The ending of World War II and the passing of the GI Bill saw a large number of
adults pursuing on-campus college degrees. Millions of young veterans took advantage of
this educational opportunity and they demonstrated that older students were capable of
success in higher education (Harrington, 1977).

25

During the 1950s, many professional organizations concerned with adult
education were founded in the United States which brought about numerous publications,
conferences, research and training programs. Adult education during this time was
dominated by professional adult educators rather than intellectuals and social reformers
(Cotton, 1968). The success of continuing professional education was the most dramatic
change in postsecondary adult education after 1965. However, two-year community
colleges were also established in large numbers to serve a primarily adult student body
(Harrington, 1977). Adult education has since become more institutionalized as the fourth
level of education (Cotton, 1968).
There are three elements in the process for adult education (Knowles, 1986). The
first element is the method or the organization of the prospective participants for
purposes of education. The second element involves techniques: the variety of ways in
which the learning task is managed so as to facilitate learning. The third and final
element involves devices: all those particular things or conditions which are utilized to
augment the techniques and make learning more certain.
Overview of distance education
Although distance education is often viewed as a recent development,
correspondence courses were established as early as the 1870s (McVay, 2000). One of
the origins of distance education in this country was the Chautauqua Literary and
Scientific Circle that was established in 1878 as an integrated core program of adult
education. The basic four-year curriculum leading to a diploma consisted of home
reading in conjunction with reading circles. However, Chautauqua expanded to summer
programs, traveling seminars, and it pioneered the development of correspondence

26

courses and university extension (Knowles, 1989). Then by 1882, the University of
Chicago had established a home study program. By 1923 over ten percent of all radio
stations were home based at educational institutions and delivered educational
programming. The National Home Study Council, established in 1926, has delivered
courses to over 55 million students. With the advent of electronic communications,
distance education then took the form of audio recordings and radio. Television
programming started delivering instruction in 1951 when the City Colleges of Chicago
started offering credit courses on a large scale (McVay, 2000). Satellite broadcasts started
in the 1980s (Research Institute for Studies in Education, 1994).
Starting in the 1970s, through the 1980s and into the 1990s, computer-based
instruction was used both for training and instruction with delivery on local area
networks. Good courseware was expensive to produce with between 150 and 300 hours
of development time for one hour of instruction. The large-scale use of computers in
distance education started after the inception of the World Wide Web in 1992 (McVay,
2000).
In 1971 the Open University of the United Kingdom was founded, offering
university degrees by distance education. The University was innovative from its
inception with sophisticated course offerings, extensive use of media, and a student body
primarily consisting of adults who were employed and part-time students. The prestige of
the Open University spurred the establishment of similar higher education institutions
offering in industrialized countries offering their programs through distance education
(Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacedk, 2000).

27

Instructional settings can be divided into four types: same-time same-place,
different- time same-place, same-time different-place, and different-time different-place
(Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2000). Traditional instruction takes place at
the same time and in the same place. This is usually described at the teacher-centered,
self-contained classroom. Different-time same-place usually refers to instruction taking
place in a learning center or computer lab with computer-based instruction available on a
walk-in basis. The last two categories take place at a distance. The first, same-time
different-place refers to synchronous instruction where the instructor as well as the
students in one or more different locations are assembled for class at the same time. This
is the typical format for interactive television or video conferencing classes as well as
audio or text chat discussions. Dan Coldeway (in Simonson, et al, 2000) said that the
purest form of distance education occurs at different times and in different places where
learners can choose when and where to learn and access materials. Courses on the World
Wide Web, fully-mediated by computer, illustrate this type of instruction, also called
asynchronous instruction.
The World Wide Web (WWW, Web) has become one of the most popular
methods of disseminating distance learning programs since 1993 with the introduction of
the Mosaic browser (Driscoll, 1998, p. 4.). ―In fact, if learners and educators/trainers
don‘t need face-to-face communication during the course, it is one of the best methods of
providing information to learners ‖ (Porter, 1997, p. 127). Distance learning is used by
educational institutions, such as public or private schools from preschool through
graduate programs. It can provide materials in a single medium or multiple media and in
different formats to meet different learners‘ preferences in learning styles, needs, and

