2011 Distance Learning Survey Results

By

Joanne B. Hawkins, PhD.

Defense Institute of Security Assistance Management

            If you completed an online course with DISAM between October 2010 and July 2011, you may have received an invitation from me to participate in an online survey of your distance learning preferences.  The survey was part of a larger study on distance learning effectiveness in workforce development, and distance learning acceptance by learners in the workplace.   The study was an independent doctoral research study, not commissioned by DISAM or any other defense organization.  DISAM graciously permitted me to contact students enrolled in a distance learning course during that ten-month period to assess learner acceptance of distance learning, and their learning preferences.  This article reveals the findings of that survey.

The Purpose of the Survey

The focus of the study was the civilian workforce engaged in Security Cooperation (SC) activities.  The SC workforce consists of approximately 10,000 people (DISAM, 2011).  There are nearly 7,200 civilian employees and nearly 2,000 military personnel from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. The workforce is supported by over 800 civilian support contractors who also must be trained in SC concepts and programs.  According to a 2011 Department of Defense Civilian Personnel Management Service report, the level of education among civilian employees varies widely, with many employees having only a high school education.  The average age of the DoD civilian employee is 58, and nearly one-third of the civilian workforce is eligible to retire this year (CPMS, 2011; GAO, 2009; GAO, 2007). 

In 2009, the Secretary of Defense mandated an immediate improvement in SC workforce education and training by the end of fiscal year 2011.    To meet the needs of an increased number of learners, DISAM reorganized its introductory two-week resident CONUS course (SAM-C) into a two-phased hybrid course.  Since February 2011, the SAM-C course consists of the Security Cooperation Orientation Course (SCM-OC) done through computer-based training (CBT), followed by five days of classroom instruction.  The classroom discussions and practical exercises reinforce the basic education from the CBT, to develop a deeper understanding of SC programs and procedures.    The SCM-OC also serves to educate SC civilian, military and contractor personnel whose position requires only basic knowledge of security cooperation programs and procedures.  DISAM’s computer-based training products helped fill the training shortfall and completed the requirement to have 95% of the SC workforce trained by the end of September 2011 (DISAM, 2011).    DISAM continues to develop computer-based training courses and learning modules for various areas of specialization that are exportable to a growing workforce. 

As a course developer and instructor, I questioned the effectiveness of computer-based training in preparing employees in basic skills and concepts necessary for effective job performance.   My skepticism of learning effectiveness stemmed from numerous negative comments DISAM students provided in discussions and in course surveys about course design and content.  One of my reasons for wanting to research the acceptance of CBT in workforce development was the frequent complaint from DISAM students that they were uncomfortable learning through the computer.  Numerous research studies have pointed out that comfort with the method of delivery, and comfort with the learning environment, significantly impacts on the ability of the adult learner to absorb and retain information (Brown, 2001; Calvin & Freeburg, 2010; DeTure, 2004; Frankola, 2001; Hairston, 2007; Hornik, Johnson & Wu, 2007; Moore, 1997; Saade & Kira, 2007).   I was curious if younger civilian employees were more receptive to learning through a computer than older adults, and whether one’s level of education had any impact on acceptance of self-paced computer-based training.  One of my hypotheses was that older adults would be less willing to engage in computer-based training because distance learning requires a change in study habits and adaptation to a new learning environment.  A second hypothesis was that employees with less than a college education would not perform as well with self-paced computer-based training because they had not had the opportunity to develop study habits that are necessary to be successful in distance learning. 

The data from the survey did not support either hypothesis.  There was no significant difference in attitude toward distance learning based on age or level of education.  However, the survey data revealed that employees in general lacked organizational support for distance learning.  Employees were often pressured to complete their training on their own time because their work environment did not provide the time or resources to engage in computer-based training for workforce development.   This result was surprising, given that the requirement for completing the training was mandated by DSCA in support of the SECDEF’s workforce improvement initiative.  An earlier study by DISAM in 2000 revealed similar results.  At that time, employees complained of a lack of time for distance learning in the workplace, and a lack of organizational support to provide an environment conducive to distance learning (Hawkins, 2001).  In terms of distance learning support, my recent research shows that little has changed in a decade within the SC community.  This finding is disappointing because distance learning has evolved into a major method of workplace skills development in both government and industry.

