Sample Education Case Study Paper on Exploring Student Achievement in an Online Environment

Exploring Student Achievement in an Online Environment


This case study will examine how a specific learning approach will be used and facilitated in an online environment at a community college.  Student and instructor perceptions regarding the practices of student learning will be explored in terms of instructional design and technological support.  Instructors are currently using various forms of technology to help improve understanding of their course content.  Trends in technology have altered the educational landscape and have caused changes in the way courses are developed and delivered (Hicks, Reid, & George, 2001).  The goal of this qualitative and quantitative research case study is to: (1) explore the impact of enriched on-line courses and (2) to identify the relationship between student perceptions and content delivery. The findings of this case study are expected to influence higher education institutions in looking to adjust teaching methods.


Student learning, Online learning, Instructional Design, Facilitation, Technological Support


The advent of internet has resulted in a lot of reshaping in how people conduct their lives. The technological advancement has not only resulted in the reshaping of the society, but also on the way that academic institutions, especially universities, conduct their learning. All the universities are taking advantages brought about by the internet to improve their ways of teaching. One progressive method that has been adopted by the universities is the online delivery method. According to Teresa Harrison (1996), a lot of aspects in the online education differ from the traditional aspects of classroom education. Online education gives each member of an education group equal opportunity to participate actively in the learning context as opposed to the restrictive, time-dependent, face-to-face classroom teaching. There are many opportunities available for students in an online learning environment which enable them to reflect, compose a response to a classroom discussion, and are able to participate in learning in their best readiness times. Online education therefore gives new opportunities for learning that include social interaction through collaborative learning and an improvement in the cognition of the learners.

Online education has been made possible by the existing networking technologies that allow for collaboration platforms. The use of networking technologies has led to the alteration of the processes and educational resources used by teachers and learners into the altering of the teacher and learner. Online education provides a learner with more options, tools, and control on how interaction occurs. The access of the students to learning resources is expanded across place, time, and subject (Anderson, 2008). University learners thus have the opportunity to access both informal and formal education of their choice whenever they are able to participate, and wherever they are located. The university learners become active participants in the process of learning as opposed to being passive learners. Online learning allows the students to interact with peers and experts wherever they are located. The curriculum is also more integrated and interdisciplinary. It is therefore critical to observe that online education has the capacity to empower the students to a greater extend as compared to the traditional classroom methods of teaching.

Knight (2014) has found out that the mission of a higher education institution is to empower students to reach their educational and career aspirations through enhancing access to learning opportunities, with the Governing Board of an institution creating strategic, entrepreneurial partnerships and innovative fundraising opportunities in support of the university mission and goals.  Student Affairs functions with integrity to make certain that the fulfillment of its mission is carried out through processes and structures that involve the Governing Board, administrators, students, faculty and staff (Kerr & Hart-Steffies, 2012). The mission, vision, and values can be described as the university structure, policies, and processes consistent with the universities governance documents (McClure, 2003).  Birnbaum (1988) suggests collegial governance is based on consensual decision-making standards and a community of shared interest. As part of the university vision, the Governing Board sets goals that will implement student success via outreach and recruitment programs. Student Affairs should develop an automatic program evaluation that will be available on the web for students to check their own progress toward their educational goals (Caruso, Bowen & Adams-Dunford, 2006).

Institutions of higher education have a vision and a curriculum in place to create a school culture where everyone learns (Roberts, 2005). Many school administrators have recommended that learning environments be formed by the establishment of such communities. Toch (2003) suggests that smaller schools offer more chances for individuals to identify with one another, as well as an opportunity for instructors to personalize learning. Anglin (2000) defines stakeholders in such a way to “include any institution or individual that has a latent or expressed interest in the organization accomplishing its mission and goals” (p. 1). Community stakeholders create a vision and mission tailored toward students to develop interconnections between courses offered and that allows a school curriculum to be informal (Gulley & Mullendore, 2014). Student Affairs will pursue its mission of building and developing innovative partnerships to increase both the quality and quantity of programs and opportunities for the institution. 

Leadership will evolve as significant changes are introduced through continual refinements in administrative and reporting structure. “A number of variables, in combination and usually institutional specific, have a significant impact on what constitutes good governance and decision making” (McClure, 2003, p. 1). A higher education’s organizational structure will meet increasing enrollment and the demand to offer learning with alternative delivery systems (Kerr & Hart-Steffies, 2012).  Primary responsibility for Arizona’s community colleges, for instance, resides at the local level with the powers vested in each District Governing Board as defined by Arizona Revised Statutes (Maricopa Community College, 2013).  The Arizona Association of District Governing Boards represents the interests and concerns of the district governing boards to federal, state, and local entities (Association of Community College Trustees, 2012).  The Arizona Community College Presidents Council (ACCPC) provides a means of maintaining communication between community college districts and a forum for addressing community college issues (Arizona Community College District Governing Board, 2010).  The Arizona Community College Council authority is derived from the Governor, who appoints members; these include all of Arizona’s community colleges and representatives from the rural and urban areas, both citizens at large and district governing board members (Elsner, 1999).  Therefore, it is important for the Student Affairs department to meet with the District Governing Board to review the Strategic Plan and agree upon objectives that are adapted to move the university toward its vision (Gulley & Mullendore, 2012).

