Online MBA students perceptions of online learning: Benefits, challenges, and suggestions

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1 Internet and Higher Education 8 (2005) Online MBA students perceptions of online learning: Benefits, challenges, and suggestions Kyong-Jee Kim *, Shijuan Liu 1, Curtis J. Bonk 1 Department of Instructional Systems Technology, School of Education, Indiana University, 201 N. Rose Avenue, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA Abstract Online MBA programs have seen a rapid rise in student enrollments in recent years and institutions of higher education have keen interests in offering quality online MBA programs to meet the demands. The present study reports the results of a case study in which over 100 students enrolled in a top-ranked online MBA program were interviewed and surveyed to investigate their perceptions of the benefits and challenges in online learning and their suggestions for improving the quality of the online MBA program. It was found that virtual teaming was a major factor that influenced the students online learning experience; they viewed virtual teaming experiences as valuable for preparing them for the increasingly global business environment; at the same time, it also served as a key challenge to their learning in the online environment. Students suggestions for improving the quality of online MBA program are discussed as well. D 2005 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. Keywords: Online MBA courses; Online learning environment; Virtual teaming; Student satisfaction 1. Introduction Online teaching and learning is making a significant impact on the fabric of higher education. In particular, online MBA programs have seen a rapid rise in student enrollments in recent years while enrollments in traditional inresidence MBA programs are in decline (Hayward, 2004; Lorenzo, 2004). This appears to be due, in part, to the convenience and flexibility of the delivery of online education, which enable adults with full-time jobs to attend classes without having to leave their current jobs (Lorenzo, 2004). Accordingly, many institutions of higher education are offering online programs to serve the growing learner population. Despite such an increase in the popularity of online education, there have been concerns about the quality of online education (Diaz, 2002; Islam, 2002; Moore & Kearsley, 1996). Therefore, institutions of higher education have keen interests in offering high quality and widely respected online MBA programs. Moreover, educators need to be aware that student expectations on the quality of online education programs are also rising rapidly (Bonk, 2004). However, the overall understanding of the impact of this delivery medium on business and management education is still limited (Arbaugh, 2005). This paper presents the results of a study of an accredited online MBA program at a top-ranked business school in a large Midwestern university. By the spring of 2005, this online MBA program, which was initiated in 1999, had * Corresponding author. Tel.: ; fax: addresses: (K.-J. Kim), (S. Liu), (C.J. Bonk). 1 Tel.: ; fax: /$ - see front matter D 2005 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. doi: /j.iheduc

2 336 K.-J. Kim et al. / Internet and Higher Education 8 (2005) grown to nearly 1000 students. The university offers both a public online MBA program as well as several corporate online MBA programs, which were designed in partnership with various well known business organizations. In the academic year of , 323 students were enrolled in the public online MBA and 403 students were enrolled in corporate online MBA programs. Although this program had maintained a very high student retention rate over the years since inception, there was a need for a systematic approach to evaluating the program due to the low response rate of course evaluations from the students. Because student satisfaction is an important element of quality online education (Bourne & Moore, 2003), one needs to consider student satisfaction in evaluating online education. The purpose of this study is to explore the benefits and challenges in online learning in an online MBA program from the student perspective. Consequently, this study focuses on the following research questions:! What are overall perceptions of students on the online MBA program?! What are the benefits or value of learning for the students in the online MBA program?! What are the barriers to learning for the students in the online MBA program?! What are the students suggestions for improving the quality of the online MBA program? The results of this study are expected to provide implications for the improvement of the online MBA program not just for the one under investigation but for other online MBA programs as well. In particular, it is hoped that this study will help provide a better understanding of the issues related to teaching and learning in online MBA courses. 2. Literature review Studies have documented both favorable and unfavorable perceptions by students on online learning. Past studies indicate that the instructor s interaction with students has significant impact on the student s perceptions of online learning. Swan, Shea, Fredericksen, Pickett, and Pelz (2000) found that consistency in course design, interaction with course instructors, and active discussion significantly influenced the success of online learning. Similarly, Jiang and Ting (1998) also found that the degree of instructional emphasis on learning through interaction significantly influenced students perceptions of learning. Additionally, students valued the flexibility of online learning and opportunities to communicate with teachers and peers in online learning settings (Klingner, 2003; McCall, 2002; National Centre for Vocational Education Research, 2002). Research studies suggest that technology use is important in students perceptions of and satisfaction with online learning. Research on students in Web-based distance courses has shown that students experienced some distress in their online courses due to technical difficulties and communication breakdowns (Essex & Cagiltay, 2001; Hara & Kling, 2000). Additionally, student satisfaction with their online classes was considerably higher when students felt they had received adequate training to use the necessary technology (Schramm, Wagner, & Werner, 2000) and students also viewed technical problems as