In both the private and public sector, it is not considered time or cost-effective to train employees more than once to learn basic job skills and concepts. Corporations and government agencies have turned to distance learning as a means of replacing or supplementing traditional classroom instruction (ASTD, 2011; Brown, 2001; Dobbs, 2000; Dobrovolny, 2006; Hairston, 2007; O’Dell, 2009; O’Lawrence, 2006; Stone, 2007; Strother, 2002).   The amount spent on distance learning by corporations and government agencies in 2010 was estimated to be around $171.4 billion.  In terms of learning hours, approximately 63% of formal workplace training continues to be conducted through face-to-face classroom instruction while the remaining 37% of workplace training is done through some technology-based delivery system (ASTD, 2011).   

Distance learning is defined as any form of instruction in which learners and instructors are separated by space.  It ranges from video teleconferencing, which is delivered synchronously, and web-based instruction, which may be delivered synchronously, to asynchronous instruction, in which learners and instructors are separated by both space and time.  Distance learning also includes instruction that is delivered by electronic means to one person at a time.  In short, distance learning is a substitute for traditional classroom learning.  One widely used form of distance learning in academic institutions is web-based synchronous or asynchronous online learning in which learners interact with one another and with an instructor or facilitator.  This interactive form of distance learning usually involves specific timeframes for online participation, submission of assignments, and course completion.  Another form of distance learning is instructional content delivered by computer either through a CD or DVD, or by a computer network or the Internet.  This type of learning product is often referred to as distributed learning, computer-based instruction, or computer-based training (CBT).  This self-paced method of learning provides no course facilitator or instructor, and allows no interaction between learners.  CBT is often used to provide instruction in a corporate or government setting.  The course content may be repeated as often as necessary to reinforce learning.  Learning resources are embedded in the courseware or are accessible from the Internet.  Learners evaluate their own performance through embedded multimedia content.  Most CBT produced today for individualized self-paced learning includes multimedia elements to stimulate interest and enhance learning by providing audio and video in addition to text and graphics.  My study focused on this latter form of distance learning, CBT, that is, the non-interactive, self-paced instruction that is delivered by computer network or digital media. 

A limited number of studies have examined the effectiveness of different types of distance learning programs in a corporate environment (Dobbs, 2000; Dobrovolny, 2006; Frankola, 2001; Hairston, 2007; O’Dell, 2009; O’Lawrence; Stone, 2007; Strother, 2002).   Their findings suggest that employees who have limited computer skills, or those who lack time and support in the workplace for online learning are the most disadvantaged by the implementation of CBT for workforce development.  Employees who are not motivated to learn on their own time are also disadvantaged.  These studies show that older workers are less receptive to using technology, although their performance results are as good as those of younger workers.   

My desire to survey the learning preferences of the SC workforce was driven by the limited research of the effectiveness of CBT for employee training.  Since research shows that learning styles are as important to the learning process as are the environment and method of delivery, I believe it is important to survey learning preferences before a large investment of time and manpower is spent to develop more distance learning products.  The survey portion of this research study examined employees’ attitudes toward computer-based training and employee characteristics that may contribute to or limit their ability to learn through CBT.

Survey Participants

Invitations to participate in the survey were sent to 1,650 individuals.  The online survey was hosted by SurveyMonkey™, a commercial survey host.  The participants consisted of 306 DoD civilian employees, 47 military personnel, and 52 civilian support contractors for a total of 405 respondents (24.5%).  Survey responses from military personnel were excluded from this study because their demographic data was significantly different in terms of age, level of education, and distance learning experience, from the demographic data of civilian personnel.    However, the survey responses of military personnel are addressed separately at the end of this article.  The survey data were collected between October 2010 and July 2011from students enrolled in the Security Assistance Management Online Course (SAM-OC), the Security Cooperation Management Orientation Course (online) (SCM-OC), the Security Cooperation Familiarization Course (online), the International Programs Security Requirements Course Online (IPSR-OL), or the Security Assistance Management Logistics Support Online Refresher Course (SAM-CS).   

Data Collection

The survey consisted of 54 questions in five sections, and was based on a combination of two previously developed instruments used in educational research.  The sections were (a) a notice of informed consent, (b) employee demographics, (c) employees’ impressions of the CBT course, (d) employees’ learning preferences, and (e) employees’ assessment of their work and training environment.    The email invitation provided the participant with information about the purpose of the survey and it provided assurance of confidentiality and anonymity.  Informed consent was assumed granted when the participant chose to take the survey. 