A study by Socias, Dunn, Parrish, Muraki, and Woods (2007) found that colleges with significantly better than predicted school completion rates stressed the development of a supportive school culture as reason for success.  The college culture is one that is supportive with students, parents, and the community, and one that creates high expectations and accountability.  Croninger and Lee (2001) reported that the degree of teacher caring and the degree of teacher to student interaction has a significant impact on dropout rates.  Interaction is strongest for at-risk students, whereas, Kennelly and Monrad (2007) note “schools successful in dealing with dropout address overall school climate in order to facilitate student engagement” (p. 11).  To help at-risk students, the Student Services Department will identify the best means of engaging and supporting students.  The purpose of a community college is to prevent early leaving and connecting students into receiving an education (Lavoie, 2009).  A type of intervention is needed that will support school culture. 

A higher education institution will need to demonstrate commitment to their students by making overall improvements (Roberts, 2005).  Also campus-wide strategies and student-focused strategies are needed.    School –wide strategy should be focused on the quality of subjects it offers.  It is also noted that providing a curriculum that is broad, diverse, and flexible is important if it can accommodate a wide range of student interests and skill levels (Cosgrave & McDoniel, 2009). Student-focused strategies are ones that should be used to determine students overall individual needs and one that stimulates his or her interest (Elsner, 1999). Gathering data and giving feedback of the results to the students is a viable improvement strategy, which can be used at an institution to further the cause of worldwide education (Thompson, 2003). 

Each institution has data available to students that will show their academic performance.  Cosgrove and McDoniel (2009) recommend implementing an accountability system with a peer grouping approach, “the peer grouping approach succeeds in identifying suspect performances by specific colleges while avoiding oversimplified rankings of college performance” (p. 11).    This type of assessment will only work if there is clear and direct leadership to monitor and implement this type of assessment.  The assessment data collected will give a clear indication of what is working and what is not (Roberts, 2005).  Student learning is essential to an educator’s way of practice.  Educators need to work together with administrators and other instructors to provide quality instruction.  Russell (2009) argues “It would be most effective for students if a post-secondary information literacy component was one of many in a long program of instruction starting in primary school” (p. 94).  Creating a shared vision will enhance the student learning environment (Meyer, 2014).  The earlier educators engage students into the realm of technology, the more readily they will be able to grasp the understanding of it (Parr, 2014). 

As community colleges strive to become increasingly learning-centered, much attention is focused on how well faculty members are meeting the needs of students in this regard (Warren, 2003).  While all students possess specific learning style preferences, study skills and habits, and personality types that affect the ways in which students approach learning situations, students born outside the United States bring varied and complex experiences from their home countries into frequently unfamiliar learning situations (Lee & Rice, 2007).  The review of teaching methods used in classrooms showed that reading, listening, speaking, and writing are four important activities emphasized in language learning (Li, 2006). 

Language textbooks provide the opportunity for practicing these essential components.  However, using only textbooks in instruction has been found to be insufficient (Nation, 2001).  During the past decade, education has been subjected not only to criticism but also to attempts by various pressure groups to change current practices.  If the profession is to respond in a responsible fashion in words or actions, it must be aware of both its shortcomings and its achievements.  When it is apparent that change is needed, teachers and administrators should, because of their knowledge and experience, be a part of the change-making process and not simply the passive recipients of the policies of others (Bailey & Morest, 2004). 

Warren (2003) identifies concerns associated with restructuring curricula to match student competency.  First, the need is identified for changing curricula from focusing on instruction to providing learning in community and technical college environments. Wang (2004) acknowledges that the use of technology helps meet language communication needs. Importantly, it also helps students to develop their language skills in the classroom.  Using various kinds of technological devices gives students the sense of freedom, motivation, and encouragement needed for learning (Ginther, 2002).  The study of language learning tasks presents a research trajectory towards the understanding of how instructed second language acquisition actually takes place (Dornyei, 2005).  Instructors who facilitate learner motivation find out what learners want and need to know, a concept that should be taken into account when designing instruction.  The objective of the community college is to create a learning environment that meets the highest expectations for effective teaching and successful learning (Cosgrave & McDoniel, 2009).  Goals will be met through highly qualified and inspired professors and staff who have a deep focus on student success (Birnbaum, 1988).  The rationale is that Student Affairs will empower students to reach educational and career aspirations by enhancing access to learning opportunities.

