Online Instruction In A Continuing Professional Education Setting Education Essay

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The article I chose to provide a synopsis for is entitled, "The New, Modern Practice of Adult Education: Online Instruction in a Continuing Professional Education Setting" by Brian W. Donavant of the University of Tennessee at Martin. The purpose of his study was to examine the effectiveness of online education compared to traditional delivery approaches. His study involved quantitative research methods through the use of pre and posttests in both the online and instructor led courses as well as an open ended questionnaire to help determine if the potential for success of online instruction is related to demographic variables of the students. This multi-phased study was conducted in a non-academic setting using police officers continuing their education. The nearly 200 participants were from the Florida Regional Community Policing Institute and varied in age, gender, ethnicity, educational background, and years on the job.

Research Question

The general question of this study was to determine if there were statistically significant differences in successful learning by the participants who learned via online learning in comparison to teacher lead training. Additionally, the study set out measure the potential of online learning success by police officers and if this potential online learning success was related to various other factors such as race, gender, age, and educational experience. The study also measured the officers' attitudes and perceptions regarding the use of online learning for professional development. (Donavant, 2009)

While the author acquiesces to the notion that the juxtaposition of online learning to instructor lead learning in classic academia has been done numerous times, there is little to no significant research done evaluating this in the arena of professional development and continuing education. The lack of significant research from this perspective is what motivated the researcher to pursue this path.


The first phase of this three phase study was an examination of pre and post-test professional development scores used to ascertain if learning actually occurred and if there was a difference in effectiveness between online deliveries versus teacher lead instruction. The pre and post-tests used anonymous multiple-choice and true-false questions. The researcher had no control over the placement of the participants into control or experimental groups of people. Additionally, the researcher did not have control over the number of participants in each group or the duration and quality of the instruction. (Donavant, 2009)

The second phase of the study examined the potential for online learning success correlated to gender, race, age of the learner, number of years of police service, number of years of formal education, and previous exposure to online learning. This evaluation leveraged Kerr's Test of Online Learning Success (TOOLS) (Marcel S. Kerr, 2012) which is a 45 item self-report assessment that attempts to ascertain behavioral strengths and weaknesses to measure potential online learning success. Participants rated each of these 45 items on a 5 point Likert-type of scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). (Donavant, 2009)

Finally, the third phase of this study involved an open-ended questionnaire to address considerations of online delivery methods that were identified through analysis of the current literature that the author deemed as relevant sources. The researcher's intention was to determine other contributing factors that were significant to the learning experience such as willingness to participate in online learning, learner's perceptions of the user of online learning in the arena of professional development, and the practicality of its use as a delivery mechanism.

For the second and third phases of this study, one police agency within each of the six geographic regions of the United States was randomly selected and each agency had anonymous volunteers to participate it the study. The second phase had a total of 188 officers participate while the third phase had a total of 150 police officers participate. Of the 188 officers that participated in the second phase the majority were white males (87.8% and 85.6% respectively) with a mean age of 36.9 and a mean number of years on the force of 10.75. 75.3% of the participants had not participated in any online education prior to this study and the majority listed their level of education attainment as "some college" 52%. (Donavant, 2009)

The phase one study that used the historical pre and post-test results used a t-test to determine the significance of the pre and post-test results comparing online education to trainer led experiences. The phase two study also conducted a t-test to determine if there was a level of significance between those who completed online education and those that did not complete online education. Two-way contingency analysis was conducted to help determine if there was a relationship with potential success in online education and independent variables such as race, gender, and prior exposure to online education. The researcher then used Pearson Correlations to determine significant relationships between online learning success and independent variables such as age, number of years of service and level of educational attainment. (Donavant, 2009)


The phase one post-test scores (Teacher Lead: M=82.91, SD = 18.43; Online: M=73.38, SD=21.72) were significantly higher than pre-test scores for both teacher led and online lead education (Teacher Lead: M=43.27, SD=17.96; Online: M=47.44, SD=16.74). The ANCOVA analysis revealed no statistically significant difference in the effectiveness between both trainer lead and online delivery (1, 40) = 2.99, p = .09. (Donavant, 2009)

The phase two study rendered similar results of lack of significance between online learning success and gender, race, and previous participation in online education (χ2 (1, N =178) = 0.12, p = .72; race, χ2 (5, N = 184) = 7.97, p = .16; or previous participation in OE, χ2 (1, N = 188) = 3.07, p = .08.) Where the researcher did find some level of significance was the correlation between potential online learning success and the officers' educational level they achieved, r(185) = .23, p = .001.

The results of the third phase of the research indicated that a majority of the students liked the convenience of the online education (92, 68.7%) but majority also indicated that what they liked least about the online educational experience (63, 52.9%) was the lack of interaction with the instructor as their primary reason for not liking the online educational experience. (Donavant, 2009)


The researcher surmised that while the effectiveness of online education versus teacher lead training are both deemed significantly effective, the potential of online education being effective is significantly correlated to the student's prior experience with online education as well as their level of education. The researcher also went on to summarize that generally speaking, there is no significant benefit of online learning in comparison to teacher lead training when looking at it from the perspective of race, gender, years on the force or age. So, for an organization considering teacher lead training in comparison to online education, they should consider the individual learner and take into consideration their level of education along with previous experience with online education. If an organization has a number of students who do not have a lot of post-secondary education, they may find better results with teacher lead training.