The survey was designed so that participants were required to respond to each item, and no question could be skipped or left blank.  This structure may account for some rather high percentages of “no opinion” responses.   Participants were able to provide comments at the end of the survey regarding their learning experience.  This section was not required, yet 93 participants (26%) chose to provide comments. 

Participant Demographics

Data for the study consisted of the responses from 306 DoD civilian employees and 52 civilian support contractors for a total of 358 respondents.  Their age groups and level of education are shown in Tables 1 and 2 respectively.  Participants self-disclosed their occupation or position, shown in Table 3.

Table 1.  Participant Age Groups (N = 358) 

Category

Frequency

Percent

Under 25

18

5%

26 to 34

48

13%

35 to 44

50

14%

45 to 54

140

39%

55 to 64

96

27%

65 and over

6

2%

 Table 2.  Participant Levels of Education (N = 358) 

Category

Frequency

Percent

High School or Equivalent

16

4%

Some College-No Degree

46

13%

Associate's Degree

86

24%

Bachelor's Degree

142

40%

Master's Degree

65

18%

Doctorate Degree

3

1%

 Table 3.  Participant Occupations/Positions (N=358) 

Category

Frequency

Percent

Country Manager or Country Desk Officer (DSCA, NIPO, SAF/IA, USASAC-Huntsville, other)

23

6%

FMS Case Manager (ILCO or training activity)

27

8%

FMS Line Manager or Weapon System Program Office project manager

71

20%

Contracting Officer or Contract Administrator

41

11%

Transportation Coordinator or Manager (DCMA, DLA, ILCO, TRANSCOM, SDDC, AMC, Freight Forwarder, Support Contractor or Service ICP)

9

3%

Supply Technician or Supply Specialist

39

11%

Foreign Liaison Officer or FMS Customer

5

1%

Overseas Security Cooperation Office, Defense Attache or Embassy (Military, Civilian or Locally Employed Staff)

3

1%

Financial Manager or Financial Analyst

61

17%

Security Cooperation Policy Analyst

21

6%

Instructor (DISAM, DAU, DLA, Service School, Regional Center)

18

5%

FMS Case Writer (CWD, ILCO or Program Office)

4

1%

IT or Automation Systems Support/Developer

2

1%

Foreign Disclosure Officer, Security Specialist or Export Licensing Official

22

6%

Other

12

3%

Two-hundred thirty-nine participants (67%) had less than two years work experience in Security Cooperation, with the remaining 119 participants (33%) having between two and five years’ work experience in the field.  Three hundred and forty participants (95%) were in non-supervisory positions, while the remaining 18 participants (5%) indicated they were supervisors.  All participants had completed a required introductory course through a stand-alone CBT between October 2010 and July 2011.

Of the 54 survey questions, the responses to four survey statements were analyzed in detail with regard to the respondents’ age and level of education.  The four survey statements are

  1. I enjoy taking courses through the computer. 
  2. I can learn equally well through computer-based training as I can in a face-to-face classroom environment. 
  3. I think learning through the computer is a frustrating process. 
  4. Working through the computer-based training module was an unpleasant experience for me. 

The range of scores was 1-5 based upon a Likert scale.  Participants rated each statement on a scale from 1 = Disagree to 5 = Agree for all questions.  The results are shown in Tables 4 through 7. 

For the item “I enjoy taking courses through the computer,” the mean score was 3.65 (SD = 1.27); the median was 4 and the mode was 4.  Seventy-one percent of all participants indicated that they agreed or somewhat agreed that they enjoyed taking courses through the computer, regardless of age or education.

Table 4.  I enjoy taking courses through the computer (N=358) 

Rating

Frequency

Percent

Disagree

34

9%

Somewhat Disagree

43

12%

No Opinion

27

8%

Somewhat Agree

154

43%

Agree

100

28%

For the item “I can learn equally well online or through computer-based training as I can in a face-to-face classroom environment,” the mean score was 3.09 (SD = 1.42); the median was 4 and the mode was 4.   Participants were almost evenly divided among those who disagreed or somewhat disagreed that they could learn equally well with either CBT or traditional learning (46%), with those who agreed or somewhat agreed (51%), regardless of age or education.