  1. Justification

The findings will be useful in informing future learning and teaching at the college level.  Instructors will know how and when to employ certain strategies and students will be able to gain a sense of the nature of learning in an online environment.  The case study data will show how this research applies to learning a Spanish language as well as other subjects online.

College level instructors are selected as the main audience who may benefit most from the findings of the case study.  The research is useful in determining success rates of acquiring knowledge in an online learning environment and instructors who use this style of teaching can refer to this example of how it operates and is received by students.  Prior research is employed in formulating the study and putting forth assumptions. The paper consists mostly of original thought, with a number of writing techniques included to improve quality and effectiveness.  The significance of the case study lies in its narrow and focused approach to a specific aspect of learning.

1.2 Delimitations

The objective of the case study is to use a mixed methods approach to analyze a specific learning case (Anderson, 2003).  Data collected will be both qualitative and quantitative in nature in order to best determine the applicability of the findings.  The case will involve students taking Spanish courses online who will form an opinion of this learning style.  Students will offer positive and negative feedback that will be taken into consideration along with their test scores and overall performance in the class, allowing the study to gauge the success rate of acquiring a second language in this online learning environment.

The research questions are stated above. Student and instructor perceptions will be measured regarding both instructional design and technological support in an online learning environment. The qualitative measures of success such as student satisfaction can be both subjective and relative in nature (Chin & Williams, 2006). One student’s perception of success in the online environment may differ greatly from that of another who performs at the same level. The inclusion of qualitative measures will help remedy this. However, quantitative measures also possess limitations in terms of interpretation (Creswell, 2013). A student performing well on a test may not actually find the learning format engaging or effective. 

In the case of all college courses, students come equipped with varying levels of experience (Gredler, 1997). A student performing well may therefore not be indicative of the success of the learning program but of prior experience with the language or other variables (Henry, 2010). It is important then to establish measures of success that also consider improvement rates in terms of the individual. At the same time, individual results can and should not be applied to the entire group. This is reason to focus on a specific class of students so that results can be analyzed individually and as a whole with these factors in mind.

  1. Assumptions

It is assumed that students will put forth the same level of effort in an online environment as in a traditional classroom setting (Holmes & MacLeod, 2010).  The data will result from a controlled number of variables with the effects of environment and style on learning being the most important.  The students in the case study will serve as an example of the effects on one specific course without being generalized to all schools and all subjects.  Students will share the same learning objectives, engage with the material at the same level, and yield results that reflect their experience accurately and fully.

  1. 1.3  Purpose of Study

Student must be committed to meet the challenges of student learning and to analyze the data it gathers (Croninger & Lee, 2001).  It must also possess the awareness and understanding to use student results in a timely manner that will improve the quality of education (Cosgrave McDoniel, 2009).  This qualitative case study will explore the perceptions of students and instructors concerning student achievement levels of online courses offered at a college in Arizona.  It addresses the following research questions:

  1.  What is the perception of learners on the tools that form their online learning experience?
  2. What collaborative tools enhance acquisition of knowledge in an online education environment?
  3. What interactive tools provide students with convenient learning collaborative engagements?
  4. What is the success rate of acquiring a second language in an online environment?


Today, higher education administrators running online education programs may use LMS, a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), or a Course Management System (CMS) to deliver their content to students (Moore, Deane, & Galyen, 2011). CMS is the application of IT to design and deliver content through the internet to student (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010). On the other hand, LMS is associated with the management of the online systems to ensure efficiency of delivering content (Shelly & Frydenberg, 2010). VLE is the description of the online learning classroom, which is apart from a traditional class that integrates use of technology (Moore, Deane, & Galyen, 2011). Therefore, online learning takes place exclusively in a virtual setting with the aid of a computerized device and internet access to ensure participation of both the learner and the teacher (Mjaor, 2015). Unlike e-learning that is perceived as the integration of IT into the current traditional classroom, online education takes place in a virtual environment supported by web-based activities that use the internet and a computer or Smartphone (Dijck, 2013).

Web-based instruction has made online learning viable in the 21st century by providing higher education administrators with appropriate tools to deliver instructional content without the fear of time constraint or geographical barriers (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010). Online learning studies are based on quantitative statistics that reveals divergent views concerning the success and failure of the method of acquiring knowledge (Holmes, Signer, & MacLeod, 2010). However, use of mixed research methods would reveal both the weaknesses and assert the strengths of online learning to enable higher education administrators to know the best tools to use to enhance effective learning (Homes & MacLeod, 2010).