one of key barriers to online learning (Song, Singleton, Hill, & Koh, 2004). Interaction has been highlighted as one of the keys to the success of Internet-based distance education (Picciano, 2002). While some researchers have suggested that online learning may actually allow for higher levels of interaction than the large lecture classes typical of business schools (Hay, Hodgkinson, Peltier, & Drago, 2004) as well as integrating those who might not normally participate in a traditional classroom (Mills & Salloway, 2001), students still express concerns about the perceived lack of networking and interaction in online MBA classes (McGorry, 2002). Levels of student interaction have been shown to be good predictors of learning outcomes (Hay et al., 2004) and the level of class environment interactivity has been showed to be associated with student learning (Arbaugh, 2000). Beyond just overall measures of interaction, the specific interaction of the instructor has been highlighted as a key component of online interaction. Instructor facilitation plays two important roles. One, it provides students direct interaction with their course instructor, which is valued by both students and teachers (Soo & Bonk, 1998). Two, the instructor plays an important role in setting the tone for student interaction in online environments (Wise, Chang, Duffy, & del Valle, 2004). Establishing a healthy tone or climate is of increasing importance given the proposed social nature of the learning process (Barab & Duffy, 2000; Jonassen, 2002).

3 K.-J. Kim et al. / Internet and Higher Education 8 (2005) Studies have been done on the effectiveness of synchronous and asynchronous tools to facilitate discussions in online classes. Many researchers posit that online discussions in asynchronous learning environments foster students in-depth information processing and critical thinking by allowing them the time to process their thinking when they post a message in online conferences (Duffy, Dueber, & Hawley, 1998). Consequently, Bonk, Hansen, Grabner- Hagen, Lazar, and Mirabelli (1998) suggest that asynchronous conferencing is the preferable method for fostering indepth student online discussions and rich interactions. Additionally, Benbunan-Fich and Hiltz (1999) found that groups participating in an asynchronous learning environment were able to produce better and longer solutions to case studies than the students who participated in in-class discussions; however they were less satisfied with the interaction process. Henson, Kennett, and Kennedy (2003) also reported that asynchronous discussions were effective in facilitating case studies in online MBA classes. At the same time, there is some evidence to support the effectiveness of synchronous discussions in online MBA courses (Mills & Salloway, 2001) as well as a combination of synchronous and asynchronous methods (Clouse & Evan, 2003). Rourke and Anderson (2002) found that groups often chose different methods such as synchronous discussions, asynchronous discussions, and to complete different kinds of tasks, indicating that each form of interaction may have distinct utilities for online learning. Studies looking at the characteristics, needs, and concerns of online MBA students argue that while learners can learn in online settings as effectively as in face-to-face settings, online learning is not for everyone. While selfmotivated learners are more likely to succeed in online learning settings (McCall, 2002), it is suggested that different learning styles need to be addressed to make online courses available to a greater audience of students. In particular, students experience with online learning appears to be an important factor in their perceptions of learning and satisfaction. In a study of online MBA students, Arbaugh and Duray (2002) found that students who had more experience in online learning were more likely to be satisfied with learning over the Internet. Similar findings were echoed by Conrad (2002) who found that undergraduates students who had more experience in online courses were less likely to feel anxious about online learning. Research suggests that social presence in computer-mediated instruction can influence the learner s satisfaction with and motivation for online learning. Gunawardena and Zittle (1997) found that social presence was a significant predictor of student satisfaction with computer-conferencing courses. Frith (2002) studied the effects of conversation on the learning outcomes of online nursing students. She found that instructional support in the form of online communications between the instructor and students or among peers using chat room, electronic mail, and discussion groups enhanced students motivation and satisfaction with the class. In a study of European international distance students, Visser, Plomp, and Kuiper (1999) found that motivational communications as part of the student support system of a distance education program that included confidence-building statements helped distance students stay motivated. 3. Method A case study approach was used in the present study to explore online MBA students experience in their online learning. A case is binstrumentalq (Stake, 1994) in providing an understanding of the issues of how to facilitate learning online. In addition to the case study approach, a mixed-methods research design (Creswell, 1999) was employed to investigate issues of interest from both qualitative and quantitative perspectives. Data collected in this study included: (1) semi-structured one-on-one interviews of students in the online MBA program; (2) a survey of students pertain to their perceptions of online learning; and (3) in-person focus group interviews of students. More detailed descriptions of the methods of this study are presented below The interview study The sample of this qualitative interview study was purposefully selected from approximately 100 second-year online public MBA students to select a representative sample of the online MBA student body. Twenty second-year online MBA students participated in one-on-one in-person interviews in the summer of 2004 while they were attending a one-week in-residence orientation session. These students had finished their first-year of the program and was about to start their second academic year in the program. The interview participants were selected using a purposive sampling method select students from diverse backgrounds in the sample.

