A Comparative Analysis of Student Engagement, Learning, and Satisfaction in Lecture Hall and Online Learning Settings

(submitted to The Journal of Criminal Justice Education, April 2008)

Cara Rabe-Hemp, PhD., Department of Criminal Justice Sciences

Susan A. Woollen, M.S., Department of Criminal Justice Sciences

Gail Humiston, M.S., Department of Criminal Justice Sciences

Objective of Project

This study explored the comparative forms of students' learning associated with two distinct learning settings: a large lecture hall and online learning setting. By comparing these widely used learning environments, conclusions can be made as to the ability of students to be engaged, to interact with their peers and faculty, and to learn autonomously in both mechanisms. Past research has explored the differences between online and traditional learning techniques, but few have assessed student learning with a realistic comparison group, the large lecture hall. The majority of criminal justice courses in public universities are taught in the large lecture hall modality (Bardwick, 2007). To compare learning outcomes, student gains, and satisfaction in these two distinct learning modalities, the following ideas were explored:

1) What is the extent to which autonomous learning measures are related to academic performance (grade), student gains (general education, personal and social, practical, and higher order learning skills) and student satisfaction?

2) What are the divergent autonomous learning measures and processes students evoke in the lecture hall versus the online classroom?

3) What affect does the learning mechanism have on student performance, gains, and satisfaction?


The basis for comparison between the two different learning settings came from two sources. First, a pre- and post-survey administered online in both classes captured a variety of experimental and academic performance measures. Relevant student demographic information and technology comfort levels were also collected to determine if student engagement and subsequent student success were conditional upon these personal characteristics. Pre- and post-surveys were administered in both courses in the first and last week of classes, respectively.

Second, students' classroom discussions were captured via WebCT in the online setting and via digital video recorder in the lecture hall setting. The questions posed to the large lecture hall session in the fall semester mirrored the questions posed in an asynchronous chat room (recorded by WebCT) for the online course which was taught by the same professor over the summer session. All videotaped classroom discussion and WebCT discussion logs were transcribed which enabled the research team to explore the processes by which students form learning communities and interact with faculty and peers. The researchers IRB requirements were maintained throughout the study. Student participation was voluntary and students who declined participation were included in the analysis.

Research Question #1

What is the extent to which autonomous learning measures are related to the learning environment (online v. traditional), academic performance, and student satisfaction?

Learning environment does not correlate to academic performance (grade), but does correlate to student satisfaction.

Learning environment is significantly correlated to several autonomous learning measures:

  • Class participation (r=.382**)
  • Student to student contact (r=-.392)
  • Professor to student contact (r=.154**)

Research Question #2

What are the divergent autonomous learning measures and processes students evoke in the online versus the traditional classroom?


  • More class preparation (Mean = 6.58 hours, t = 3.85, p = .001**)
  • More class participation (Mean = 2.88, t = 5.113, p = 000**)
  • More interaction with faculty (Mean = 2.04, t = 2.6, p = .010*)


  • More student-to-student contact (Mean = 2.89, t = -7.108, p = .000**)
  • More likely to discuss course ideas with others outside of class (Mean = 3.18, t = -2..03, p = .028*)

Research Question #3

What affect does the learning mechanism have on student performance, gains, and satisfaction?


Gains in general education and gains in personal and social skills were comparable

Students rated their overall experiences with students at the institution as much lower than traditional (Mean = 1.69, t = -5.749, p = .000**)

Overall faculty and institutional experiences were comparable


Students reported higher gains in practical skills (Mean = 2.26, t = -3.00, p = 0005**)

Students reported better higher order thinking skills (Mean = 3.00, t = -2.54, p = .012*)

Students rated the course experience higher than online students (Mean = 3.14, t = -2.51, p = .013*)


Learning occurred in both environments

Satisfaction with the course, institution, faculty and student interaction differs

Learning environment drives interaction styles

  • Professor as leader vs. as a facilitator
  • Online learning may prompt reflective learning rather than active learning


Faculty can consider blending asynchronous and synchronous learning environments, so that students and the faculty member can communicate verbally and in text with each other. Software programs exist that allow students and the faculty member to communicate in real time.

Faculty teaching online courses need to consider assignments that actively engage students to collaborate with each other and to reflect on their learning with one another, creating intentional interactions between students.

Students and faculty need to adapt and/or integrate successful strategies from one learning environment to the other.

Knowledge of preferred learning styles will help students gain insights to their learning style and the strategies that can be undertaken to be autonomous learners.

Online and lecture environments reshape the role of faculty and students. Non-traditional teaching and learning are necessary to develop autonomous learners.

Relevant Literature

Works Cited in Article

Creative Commons logo

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License

This electronic portfolio was created using the KEEP Toolkit™, developed at the
Knowledge Media Lab of The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Terms of Use - Privacy Policy