Various methods have remained to be the appropriate ways of researching on the tools to improve the quality of online education (Creswell, 2013). Dependency on the limited survey data that is composed of self-reports is biased since it is insensitive to changes that take place in the learning environment (Holmes, Signer, & MacLeod, 2010). Thus, it is impossible to comprehend the challenges affecting online learning by using only quantitative research. Quantitative research focuses on the frequency of student participation in an online classroom (Henry, 2010). The survey data is reported by using content analysis. History of mixed design asserts that although qualitative research avoids sampling, it is critical to factor in the differences between the sample size and sampling scheme (Creswell, 2013). This case study will select a specific number of participants from a rural community college enrolled in a Spanish online class. The convenience sampling scheme determines how the subjects will be selected to avoid the bias associated with qualitative research.         

Stakeholders are concerned about the quality of education offered in various institutions more specifically in Arizona and the perception of students to ensure engagement and higher achievement levels (Morest, 2012). Online courses are meant to extend instruction and curriculum to enhance acquisition of knowledge through a virtual class environment (Cosgrave & McDoniel, 2009). Colleges in Arizona use different collaborative tools to support online learning, but lack of oversight has made it impossible for stakeholders to know the most appropriate online classroom environment (Moore, Deane, & Galven, 2011).

Stakeholders can assess the quality of online learning by consulting the different Learning Management Systems (LMSs) that colleges use to manage virtual classroom environment. Connectivism theory asserts that colleges must provide LMSs that support teacher-student and student-student interactions through the internet (Dijck, 2013). LMSs are institutional-based, which means assessment of their content and system networking tools is significant in benchmarking the best online collaborative tools that provide quality online learning (Kirwan & Roumell, 2015). Since LMSs are server-based platforms that support simultaneous learning activities by housing the learning infrastructure, which is also known as the virtual learning environment (VLE) (Kats, 2010). The connectivism theory asserts that learning occurs best in VLE that provide collaborative tools that allow student to share information and interact through dialogues as a single thinking group (Cowan, 2013). Therefore, a VLE is the LMS that provides the virtual classroom space where teachers and students interact to exchange information and knowledge. Social networking media tool and institutional-based tools like webinars, web and video conferencing that allows students to conduct online meetings and dialogue are supported by the connectivism theory (Bell, 2011). Connect within the virtual classrooms creates communities that interact to create pertinent knowledge instead of merely cramming the available curriculum content (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011). When students bond with each other, they learn by sharing valuable information. Connected discussions point out current trends and expose obsolete content, which help teachers to update the LMS (King & Alperstein, 2014).

Similarly, a course management system (CMS) is the IT component of the LMS used to design and deliver online learning content throughout the internet (Shelly & Frydenberg, 2010). CMS connects students as a platform that allows them to learn standardized content to avoid creating challenges when students meet virtual to discuss what they learn (Ghilay & Ghilay, 2014). Transformative learning theory (TLT) a CMS should offer a real-life content without filetring it to encourage experiementation so that learners  can discover knowledge from an individual perspective (Haythornthwaite & Andrews, 2011). TLT advocates for creation of CMS that integrates collaborative and cooperation tools that empower students to select their groups according to indidivual strengths and area of expertize (Solomon & Schrum, 2014). Assessment of the capacities of the CMS in satisying the TLT by allowing students to reflect, communicate, and interact with the objective of altering subjective views and opinions to achieve an interactive context of knowledge (Siemens, 2006).         

Online learning must take place in a virtual environment, which makes it difficult for stakeholders to assess the return on investment of the entire LMSs and the students’ skills (Vai & Sosulski, 2015). However, theories could be used to assess the quality of online interactions that create a meaningful learning environment. Social constructivism theory supports a VLE that promotes meaningful interaction through dialogue, group discussions, and debates (Burr, 2003). The LMS must provide collaborative tools that allow students to plug in their multimedia devices to access the virtual classroom (Henry, 200). Students access the VLE by using their personal computers, multimedia devices like iPhones, and internet. While plugged into the LMS, student-student interaction to enhance exchange of information and ideas is influenced by the institution, which provides online collaborative tools. Responses from students will reveal the available online collaborative tools from the list of active learning activities that students use to interact and relate with knowledge according to an institution (Kats, 2010). Stakeholders can use the transformative learning theory, connectivism, and social learning theory to assess the success of LMSs and gauge students’ success in online learning.