4 338 K.-J. Kim et al. / Internet and Higher Education 8 (2005) Ten second-year online MBA students participated in one-on-one interviews. Each interview took place in-person in a meeting room on the campus for min. In addition to one-to-one interviews, 10 second-year online MBA students participated in two focus group interview sessions (i.e., five students per session). The focus group interviews were also held in a meeting room on the campus for min. Seven investigators, including three Ph.D.s and four doctoral students, participated as the interviewers for those interviews. The investigators used an interview protocol, which included information that needed to be provided to the participant (e.g., the purpose of the interview, confidentiality of their responses) as well as 15 leading questions with spaces to take notes during the interview. Every interview was tape recorded and was later transcribed for analysis. A qualitative content analysis method (Merriam, 1998) was used to identify emerging themes from the interview data. Multiple researchers were involved in the analysis to test the coding reliability. Member checking (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) was also used to ensure the trustworthiness of this qualitative inquiry The survey study Second-year public online MBA students were surveyed to collect quantitative data for this study. The purpose of collecting quantitative data in addition to the qualitative data collected from the interview study was to enable the investigators to generalize findings from the qualitative inquiry. This survey instrument consisted of 67 questions and was divided into three sections. The first section of this survey instrument asked the participants background information. The second section of the questionnaire consisted of 5-point Likert questions that pertain to the participants overall perceptions and attitudes toward the online MBA program. The last section included four open-ended questions soliciting the participants general comments about their experiences with the online MBA program and their suggestions for improving the program. The paper-based questionnaires were handed out to second-year online MBA students who were present at the one-week program orientation session held on campus in the summer of second-year students returned the survey, which accounted for nearly a 100% return rate. Students participated in this study had various backgrounds in terms of their age, gender, location, professional experiences, and online learning experiences. Some of the students surveyed also participated in the interview study, which was described earlier, prior to or after the survey was conducted. For data analysis, the survey data was entered into SPSS. Various statistical analyses, including descriptive statistics and correlation analyses, were employed for the data analysis. A qualitative content analysis also was conducted of qualitative data which was gathered from the student responses to open-ended questions in the questionnaire. 4. Results Findings from the analysis of qualitative and quantitative data gathered from the present study are presented below Students overall perceptions of their online learning experience Students participated in the survey were asked to describe their experience with the online MBA program in one word. Over 70% of those surveyed described their online learning experience in a positive manner, using such words as excellent, good, rewarding, effective, satisfied, and enlightening. About 16% of the students responded that taking online MBA courses were challenging, demanding, and hard. Some of the students described their online learning experience as new, unique, and eye-opening, indicating the uniqueness of online learning experience compared to learning in traditional classroom settings Students overall satisfaction with the online MBA program In general, students exhibited positive attitudes towards their learning in the online MBA program. In response to a survey question that asked their general satisfaction with the online MBA program, the students responded that they were highly satisfied with the program. About 93% of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they were satisfied with the quality of online courses (M =4.27, SD=0.72, where 1=bstrongly disagreeq and 5=bstrongly

5 K.-J. Kim et al. / Internet and Higher Education 8 (2005) agreeq). The results of correlation analysis revealed that students satisfaction with the online MBA courses was positively correlated with the following variables ( p b.05):! student s feeling of having learned a lot (r =.73)! student s engagement in learning (r =.65)! student s sense of community in the class (r =.61)! instructor s use of various instructional techniques to foster student s critical and reflective thinking (r =.51)! student s academic confidence (r =.50)! prompt feedback from the instructor (r =.50)! student s perceived effectiveness of instructor s facilitation (r =.47)! student s sense of community at the school level (r =.46)! informative feedback from the instructor (r =.43)! student s technological affordances (r =.40) In addition to their high level of satisfaction with the online MBA program, 96% of the students responded that they would recommend this program to others. The students intention to recommend the online MBA program to others was strongly correlated with their overall satisfaction with the program (r =.61, p b.05). Additionally, only 9% of the students surveyed responded that they ever thought about dropping out of