Table 5.  I Can Learn Equally Well Through Computer-Based Training as I can in a Face-to-Face Classroom Environment (N = 358). 

Rating

Frequency

Percent

Disagree

59

16%

Somewhat Disagree

106

30%

No Opinion

12

3%

Somewhat Agree

111

31%

Agree

70

20%

 For the item “I think learning through the computer is a frustrating process,” the mean score was 2.31 (SD = 1.32); the median was 2 and the mode was 1.  The majority of participants (68%), regardless of age or education, responded that they disagreed or somewhat disagreed that computer-based learning is a frustrating process.

Table 6.   I Think Learning Through the Computer is a Frustrating Process (N = 358). 

Rating

Frequency

Percent

Disagree

136

38%

Somewhat Disagree

107

30%

No Opinion

28

8%

Somewhat Agree

61

17%

Agree

26

7%

For the item “Working through the computer-based training module was an unpleasant experience for me,” the mean score was 2.18 (SD = 1.32); the median was 2; and the mode was 1.  Again, the majority of participants (67%) responded that they at least somewhat disagreed that their CBT experience was unpleasant, regardless of age or education.

Table 7.  Working Through the Computer-Based Training Module was an Unpleasant Experience for Me (N = 358). 

Rating

Frequency

Percent

Disagree

158

44%

Somewhat Disagree

81

23%

No Opinion

46

13%

Somewhat Agree

45

13%

Agree

28

8%

 I further analyzed the data using a series of one-way Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) to determine if there was any relationship between age, level of education, and participants’ perceptions about their ability to learn through computer-based training.  The data revealed no significant differences between age or level of education and willingness to engage in CBT.

Learning Style Assessment

One portion of the online survey included the commercial learning style assessment “Is Online Learning Right for Me?” used by many schools and universities to help students determine their readiness to engage in distance learning.  The questions address learner schedules, learning style, and learner personality. Each question has three possible responses, with the first response in each category corresponding to a characteristic most appropriate for distance learning.  The second response is less desirable for distance learning, but not an indicator of incompatibility with distance learning, and the third response reflects a characteristic incompatible with distance learning.  Thus by scoring each response in the survey with a 1, 2 or 3, learners with an overall score ranging between 10 and 16 are candidates who have characteristics that are indicators of good distance learners, those between 17 and 23 have some characteristics that are suitable for distance learning, but those who scored between 24 and 30 are less likely to be comfortable with distance learning.  Of the 358 participants, 183 (51%) scored between 11 and 16, indicating many characteristics suitable for distance learning.  The remaining 175 participants (49%) scored between 17 and 23, reflecting fewer characteristics of successful distance learners.  No participant scored above 23.   This outcome suggests that regardless of age or level of education, all of the participants could be successful distance learners.  The ten question survey, however, is most applicable to distance learning done through facilitated interactive courses.  When I examined responses to individual questions, three questions in the areas of learner personality and learning style reflected a higher preference for social contact in learning.  Sixty-seven percent of survey participants indicated that feeling that they are part of a class, engaging with other students, is very important to them.  Seventy-two percent indicated that classroom discussions are important to them.  These two aspects of social learning are missing in computer-based training in which the employee learns in isolation, and could reduce learning effectiveness.  Alternatively, seventy-two percent of survey participants responded that they preferred to follow directions on their own and be responsible for their own learning.  Only a minority of participants (2%) expressed an aversion to using technology, and only 2% indicated that they were slow readers.  Good reading skills and the ability to navigate through various web screens and computer applications are essential to being able to learn well through computer-based training. 

The Learning Environment

            The learning environment impacts the amount of attention the learner focuses on the topic.  Distractions, interruptions, and lack of time impede the learning process, as well as a lack of employer support.  Six questions in the survey targeted the learning environment.  These included one question from the learning style assessment that indicated that the majority of participants (86%) completed the CBT because it was required for work.  The remaining five questions were

  1. My supervisor is interested in my training needs. 
  2. My supervisor gives me time at work to take work-related computer-based training courses. 
  3. My supervisor has established a training plan for me and a timetable to follow. 
  4. If I try to conduct training at work, I experience frequent interruptions that make learning difficult. 
  5. My work obligations make it difficult for me to conduct training or continue my education during work hours.

Nearly 83% of participants agreed or somewhat agreed that their supervisor had an interest in their training needs.  Yet, only 44% of survey participants indicated that their supervisor established a training plan and timetable for the employee to follow. 