2.1 History of Online Education

Online learning started with the advent of the internet and World Wide Web system (King & Alperstein, 2014). Internet connects students to their teachers remotely by overcoming the geographical barrier (Moore, Deane, & Galyen, 2011). Utilization of information technology (IT) concepts made it possible for teachers to design and deliver content through the World Wide Web back in the 1980s (Solomon & Schrum, 2014). According to Purdue University (2016), introduction of the personal computers in 1982 introduced online learning in some institutions. Companies like Toshiba, Apple, and IMB produced personal computers that encouraged remote learning. In the 1990s, Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) was developed and the action commercialized the World Wide Web as a resource for designing, storing, and accessing data and content for online classes (Shelly & Frydenberg, 2010). However, the slow acquisition of technological devices like computers per student and internet slowed the pace of adopting online tools for traditional classrooms (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010). IT innovations during the 2000s increased access to computers and internet that made it easier for administrators to design online curriculum (Vai & Sosulski, 2015). In 2009, about 83% of students owned a laptop or desktop, and 50% had access to Smartphone with internet access capacities (Purdue University, 2016). Equally, 93% of classrooms have access to computers and internet, which allows teachers to form a hybrid with a mixed online and traditional classroom learning environments (Christopher, 2014).

The late 20th century online learning was intended to grant persons restricted by time and geographical constraints the capacity to learn (King & Alperstein, 2014). Thus, online education was based on a content-interactive nature was limited by technology advancement. However, the advent of Web 2.0 during the 21st century bridged the former social barrier in online learning environment (Solomon & Schrum, 2014). Web 2.0 encouraged the creation of World Wide Web sites that emphasized user-generated content with high usability and interoperability (Henry, 2010). Social networking media provides a collaborative platform for student to integrate. For example, MySpace which debuted in 2003, Facebook in 2004, and Twitter in 2007 (Dijck, 2013). The three social sites provide a free platform for students and teachers to connect at an instant, thus increasing their collaboration.

Furthermore, the low cost of connectivity through the social networking media has created easier access for educational instruction. Web 2.0 integrates higher IT capacities that make it possible for institutions of higher education to create content websites, wikis, and other open resources that allow direct communication of curriculum (Purdue University, 2016). Web 2.0 created a platform that allows an interactive and collaborative design of content by users compared to the former passive web sites that carried content-interactive materials only (Shelly & Frydenberg, 2010). Online education content has increased with the introduction of web 2.0 that allows teachers to design content in form of text, videos, and pictures accompanied with sound as part of modern tools for delivery of curriculum. Furthermore, Web 2.0 created an interactive platform that allows students to interact among themselves to exchange knowledge and easily communicate with their teachers for an immediate response (Solomon & Schrum, 2014).    

2.2 Theoretical Perspective of Online Learning

The delivery of education through online forums is a practice that cannot be viewed as just another fad or one confined to the nerd’s realm. After a long period characterized by little change in learning methods, the field of education now stands on the brink of what promises to be a quintessential paradigm shift whose central focus is the eLearning technology (Major, 2015). Online learning has been reported to hold a great appeal towards students at community college level, mainly due to the associated flexibility in learning participation, ease with which learning can be accessed, and convenience (Chin & Williams, 2006). Reports in 2013 indicate that close to seven million students in the United States have enrolled in online learning consisting of at least one course, representing thirty-two percent of students pursuing higher education (Sheehy, 2013). The figure reflected a rise of over five hundred and seventy thousand students from the previous year, a growth rate of about nine percent, which is much higher than that of the population of higher education students of two percent (Croxton, 2014). However, despite this firm establishment of online learning in education practice, this form of learning is still in the infancy stages as an essential perspective towards student’s body of knowledge (Paul & Cochran, 2013).

Although the current literature provides a considerable extent of theoretical frameworks for distance education, a lot remains to be done towards the development of a grand theory on which teaching and learning practices in online forums are based (Wicks, 2009). Nevertheless, education providers have made some progress under the guidance of an assortment of theoretical concepts associated with the design of courses in online learning, the learning environment, effective instructors, and students’ achievements (Vai & Sosulski, 2015). This paper presents a review of the theoretical lenses through which various aspects of online learning are analyzed and assessed in the relevant literature in comparison with the traditional and modern methods.

2.3 Learning Environment and Course Design

Debbie Wicks (2010) describes the role of theories in the design of learning environments and development of a community of learners in online forums. The author identifies the theories of social constructivism, collectivism, as well as transformative learning as having components of community building by use of dialogue and discussions that allow the development of a deeper understanding as well as gaining of knowledge. According to social constructivism, environments for learning come up with opportunities for learners to create meaning by use of dialogues, discussions, as well as debates with other students and instructors (Burr, 2003). This social interaction between learners creates meaning using current and past knowledge, and thus deepens understanding of the mechanisms

By use of learning activities, learners actively construct knowledge regarding a given topic through communication as social interactions with their peers (Wicks, 2010). The point of departure in the theory of connectivism is the personal knowledge of an individual, which is arranged and utilized as needed (Siemens, 2006). The high rate of information doubling and obsoleteness has necessitated new approaches to the provision of instructions (Christopher, 2014). The process of knowledge acquisition is rapidly evolving from relying on what is already known about ways of finding information when needed. This contributes to one’s continuous learning based on their ability to obtain correct information and connects this with the prior and current knowledge to deepen their understanding (Major, 2015). The third theory identified by Wicks (2010) as important in designing online learning environments is transformative learning theory, which is over twenty-five years old. This theory is grounded on reflections and the nature of communications between human beings and has often been described a form of constructivist theory among adults (Wicks, 2010).