the online MBA courses, which is another indicator of their high level of satisfaction with online learning in the MBA program. A correlation analysis revealed that the student s intention to drop out of the program was negatively correlated with the perceived helpfulness of the instructor s facilitation (r =.51), the student s sense of community in the class (r =.47), his or her comfort level with reading messages or materials online (r =.40), and the student s engagement in learning (r =.40), where the significance level was Benefits of online learning Given the high level of student satisfaction with this online MBA program and its high retention rates, what values or benefits do the students receive from this program? Several themes have emerged from the analysis of student interview data and also from the student survey data, which are described below Flexibility of online learning Many of the online MBA students interviewed in this study noted the flexibility as the most important benefit of online learning. Since most of those online MBA students were adults who were juggling between full-time job, family, and school, being able to learn at their convenience in terms of both the time and the place of learning had a positive influence on their learning, as noted in the following comments from the students. I mean the flexibility obviously, I study when I can study and any time I can study, any time I can do it I just go in and do my work and I don t have to be going to class from 6:00 to 9:00 to do anything, I just do it as I can. Actually a neighbor of mine said you ought to try this college direct thing if you re looking for a better challenge. Something that s convenient and you can travel. All the things that everybody else is saying. Portability if I change jobs this year. In response to an open-ended question in the survey instrument, 60% of the students surveyed also responded that flexibility of online learning was the key strength of the online MBA program More opportunities for interaction with instructors in online courses Some students perceived online learning had a benefit of allowing them to interact with their instructors more closely then they could in traditional classroom settings. Students felt that they were engaged in their learning when they interacted with their online course instructors actively, as one student stated: Like you know everybody was online and chatting or you know not even everybody but most of the people that could join and you really got to know the professors a lot more and even a little bit about what their career paths

6 340 K.-J. Kim et al. / Internet and Higher Education 8 (2005) looked like. Lots of active feedback on our projects and just, I mean it was just probably well by far my most engaging course. A majority of the students surveyed also agreed that interacting with other students or instructors created a more meaningful learning experience in the online MBA courses (M =4.32, SD=0.62, where 1=bstrongly disagreeq and 5=bstrongly agreeq) Development of virtual teaming skills Some of the students interviewed commented that collaboration with peers in the online learning environment were beneficial for them to develop virtual teaming skills, which is an important skill for the workforce in the increasingly global business environment. One student noted how his virtual teaming experience in the online MBA courses could help him improve his job skills. Virtual teaming is good. Just for one reason you know companies are global and especially my company we have you know same business unit but different platforms and each platform within you know like North America, Asia, or wherever will have a you know the head of oh just for instance where I bill in engineering and then they form a peer team but they re spread out all over fifty countries so that and I m sure a lot of businesses are doing that too so that s the way we do our teamwork here and their environment for that. Moreover, a majority of the students surveyed agreed that the virtual teaming experiences in online MBA courses was helpful for their learning (M =4.2, SD=0.91, where 1=bstrongly disagreeq and 5=bstrongly agreeq). Additionally, the students responded that group work was probably more important than individual work for their learning in online MBA courses (M =3.42, SD=0.91, where 1=bstrongly disagreeq and 5=bstrongly agreeq) Barriers to online learning Even though the students were generally satisfied with the quality of their online MBA program, they also pointed out that there were some barriers to online learning. About 60% of students surveyed responded that taking online courses were probably more challenging than taking face-to-face courses. Several themes regarding challenges to online learning emerged from the analysis of student interviews. Those themes are described below together with some findings from the survey of online MBA students Difficulty in communicating with peers in online settings Several students who were interviewed noted that communicating with other students online to accomplish class assignments was challenging. The difficulty lies in the differences in the time zone that the students are in, which make them difficult to meet online as a group at the same time. Students participated in the survey also indicated that the team scheduling issue was one of the key barriers to their online learning. In fact, 18% of the students surveyed expressed the frustration over time zone differences and difficulty of scheduling synchronous online team meetings. Another