Sixty-eight percent of participants indicated that their supervisor did not give them time at work to engage in computer-based training, which is supported by 53% who agreed or somewhat agreed that their work obligations make it difficult to conduct training during work hours.  Seventy-six percent of participants agreed or somewhat agreed that they experienced frequent interruptions while conducting training at work.  Despite this apparently inadequate learning environment, 73% of survey participants responded that they would like to take more computer-based training courses to use for initial or refresher training in the workplace, but expressed a preference (56%) for taking a scheduled web-based course which included student and instructor interaction over self-paced CBT without student and instructor interaction.  Fifty-three percent of participants agreed or somewhat agreed that they would be willing to take an online course which required posting graded assignments to an instructor.

Lack of time is one of several reasons why corporate distance learners fail to complete a computer-based training course (Frankola, 2001).  Many workers have distractions and interruptions by coworkers and supervisors who insist that a task has to be done right away.  Frankola reported that online course completion in the corporate environment was dependent upon whether supervisors and managers tracked employee progress and whether the employee received positive reinforcement for the worker’s participation in the online course.  When employees are pressured to complete an online course without being given adequate time or the environment to learn, learning retention decreases. The employee skips learning tasks to complete the course quickly or tries to learn in a distracting environment, which reduces the quality of the learning process and the learning outcome. 

Discussion of Participant Comments

Ninety-three survey participants chose to provide comments at the end of the survey about their CBT learning experience.  I analyzed these comments for common themes and key words in a qualitative research method.  Qualitative research is interpretive, in which the researcher makes a personal assessment of a situation or occurrence based on interviews, observations, survey comments or documents. 

I grouped the survey comments into four categories:  Organizational Support, Learner Interaction, Information Relevance and Technology.  Many participants’ comments fell into more than one category, so total numbers of responses exceeded 93. 

Organizational Support.   The largest number of survey comments fell into this category.  Thirty-two participants responded that their organization did not give them time at work for computer-based training.  Participants complained that frequent interruptions at work made it difficult to absorb and retain information, that they felt rushed if they attempted to conduct training during business hours.  Many commented that they had to conduct training outside of work hours or outside the workplace because of the lack of time or because of a poor learning environment at the workplace.   Several participants suggested that organizations provide a training center or a location away from the job site for employees to conduct training during business hours. Despite these negative comments concerning organizational support for computer-based training, the lack of organizational support appears not to have made learning through CBT a frustrating experience, as indicated by the findings in Table 6.   One comment seemed to sum up the issues that fell into the category of organizational support:

If training the workforce is so important, and organizations are required to meet a SECDEF workforce development goal, then why aren’t supervisors giving time to employees to do the training?  My entire division had to complete two distance learning courses in a matter of a few weeks, but none of us were given time at work to get it done.  The training required at least a couple of hours each day for two weeks to really understand the material, but “the mission” was too important to make the time…Most of us had to do it at home after work, or stay late, or come in on the weekend.  Then it was a fire-hose of information and it was really hard to absorb.   I understand training budgets are getting cut and facilities are limited for holding classes, so computer learning is the replacement.  But you can’t expect people to do the training alone on their own time and get anything out of it.

The recurring themes in this category of Organizational Support are shown in Table 8.

Table 8.  Organizational Support. 

Theme

Frequency

No time to train at work

32

Interruptions & distractions

29

Trained during personal time

13

Feeling rushed

6

Prefer training away from job site

5

 Learner Interaction.  The second category to receive several comments concerned learner interaction with others.  Participants expressed a preference to learn by sharing ideas and experiences with other learners.  Some expressed a need for feedback from an instructor and suggested that learning in an environment that included study groups and an ability to meet others was preferential to the isolated CBT environment.  Several participants acknowledged the cost benefit of delivering instruction through the computer, but recommended delivering training through a synchronous or asynchronous web-based course in which learners had contact with other people, instead of the static CBT.  While several participants expressed a preference for face-to-face classroom learning, others enjoyed learning through the computer as long as they had contact with other learners.    One participant explained

Classroom learning is still the best.  Online learning is ok if there is contact with an instructor and other students, and everyone is required to participate.  Self-paced online learning without contact with an instructor or other students is tedious and boring.  I have taken online college courses where everyone was required to post information and assignments and I enjoyed it a whole lot more than this.  I don't think people should be expected to learn new requirements by themselves.  It might be ok for reviewing things you might have forgotten.  I learn a lot from other people, so if I have to learn through the computer I want to have contact with other people online.