The theories of social constructivism, transformative learning theory and connectivism have components that are useful as the basis of development of communities of online learners (Burr, 2003). Social constructivists have the notion that learning occurs within a community setting, in which learners and teachers interact in the creation of meaning (Kukla, 2000). Connectivists realize that knowledge is rapidly increasing in such a way that learners need to understand many different ways of coming up with pertinent information (Kafai & Resnick, 1996). Transformative learning also relies heavily on communication, with one of the key components being reflection (Gredler, 1997). These components of the theories have to be incorporated in the creation of online modes

Self-regulation is one of the essential features of a learning environment based on constructivism, and students have to set goals, come up with action plans, and carry out necessary steps in the solution of problems (Vai & Sosulski, 2015). Challenges in the environment need to be complex and have the possibility of being solved by multiple ways. When undertaking an online course, it is necessary for students to be given opportunities of developing a deeper understanding of concepts, which they do while working on problems (Orlich, Harder, Callahan, Trevisan, & Brown, 2009). Construction of an online community involves acquaintance formation between students, discovering similarities as well as differences among themselves in the course of their learning, and support for each other within and without the course system (Major, 2015). The effectiveness of online communities is highest when members share ideas among themselves and reflect on these processes with their peers (Wicks, 2010).

In analyzing the role that interactivity plays in the level of satisfaction of students and their persistence in online courses, Croxton (2014), uses the perspectives of three theories: Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory, Tinto’s Theory of Social Integration, and Anderson’s theorem of Interaction Equivalency. Interactivity has been identified as one of the critical contextual factors that have a bearing on learning of students in an online platform and the satisfaction that they derive from such learning experiences (Christopher, 2014). Online course interactivity may take place either in the form of formal interactions that make up part of the overall design of the course or informal interactions existing outside the course (Haythornthwaite & Andrews, 2011). Orlich et al (2009) suggests primary forms of the former type of interactivity may occur among students, between students and their instructor, and between students and the course content. These elements also form part of the informal interaction, which also consists of student network (creation of interaction networks outside the course) as well as student-collective (involving a myriad of extra informal resources) interactions (Croxton, 2014).

According to the Bandura (1976), social cognitive theory, the construction of knowledge occurs in the course of individual’s engagement in activities, reception of feedback, and taking part in various forms of public and social interactions. Since cognition is not regarded a particular process, the processes of learning and knowledge become shaped and influenced by the forms of interactions in which a student participates, and by the context that these interactions take place in (Gredler, 1997). In the context of online learning, some participants may anticipate the absence of interaction with the perception that it is a tradeoff of the learning experiences. However, from the perspective of Social Cognitive Theory, an online course that is designed well ought not to sacrifice interaction, but rather come up with an environment of active learning (Burr, 2003). In which learners are deeply engaged in the process of learning by interacting with their peers, the course content, and their instructors (Croxton, 2014).

According to the theorem of Interaction Equivalency suggested by Anderson (2003), meaningful learning takes place where at least one form of interaction (interaction among students, between students and instructors, or between students and the course content) occurs at a significantly high level. Where more than one of these types of interactivity occurs at high levels, the education experience that results is likely to be even more satisfying (Croxton, 2014). Student integration is a critical determinant of choices made by students regarding continuing or dropping out of a learning environment (Vai & Sosulski, 2015).

As suggested by Tinto (2012), the theory of social integration necessitates that students be integrated into academic’s systems, both formal (such as performance in examinations) and informal (including faculty/staff interactions). The same integration is essential in the context of both formal (such as extracurricular activities) as well as informal (peer group interactions) social systems (Morest, 2012). The extensive involvement of student’s in a college’s learning community is central to the theory of social integration, and as such students’ persistence in the online learning environment or attrition from the same may partly be attributed the presence or lack of interactivity in the environment (Siemens, 2006). According to Croxton (2014), the theoretical hypotheses put forward by the three theories are affirmed by findings in surveys and research studies, which have consistently indicated that a positive correlation does exist between persistence and a high level of interactivity in online learning environments.