concern brought up by the students who participated in the focus group interviews was the absence of emotional connection when they worked with a team in the online learning environment. Not surprisingly, these students mentioned that lack of emotional connection was a key barrier to effective communication among students. Some students expressed the difficulty in working with an online team as follow: In terms of the worst part of the online environment: there is no emotional connection, it s something that I say if you read tomorrow or six-minutes from now it depends on the frame of mind that you re in, if you have a bad day at work and I say something that could be interpreted...it just explodes all over the place then. I see that, of course, not only in the on-line environment, but any we get sent at work or any type of informal communication it s all about the frame of reference of the receiver when they get it and it could go forty-seven different directions. And, so, the interpretation of many of our thoughts and emotions gets lost in the online environment, so that s a battle. I think the difficulty seems to be in the online environment you re dealing with people that, for the most part, you know nothing about, so the establishment of those traditional ground rules and relationship building things

7 K.-J. Kim et al. / Internet and Higher Education 8 (2005) you don t get the advantage of having, and so in not having that you are afraid to cross the line many times, or you are perceived to have crossed the line mistakenly type of thing. The survey of students in this study yielded similar results. Students participated in the survey disagreed that they felt they knew their instructors and other students quite well through online interactions (M = 2.89, SD = 0.92, where 1=bstrongly disagreeq and 5= bstrongly agreeq). To alleviate this difficulty, some students suggested having phone conversations in addition to online communications in virtual teaming. Some of the students interviewed shared their experience in using the telephone to communicate with their team members in their online MBA courses. They pointed out that telephone conversations could alleviate the difficulty in online communication which might be caused by the absence of nonverbal tones in computer-mediated communications. For instance, one student stated that: I personally find it a better environment when the team is working on a telephone call, and we re actually, at least, hearing each other s voices, you get a better sense of the tone and you re not as defensive and those kinds of things, and of course the on-line messaging is okay, but it s complicated, because your thoughts are rolling and everybody is trying to type at the same time, you re backing up, and I just find it difficult Absence of real-time feedback Students found it challenging in online learning when there was a lack of opportunity to receive feedback or get answers to their questions in real time. Unlike the classroom setting, where the student can ask questions or get help during a live class, online students had to wait to get the answer from the instructor via . Therefore, it usually took these online students a little longer to get an answer to their question, as one student noted as follows: I d say the hardest thing to probably overcome is there is no real time feedback when you re working a problem where you run into a speed bump or you have an issue, that would be nice to get and that s just simply a function of distance and technology where if I m working some type of an analytical math problem and I can t get the answer and you know it s during the day and everybody else that s in my group is at work well then oh I could shoot off an to my professor to help me with the problem but now I m stumped until I can get a response from the professor. Where if you were in the classroom and you know and the professor is right there you could ask his assistance and move on after you had the help you needed so it takes a little bit longer to get a response out of the professor for help than it would if you were in a normal classroom setting. While 8% of the students surveyed also noted that delayed feedback was the key barrier to their online learning, over 50% of the students surveyed suggested that more human interactions is needed in online courses to overcome the barriers to online learning that were caused by the lack of face-to-face interactions with the instructor or peers. Additionally, 33% of the students surveyed also noted that more interactions were needed between students and instructors, and among students Student suggestions for improving the quality of online MBA program Both the survey participants and the interview participants were asked if they had any suggestions for improving the online MBA program. Participants made some suggestions, which are described below More interaction with instructors The findings from the present study on the students barriers to online learning were echoed in their suggestions for improving the quality of the online MBA program. In response to an open-ended program asking about their suggestions for improving their learning experience in this online program, eight students asked for more interaction with instructors and six students suggested more frequent and prompt feedback from instructors. Particularly, those students suggested more and greater use of technology, such as video conferencing, online chat tools, and PowerPoint presentations, as a way to enhance their interaction with instructors and peers.

