Athabasca University: Study Comparing Student-to-Student Classroom and Online Learning

April 25, 2001

High Quality Online Education Compares Well to the Traditional Classroom, Says New Athabasca University Study

Toronto, April 24, 2001 — In a study exploring the interactions

of MBA students, researchers from the University of Western Ontario’s

Richard Ivey School of Business and Athabasca University’s Centre

for Innovative Management (CIM) have uncovered that online learning

is not the isolated experience many believe it to be. In fact,

findings suggest that the online format can foster “strong student

interaction” for some types of learning.

“The biggest myth about distance learning is that it has to be lonely, and just a matter of doing the readings, handing in assignments and waiting for the marks from an invisible professor,” states Dr. Peter Carr, associate director for Athabasca University’s CIM. “This study clearly shows that an online education can add to learning communications and open the door to a high level of thought and introspection. That introspection in a team environment creates exceptional business leaders.”

The objective of the study was to explore the learning process of MBA students based on their interaction with other classmates when working on case studies in two different classroom environments — a regular classroom and an online “classroom.” The survey’s sample included students from Athabasca University’s online MBA program, as well as Ivey’s MBA. The study looked specifically at social, procedural, explanatory, and cognitive learning in both environments as perceived by the students themselves.

The time that the online learning experience allows for reflection appears to improve explanatory and cognitive learning, while classroom interaction improves social and procedural learning. Both sets of learning are considered essential for robust business leadership.

Carr points out that “the advantage of learning together in a collaborative online environment is the level of ‘asynchronous contributions’ from students and professors. Over a week, there could be 200 contributions to the discussion in our online classroom in a group of 8 to 10 students — that’s not likely in a traditional classroom because there just isn’t time.”

Peter Carr and the researchers from the Ivey School of Business — Dr. Scott Schneberger, associate professor, and Nicole Haggerty, PhD candidate — presented the detailed preliminary results of the Ivey/AU study at the Ontario Society for Training and Development (OSTD) 2001 Symposium,” e-Learning and Skill Development in the Workplace: Practical Solutions to Build Organizational Effectiveness” at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario on April 23, 2001.

The following Table shows key results from the study’s survey. The survey used a 7-point scale with a lower number indicating a less positive response. The numbers in the Table are the averages from the 212 responses.

Contributions of the following types of discussion to learning: Classroom Online
I converse with fellow students to greet them. 3.87 3.69
I converse with fellow students to clarify assignments. 4.90 4.77
I converse with fellow students for explaining my case analysis and decision. 4.57 5.57
I converse with fellow students about their case analysis and then critically reflect on their position. 4.31 5.27
Interactions with my peers:
Increase my skills in thinking critically about issues. 5.43 5.89
Increase my ability to integrate facts. 5.16 5.68
Increase my ability to critically analyse issues. 5.27 5.84
Increase my confidence in explaining ideas. 5.46 5.53
Communications Conditions:
When we disagreed, the communications conditions made it more difficult for us to come to an agreement. 3.48 3.31
When we disagreed, our communication environment helped us to come to a common position. 4.49 4.39
The conditions under which we were communicating got in the way of our sharing of opinions. 3.30 2.82
I could easily explain things in this environment. 4.64 5.31


Fact Sheet follows. For background information, visit:,, and

For more information, please contact:

Athabasca University Centre for Innovative Management

Marilyn Wangler, Communications Manager

Tel: 1-800-561-4650

Cell: (780) 913-3501 (April 25-26/01)


Fact Sheet

Alberta’s Athabasca University opened its doors 30 years ago and became Canada’s first fully recognized university specializing in distance education. The Centre for Innovative Management (CIM) was launched in 1993 to provide the university’s graduate business programs. It is Canada’s largest executive MBA Program and is the first in the country to provide an online option in graduate level education. Utilizing Lotus Notes® groupware, graduate business students from across the country and around the world study, participate in group discussion, complete team assignment and communicate with professors.

The program has 1,118 students enrolled as of January, 2001. These students come from across Canada and 23 countries. They are working middle to senior level managers possessing on average nine years of managerial experience and averaging 40 years of age.

Key Facts

o This strategic business unit is responsible for the development and delivery of graduate level business courses. It offers an executive MBA program, an MBA in Information Technology Management, an MBA in Agriculture (delivered in partnership with the University of Guelph), and an advanced Graduate Diploma in Management. The Centre launched the EMBA and the AGDM in October 1994.

o What differentiates the Centre’s programs from other graduate business schools’ programs, such as Queens and Ivey’s, is the method of program delivery. Athabasca University is the first university in North America to offer a fully interactive, online MBA.

o The program has grown rapidly and in five years has become Canada’s largest and fastest growing executive MBA program with 1,118 students and 389 MBA graduates.

o There are many reasons for the tremendous consumer acceptance and rapid growth. The program offers a quality graduate level education — at an affordable cost — that is accessible from virtually anywhere at anytime and that links professors and working managers / professionals from across the country and around the world.

o The Centre is a cost-recovery unit within the University and does not receive basic government funding.