2.4 Theoretical Mechanisms

Being a relatively new approach to the delivery of education, online learning still has no established paradigm guiding educators in the creation of an effective environment for learning, and as such users of the approach primarily operate on a trial and error basis (Morest, 2012). The current literature on online learning contains some trials by authors to describe models upon which online learning can be conducted, and although these attempts are modest at the best, they are nonetheless of great significance and use in a situation where educators would otherwise be forced to grope in the dark (Ghilay & Ghilay, 2014).

Chin & Williams (2006) outline a theoretical framework that can be utilized in the design of a holistic environment for online learning, which is made up of several smaller environments that overlap and allow the student to engage thoroughly in the learning process on various dimensions resulting in an excellent learning environment. The key features of this framework are seven principles of effective online, which include the importance of relevance of the subject matter to the learners’ interests, capitalization on participants’ wealth, the need for learners to have an understanding of the rationale for the learning, necessity for learners’ involvement in planning as well as evaluating the learning, use of learners’ experiences as basis for some of the learning activities, provision of learning material which can be applied immediately in the learners’ lives, and taking a problem-centric instead of a content-specific perspective in learning. Basing their designs on these principles, the authors give a detailed description of several subenvironments that constitute a holistic environment for online learning. These include instructive environment, situating environment, constructive environment, supportive environment, communicative environment, collaborative environment, and the evaluative environment (Chin & Williams, 2006).

Under instructive environment, the use of different media such as graphics and simulated scenarios to deliver the course content; and the application concepts as well as theories being taught to situations in real life to facilitate quick grasping, retention, and application of knowledge (Siemens, 2006). The situating environment derives from the model of situated cognition, which purports that knowledge has a contextual situation in, and is influenced by, activities, cultures, as well as contexts where it is applied (Estes, Mintz & Gunter, 2010). Here, the authors describe learning activities as authentic, making knowledge transfer between the instructive environment and real-life environment concrete. Situating learning should be focused equipping learners with skills that are readily applicable to problem-solving in their daily lives (Zastrow & Kirst-Ashman, 2015).

The idea of a constructive environment is based on the theory of constructivism, where learners do not passively receive information but rather actively create meaning (Burr, 2003). In this model, this environment is developed by adopting a case-based approach to learning incorporating discussions to come up with the constant refining of learners’ knowledge. The supportive environment is made up of performance and cognitive support for the provision of assistance enabling learners to accomplish learning outcomes (Major, 2015). Performance support involves the provision of tools necessary to execute given tasks required for the achievement of subject or course objectives, such as management software and tables of formulae (Christopher, 2014). Cognitive support is mainly provided by individuals providing coaching and mentoring as well as giving feedback to learners (Estes, Mintz & Gunter, 2010).             The communicative environment is chiefly concerned with interactivity and integration of the learner into the environment of learning through active participation and conversation (Vai & Sosulski, 2015). The collaborative environment consists of tools that allow learners to complete assignments and other tasks in teams, which is crucial in lending a social dimension to the learning experience (Zastrow & Kirst-Ashman, 2015). The evaluative environment consists of an assessment of learners in both formal and informal contexts, which may be peer assessment or evaluation by the instructor (Chin & Williams, 2006).

Kirwan and Roumell (2012) provided a model of dispositions of online educators based on the analysis of research literature exploring the characteristics of effective online instruction. The model is of use in the development of self-assessment instruments and support of quality of education provided through online forums. The conceptual framework developed by these authors consists of three domains: cognitive presence, pedagogical presence, and social presence. These domains utilize the mechanism of social interaction theory in bringing out the instructor’s traits and overall personality through interactions with the environment of learning (Tinto, 2012).             Cognitive presence refers to interactive behaviors contributing to the creation of meaning, provision of course content, building on ideas, as well as learning discourse (Orlich et al,2009). This domain considers personal traits and instructional practices contributing to the instructor’s capacity for effective communication as well as an exhibition of the content in the learning context. An instructor’s content knowledge and the level of expertise in a given subject are considered alongside with the ability to pick and efficiently communicate the relevant content (Kirwan & Roumell, 2012). Pedagogical presence encompasses interactive behaviors useful in the enhancement of design and organization, facilitate management and efficient communication, and provision of feedback (Major, 2015). Under this domain, instructors are required to incorporate pedagogical knowledge, enhance active learning, promote social interaction, develop instructions, carry out management activities, and also troubleshoot possible technical issues.             Additionally, the disposition of being familiar with the instructional design, including planning, organizing, as well as structuring instructional elements within the environment of online learning, is of particular importance for online instructors (Vai & Sosulski, 2015). Apart from exhibiting both cognitive and pedagogical skills, an online instructor is also expected to establish a social presence (Haythornthwaite & Andrews, 2011). In the environment of online learning, active social tendencies include interpersonal competencies, the capacity of personalizing learning and create a safe environment for learning, emotional intelligence, cultural responsiveness, as well as relating to the experiences and emphasizing with the learners (Kirwan & Roumell, 2012).