Table 9 shows the recurring themes in the comments pertaining to interaction with other learners.  The comments in this category support the survey responses in which at least half the participants indicated a preference for online learning involving other participants.

Table 9.   Learner Interaction. 

Theme

Frequency

Need to share ideas & experiences

34

Prefer synchronous/asynchronous

18

CBT Feels isolated/feels impersonal

11

Prefer face-to-face

9

Need instructor feedback

7

Enjoy study groups & networking

7

 Information Relevance.  Another area that drew comments from participants was the relevance of the training to the employee.  Themes that emerged in this category are shown in Table 10.  Twelve participants indicated that the majority of information in the CBT they took had little or no relevance to their job, but they were required to take it for certification or recertification. Alternatively, some participants expressed appreciation at having helpful information immediately available.  Some commented that the material was difficult to comprehend, requiring them to go back and repeat lessons, and they did not understand how the training was relevant to their job. 

Table 10.  Information Relevance. 

Theme

Frequency

Training was required but information did not apply

22

Information was useful/appropriate

16

Information was immediately available

4

Information was too detailed

4

Information was learned through experience

4

Technology.  The fourth noteworthy category of participants’ comments centered on the CBT design and the technology used to deliver the course.  Some participants experienced difficulty with logging into the Blackboard™ learning system.  Some participants complained about the slowness of connection speeds and timing-out while downloading course materials.  A few participants complained of complex layering and branching of lesson material, and losing track of where they were within the course lessons. Others complained that the lessons were tedious and boring, and time was wasted while clicking through screens in order to finish quickly.  A few participants appreciated the ability to repeat sections of lessons to reinforce learning, and several participants commented that they enjoyed using technology for self-paced learning. These comments support the survey data that participants expressed a preference for online and self-paced training courses for initial or refresher training.

 Table 11.  Technology. 

Theme

Frequency

Login difficulty

14

Enjoy learning through technology

11

Boring course design

9

Complex course design

6

Appreciate ability to repeat sections

6

Slow connectivity

4

 Summary and Discussion of Survey Results

The responses to the survey provided some interesting data on the learning preferences of employees and factors that facilitate or inhibit their participation in distance learning. 

The data revealed that neither age nor education appears to be a factor in the acceptance of CBT in the workplace.  The data support previous educational research that age or education do not impact on acceptance of technology and computer anxiety (Dobrovolny, 2006; Jennings & Onwuegbuzie, 2001; Park & Choi, 2009; Willis, 2006).  On the contrary, only 2% of employees participating in the survey indicated an aversion to learning to use new technology.

However, organizational support does appear to be a factor in the acceptance of distance learning in the workplace.   Participants expressed more frustration with the lack of time their organizations gave them to engage in compulsory distance learning, than with the CBT products themselves, or with the style of learning.  Several participants also commented on experiencing an unfavorable learning environment when attempting to learn at work.   Research shows that frustration during learning can lower performance and attitudes toward learning (Bandura, 1986; DeTure, 2004; Dobrovolny, 2006; Frankola, 2001; Gagne, 1985; Knowles, 1989; Moore, 1997; Ormrod, 2008; Park & Choi, 2009).  An environment that is not conducive to learning limits both the learning outcome and knowledge retention.

While most participants appear to accept CBT for workforce training, a majority of participants indicated a preference for a form of learning that includes contact with other learners, either in a face-to-face classroom environment, or through a synchronous/ asynchronous online course.

I analyzed the research data to determine if there was a statistically significant difference in learners’ perceptions concerning their ability to learn through CBT relative to their age or relative to their level of education.  The result of the data obtained from the online survey indicated that there were no significant differences in either category, although learners without at least a bachelor’s degree were somewhat more frustrated with the CBT learning process than those learners with a college degree.  These results support previous educational research that suggests that age has no bearing on learning outcome, but time on task and learner attitude has a major impact on learning outcome (Knowles, 1989; Ormrod, 2008; Park & Choi, 2009).  Park and Choi’s research revealed that the learning environment was the greatest factor in online learning completion and learner satisfaction. 

