Determining Equivalence in learning outcomes for freshman-level composition courses taught online and via face-to-face delivery



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Distance learning has become an increasingly important element in the landscape of higher education, with more colleges and universities considering distance learning course delivery as part of their strategic plans. While distance-learning courses are often assumed to have equal learning outcomes as their face-to-face counterparts, very few studies have quantitatively explored whether this is indeed the case. This study sought to determine whether freshman-level composition courses taught via a traditional face-to-face delivery method and courses taught via online delivery had equivalent course outcomes. For this study, essays written by community college freshman students in the second half of the fall 2014 semester in courses using both delivery modes were assessed by three independent raters, using a rubric. The two one-sided t test (TOST) method was used to determine equivalence and ascertain whether the students’ scores fell within a zone of equivalence of ±30% of the mean for the scores. Because the face-to-face students had consistently higher means, t tests were then used to determine whether these differences were significant. The findings of this study revealed that the face-to-face and distance learning freshman composition courses were not equivalent for any of the rubric outcome areas of essay structure, essay content, essay clarity, and use of sources. The findings also indicated that for most of the outcome areas, the means were significantly different, with the face-to-face students out-performing the distance-learning students in all of the rubric outcome areas.