Media naturalness reduction and compensatory channel expansion: A study of online and face-to-face sections of the same course

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International Journal of Distance Education Technologies


This study provides a combined test of the media naturalness and channel expansion theories with a study of communication media perceptions and use outcomes in the context of a college information systems course delivery. Data was collected from undergraduate students at the middle and end of a long semester. Approximately half of the students took the course face-to-face, and the other half online. As predicted, based on media naturalness theory, grades were significantly higher in the face-to-face condition than the online condition at the middle of the semester. Consistent with predictions based on channel expansion theory, the difference between grades obtained at the middle of the semester disappeared at the end of the semester. This study shows that online course delivery may lead to both negative and positive effects in the same semester, leading to a final outcome that is generally positive. It provides a more nuanced view of online course delivery effects, and clarifies previous empirical findings that appear paradoxical at first glance. Copyright © 2011, IGI Global.

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