2.5 Exploring Learning Achievement

In the assessment of the quality of education delivered through learning environments created in online platforms, the extent to which expected outcomes are achieved occupies a central position (Tinto, 2012). The body of theories developed in support of online learning also includes the application of theoretical lenses in the prediction and analysis of some of these outcomes, such as student achievement (Zastrow & Kirst-Ashman, 2015). Kupczynski, Gibson, Richardson, and Challoo (2011) employed the lens of the activity theory in the assessment of factors influencing the performance of students in online learning. Also, this theory serves as a philosophical framework in the study of varying types of human praxis that constitute developmental processes at an individual as well as social levels. Reflective learning is an outcome of activity or performance and not part of its precursors (Major, 2015).

Furthermore, Kupczynski, Gibson, Richardson, and Challoo (2011) selected this theoretical lens and applied the particular conceptual framework since the activities of students in engaging in learning by login to the platform is likely to determine the final achievements of the pupils. Additionally, since analysis is concerned with online courses, a logical belief is that learning takes place only after the students enters the learning environment by login in, and not before the pupils’ attendance or participation (Ghilay & Ghilay, 2014). The assessment of performance based on these theoretical assumptions involved the collection of 1,631 student records in fully online courses, followed by regressional analysis by use of forward entry method, which allows determination of significance and amount of variance (Kupczynski, Gibson, Richardson, & Challoo, 2011). The potential determinants of the level of achievement analyzed were a frequency of logins, graduate status, and cumulative time on the learning platform. The researchers found that the number of times students logged into the learning platform was the most significant determinant of their achievement regarding academic grades. These findings conformed to the propositions of the activity theory, which posits that activity is not among the antecedents to knowledge acquisition, but instead results in meaningful learning (Kupczynski, Gibson, Richardson, & Challoo, 2011).


The theories used are Transformative Learning Theory. Online learning is gaining much popularity in both learners and education institutions since the course is easily accessible and highly convenient. The study thus sought to establish the rate of success of students in an online learning environment. The research questions that guided the study included: What is the perception of learners on the tools that for online learning experience; What collaborative tools enhance acquisition of knowledge in an online education environment; What interactive tools provide students with a convenient learning collaborative experience; and finally, what is the success rate of acquiring a second language in an online environment? The study was guided by theoretical concepts that are concerned with environment of learning and design of courses, dispositions of ideal online instructors, and assessment of the performance of the learners who take online courses.

, Theory of Constructivism, and Theory of Connectivism. Under Transformative theory, academic institutions can utilize course management system in Information Technology to offer real-life content without filtering it to encourage experimentation so that learners can discover knowledge from an individual perspective. Transformative theory advocates for learning that is collaborative and utilizes cooperation tools. Theory of Connectivism emphasizes that learning occurs best in a virtual learning environment. The virtual learning environment should provide collaborative tools that encourage sharing of information and interaction through dialogue as a single thinking group. The Theory of Social Constructivism also encourages a virtual learning environment that allows for meaningful interaction through group discussions, dialogue, and debates. Utilizing online education transcends the boundaries of time and space to provide all these tools that are necessary for effective learning. Apart from discussions with peers, learners are also able to get insights about their subject from experts by inviting them to their learning group.

The study was conducted using both qualitative and quantitative modes of research. The assessment of performance based on these theoretical assumptions involved the collection of 1,631 student records in fully online courses, followed by regressional analysis by use of forward entry method, which allows determination of significance and amount of variance. The potential determinants of the level of achievement analyzed were a frequency of logins, graduate status, and cumulative time on the learning platform. The researchers found that the number of times students logged into the learning platform was the most significant determinant of their achievement regarding academic grades. These findings conformed to the propositions of the activity theory, which posits that activity is not among the antecedents to knowledge acquisition, but instead results in meaningful learning.

Online education takes place in a virtual environment by employing a computer, internet access for interactivity, and instructional design is delivered in a web-based system (King & Alperstein, 2014). Learning materials are designed in different kinds of formats like videos, slideshows, word-processed documents, and PDFs that integrate sound and graphics (Henry, 2010). Teachers conduct live online classes that offer students a chance to interact with their teachers as a way of encouraging social presence (Sheehy, 2013). Students can reach teachers through webinars, chats, and message forums. Content is delivered through Learning Management Systems (LMSs) and other methods that use computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, and other electronic devices to access pedagogical content (Moore, Deane, & Galyen, 2011). This mixed methods case study of online educations will collect information on the personal preference of learners to diverse collaboration tools that make the virtual class success to acquire information and knowledge. The information is vital for administrators of higher education institutions to make decisions on the most appropriate collaboration tools to invest in to guarantee the learner a fitting online educational environment.