The overall frustration with the CBT learning process was low (24%) among all the survey participants.  The slightly higher frustration level expressed by learners without a college degree may be related to limited metacognitive skills that are often developed through continued education, but it also may be caused by other factors.  Since the survey did not ask participants to identify what was frustrating about the CBT learning process, I could only rely on the comments provided as part of the survey from those who chose to provide additional information. 

The findings of this research study support previous studies that age and education have no bearing on distance learning course completion.  There is a general acceptance of distance learning for workplace training, although the environment under which the learning takes place appears to need improvement.   Previous research has shown that the learning environment has an impact on learner satisfaction, which contributes to the learning process and knowledge retention.  The learning in this study was compulsory for most participants.  It is unknown how many employees would not have enrolled in the CBT or who would have dropped out of the CBT if they had been given a choice.

Limitations to the Study

There were some limitations to this research study that may have affected the results.  The survey consisted of closed-end questions and required participants to select a response.  The large number of “no opinion” responses in several questions may be due to participants’ lack of experience in that category, or refusal to disclose their opinion.  It may be beneficial to replicate this study using a survey with open-ended questions for participants to identify what it was that caused them frustration or helped them through the learning process.   A further limitation of the survey was that it was only available online.  Employees who may have experienced connectivity problems or who had aversions to using computers may have chosen not to participate for those reasons.  Had they participated, the responses to many of the survey questions may have resulted in different levels of satisfaction. 

Responses from Military Participants

This study surveyed the civilian Security Cooperation workforce.  This study did not take into account the survey responses from military personnel.  I excluded military participants’ responses because the military participants generally had more experience with various forms of distance learning, since distance learning is widely used in military training.  Additionally, most military personnel in the SC community have at least a bachelors’ degree, and have a more limited age range (25-45).  Nevertheless, the responses of the 47 military participants are noteworthy.   All of the military participants had a college degree, with 89% having a masters’ degree.  Ninety-one percent of military participants were in the age range of 35 to 44, and the remaining 9% were in the age range of 26 to 34.  Overall, the responses of military survey participants to the four primary research questions were more positive than their civilian counterparts.

For the item “I enjoy taking courses through the computer,” 82% of all military participants indicated that they agreed or somewhat agreed that they enjoyed taking courses through the computer, compared to 71% of civilian participants.  Ninety-five percent of military participants responded that “I can learn equally well online or through computer-based training as I can in a face-to-face classroom environment,” compared to 51% of civilian participants.  This higher preference by military personnel may be due to their increased experience with distance learning for their military and civilian education.

The majority of military participants (87%) responded that they disagreed or somewhat disagreed that computer-based learning is a frustrating process, compared to 68% of civilian participants.  Ninety-one percent of military participants disagreed or somewhat disagreed that working through the CBT was an unpleasant experience, compared to 67% of civilian participants.   Nine military participants expressed a preference for asynchronous online courses in which they could interact with other learners and receive instructor feedback. 

The Future of Distance Learning

Computer-based training offers numerous advantages that appeal to corporate and government organizations.  Training can be delivered to geographically dispersed individuals as needed.   Computer-based training requires no special facilities or equipment, other than a computer, and perhaps an Internet connection.  There is no requirement to travel to a training site.  Employees conduct training at times that are convenient to them and learn at their own pace.  For large organizations that have frequent and standard training requirements, CBT is cheaper to produce and distribute than is bringing employees to centralized training locations for face-to-face instruction.  

Several Defense organizations including the Defense Logistics Agency, the Defense Acquisition University, the Army Logistics Management College, and the Air Force Institute of Technology, are expanding their distance learning course offerings and products to keep pace with a rapidly changing, geographically dispersed workforce.  To support the security cooperation community better, DISAM is considering developing additional CBT modules to provide just-in-time training on specialized skills, as well as more online courses. The feedback received through this online survey indicates that employees accept distance learning and are willing to use it for workforce development. 

The results of this independent distance learning online survey may assist DISAM in developing instruction that meets the learning style preferences of the SC workforce.  However, the educational products alone will not adequately train the workforce without improvement of the environment in which the employee is expected to learn.  As distance learning continues to grow as a method of training the workforce, so must the organizational support to the employee to ensure that adequate learning and knowledge transfer takes place.