28

abilities (Porter, 1997). In 2000, community colleges and universities offered more than
52,000 courses at a distance and corporate ‗universities‘ have increased from 400 to
1,600 in the past decade with most of them using online instruction (Ely, 2000).
Business and industry, national and international firms are using and exploring the
options of using Web-based learning to train their adult workforce as it is cost-effective
and available at any time. ―Web-based training is poised for rapid growth into the next
millennium as the technology becomes more accessible‖ (Driscoll, 1999, p. 10).
Spitzer (1998) and Porter (1997) put distance education in perspective in relation
to learning: "Distance education doesn't represent a minor change. In fact…it represents
an entirely new context for learning, and therefore requires a new set of behaviors for
both students and instructors" (Porter, p.53). Distance learning changes education from a
linear to a nonlinear process. ―This ability to access as much or as little information as the
individual chooses, in whatever associational order he or she desires, changes the nature
of education from a linear to a nonlinear process‖ (Porter, 1997, p. 202).
Web-based learning, for purposes of this dissertation, is essentially learning that is
constructed as a part of a World Wide Web experience. Historically, access to technology
has been a hindrance to using the web for instruction in other than special circumstances.
This is no longer the case. If a student in the United States or Europe does not have
access at home, he/she typically will have access available at a local school or library
(Burge & Roberts, 1993).
With this more universal access comes opportunity. Teaching and learning are no
longer limited to time and place. Nor are they limited to teacher-centered behaviorist
methods of instruction. In comparison with a traditional classroom, where the teacher

29

contributes up to 80% of the words, on-line computer instructional conferencing shows
teacher contributions of only 10 - 15% of the message-words (McDonald & Elias, 1976).
Using the web as an instructional tool allows faculty to develop a more student-centered
learning environment, featuring active learning as its central theme.

The nature of human learning
The same principles of human learning and behavior must form the basis of an
instructional program for adult learners as well as other learners (Morrison, et al., 2001,
p. 53). Educational literature often includes three views of the nature of human beings:
the Freudian view, behaviorist view, and the humanistic view (Apps, 1981). The Freudian
view, from the research of Sigmund Freud looks at human nature as determined by
biological drives and the way each person copes with those drives. Freud believed that
the human psyche was divided into the id, the ego, and the superego that served as the
basis for behavior, including learning behavior. The id consists of unconscious animal
instincts, the ego as the sum of a person‘s conscious awareness, and the superego as the
censor or conscience a person has gained from society (Apps, 1981; Ormrod, 1999).
The behaviorist view of human beings came from the research of John Watson
and B.F. Skinner (Skinner, 1953). The behaviorist view assumes human behavior is
influenced by external factors and that stimulus-response is the primary reason for
changes in human behavior, or learning. This thinking was influenced by the emergence
of the scientific method in research. Responses to stimuli are easily measured and
quantified (Apps, 1981; Ormrod, 1999).
B.F. Skinner, well known for his theories of operant behavior, believed that the
study of behavior must rest on what people do and do not do. He postulated that we learn
30

behaviors that are followed by certain consequences or reinforcers. A response followed
by a reinforcing stimulus was strengthened and therefore more likely to occur again. The
law of extinction is just the opposite in that behaviors, not followed by a reinforcer,
becomes extinct (Apps, 1981). Behaviorism as applied to learning follows the pattern for
presenting students with small bits of knowledge to master, then integrating them into
major concepts (Ormrod, 1999).
Early (pre-1995) instructional designers followed Skinner‘s precepts with step-bystep instruction followed by extensive feedback and reinforcement. Although
instructional design is using less of Skinner‘s cognitive theories today, in favor of
constructivist theories, some of the work of his contemporary, Tolman, is still relevant.
His theories of cognitive maps formulation has gained new followers in designers of
Web-mediated learning environments (Apps, 1981).
Edward Chase Tolman rejected the learning theory of behavioral psychologists –
random trial and error. Instead, he said that learning was a systematic process guided by
goals and expectations. He believed that learners develop what he called cognitive maps,
which are mental images of the probable paths to their goals. Learning can occur in the
absence of reinforcement, except for the intrinsic reinforcement in being involved in
exploration and satisfying the curiosity drive. Goal-directed behavior is always a gettingtoward-something or getting-away-from-something. Tolman held that description of any
behavior should include (a) What the organism is doing, (b) Where it is going, and (c)
what it is trying to do (Ormrod, 1999, p. 146 – 147).
Tolman‘s views on education included a focus on reinforcing student successes
and to not punish failures. He recommended individualized instruction where complex

31


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