8 342 K.-J. Kim et al. / Internet and Higher Education 8 (2005) Training in virtual teaming skills From their experience in online learning for one year in the program, the second-year online MBA students interviewed suggested that they would like to receive training in how to work in a team in the online environment while they attended the in-residence orientation in their first-year in the program. One student suggested an exercise session during the orientation to familiarize the students with how to work with a team in online courses: You wouldn t even have to say bteamq, just group people together as an on-line team, but it s an assignment that would be short lived, maybe it forces them to actually work as a group two periods, whether that s two weeks, or two times a week, whatever, and to accomplish something and then at the end, come to the in-residence and discuss what was accomplished, what was difficult, and then it will just force people to see and prepare for what they ll be looking forward to the next couple of years Developing entrepreneurship Unique to MBA students, some of the students participated in the interviews suggested that they needed to be provided with more opportunities to develop entrepreneurship in their online MBA program. One student stressed the importance of fostering entrepreneurship among online MBA students and suggesting including a course in that subject in the online MBA program: I think that it would make more sense, while we re here on campus, to have a leadership development class or a class on starting your own business and thinking as an entrepreneur, rather than thinking as a manager. Those are the kind of things that can be taught on campus that maybe can t be taught on-line, and I think that this program needs to offer that to us, at least for an option, maybe it shouldn t be required for every student, but I think every student needs an option to take that kind of a course. 5. Conclusions and discussion In this section, a summary of findings of the study and the associated implications for the theory and practice in online business and management education are presented. The limitation of the study and recommended for future research are discussed as well Summary of the findings The findings of this study indicated that students displayed a high level of satisfaction with online learning in their online MBA program. The students also exhibited positive attitudes toward the online learning environment in general. Additionally, the results of the study revealed that the online MBA students perceived that online learning was beneficial for them because the online education format provided them with the flexibility in learning and the opportunities for more interaction with instructors. The students also indicated that the virtual teaming experiences in the online MBA courses were beneficial for them to develop virtual team skills, which is an important skill for them to process to perform in an increasingly global business environment. Yet, a majority of the students also indicated that online learning could probably be more challenging than learning in traditional face-to-face classes. Students pointed out that it was difficult to communicate with their peers due to their time zone differences and the absence of face-toface contacts among the students in online settings. The students also pointed out that the delayed feedback from the instructor due to the absence of real-time communication with the instructor was challenging to their online learning. Table 1 summarizes the findings from the present study. Table 1 Online MBA students perceptions of online learning Benefits Challenges Suggestions! Flexibility! Difficulty in communicating with peers! Greater use of technology for more frequent and prompt interactions with instructors! More opportunities for interaction! Absence of real-time feedback! Training in virtual teaming skills! Development of virtual teaming skills! Developing entrepreneurship

9 K.-J. Kim et al. / Internet and Higher Education 8 (2005) The students also made some suggestions for improving their learning experience in the online MBA program, which were: 1) more prompt and frequent interaction with instructors, especially by greater use of technology, 2) training in virtual teaming skills, and 3) support for students development of entrepreneurship Implications for the design and delivery of quality online MBA courses A key finding of the present study is that virtual teaming was a key factor that influenced the students online learning experience and they viewed the virtual teaming experience in online MBA courses as both beneficial and challenging. These students also claimed virtual teaming was vital to their learning. Overall, the results of the present study indicated that supporting and facilitating students group work in online MBA courses might be of great value for the effectiveness of online MBA courses. Therefore, the findings of the present study suggest that more theories and practices be explored on how to promote effective facilitation and online work groups and how to develop students virtual teaming skills. As students suggested, giving students an opportunity to get a sense of how virtual teams work before they start taking online courses could help them better prepared for online group work. Additionally, it is suggested that online MBA programs consider how to support the development of entrepreneurship for online MBA students in order to serve the needs of the online students in business and management education. Findings from the study on the students perceptions of the online MBA program and their suggestions for improving the quality of the program may be useful for distance educators and policy makers of online programs who are conducting strategic planning, making educational policies, or refining practices for providing more satisfactory educational experiences in online learning environments. In addition, this study may also provide a set of assessment instruments, models, and guides for those researching similar programs Limitations of the study and recommendations for future research The present study was a case study in which students in one online MBA program were studied. Studies of students in different online MBA programs are warranted to generalize the findings of the present study. Additionally, this paper reports the initial results of a one-year long project and we intend to gather and analyze faculty survey data in year two. It is recommended that the issues in online learning be explored from the faculty s perspective as well in order to obtain a more in-depth theoretical understanding and also to determine key implications for practice to improve the quality of online MBA courses. It is also recommended that issues on the impacts of the lack of sense of community among online students on their learning be explored in future research studies. Although the sense of community was not a key research question in the present study, the data collected in this study indicated that some students viewed a lack of sense of community as a significant barrier to online learning. Therefore, it is suggested that the impact of students sense of community on their online learning be investigated as a probable barrier to effective learning of online MBA students. References Arbaugh, J. B. (2000). How classroom environment and student engagement affect learning in internet-based MBA courses. 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