About the Author

            Dr. Joanne Hawkins is a Professor with 25 years teaching experience.  She is a retired Army logistician and is the coordinator of all logistics instruction at DISAM.  She also instructs in the topics of Security Cooperation programs, technology transfer and export controls, the FMS process, FMS finance, legislation and foreign policy.  She holds a doctorate degree in education from Capella University, Minneapolis.


 References

American Society for Training & Development. (2011).  State of the industry report.  Alexandria, VA:  Author.

Bandura, A. (1986).  Social foundations of thought and action:  A social cognitive theory.  Englewood Cliffs, NJ:  Prentice-Hall.

Brown, K. (2001).  Using computers to deliver training:  Which employees learn and why?  Personnel Psychology, 54(2),271-296. 

Calvin, J., & Freeburg, B. W. (2010).  Exploring adult learners’ perceptions of technology competence and retention in web-based courses.  The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 11(2), 63-72. 

Defense Institute of Security Assistance Management (2011).  DoD’s High Priority Performance Goal/Security Cooperation Training Initiative (HPPG/SCTI).  At www.disam.dsca.mil/hppg. 

DeTure, M. (2004).  Cognitive style and self-efficacy:  Predicting student success in online distance education.  The American Journal of distance Education, 18(1), 21-38. 

Dobbs, K. (2000).  Who’s in charge of e-learning?  Training, 37(6),54. 

Dobrovolny, J. (2006).  How adults learn from self-paced, technology-based corporate training:  New focus for learners, new focus for designers.  Distance Education, 27(2), 155-170. 

Frankola, K. (2001).  Why online learners drop out.  Workforce, 80(10),53-58. 

Gagné, R. M. (1985).  The conditions of learning and theory of instruction (4th ed.).  New York, NY:  Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Hairston, N.R. (2007).  Employees’ attitude toward e-learning:  Implications for policy in industry environments.  Dissertation Abstracts International, 68(03).  (UMI No. 3257874)

Hawkins, P. (2000).  Distance learning survey results.  The DISAM Journal of International Security Assistance Management, 23(3), 66-73. 

Hornik, S., Johnson, R. D., & Wu, Y. (2007).  When technology does not support learning:  Conflicts between epistemological beliefs and technology support in virtual learning environments.  Journal of Organizational and End User Computing,19(2),23-46.

Jennings, S. E., & Onwuegbuzie, A. J. (2001).  Computer attitudes as a function of age, gender, math attitude and developmental status.  Journal of Educational Research, 25(4),367-384.

Knowles, M. S. (1989).  The making of an adult educator:  An autobiographical journey.  San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass.

Moore, M.G. (1997).  Theory of transactional distance.  In D. Keegan (Ed.), Theoretical principles of distance education (pp. 22-38).  London, England & New York, NY:  Routledge.

O’Dell, T. (2009).  Generational differences in satisfaction with e-learning in a corporate learning environment.  Dissertation Abstracts International, 70(05).  (UMI No. 3358097)

O’Lawrence, H. (2006).  The influences of distance learning on adult learners.  Techniques:  Connecting Education & Careers, 81(5),47-49. 

Ormrod, J. E. (2008).  Human learning (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ:  Pearson.

Park, J. H., & Choi, H. J. (2009).  Factors influencing adult learners’ decision to drop out or persist in online learning.  Educational Technology & Society, 12(4), 207-217. 

Saade’, R. G., & Kira, D. (2007).  Mediating the impact of technology use on perceived ease of use by anxiety.  Computers & Education, 49, 1189-1204.

Stone, M. (2007, May).  E-Learning applications for career and technical education.  Techniques, 82(5).  At www.acteonline.org.

Strother, J. B. (2002).  An assessment of the effectiveness of e-learning in corporate training programs.  The International Review of Research in Open and distance learning, 3.  At www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/ viewArticle/83/160.

U.S. Department of Defense Civilian Personnel Management Service (2011).  2011 DoD Demographics.  At www.cpms.osd.mil/ASSETS/ 12ADA8724A214677A3D3A7291C3DC8E1/20110930%20FINAL.pdf

U.S. Government Accountability Office (2007). Federal workforce challenges in the 21st century (GAO-07-556T). 

U.S. Government Accountability Office (2009). Enhanced communication among federal agencies could improve strategies for hiring and retaining experienced workers (GAO-09-206). 

Willis, S. L. (2006).  Technology and learning in current and future generations of elders.  Generations, 30(2),44-48

Print
^ Scroll to Top