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Teaching graduate students in an intensive adult-learning format presents a special challenge for quantitative analytical competencies. Students often lack necessary background, skills and motivation to deal with quantitative-skill-based course work. This study compares learning outcomes for graduate students enrolled in three course sections (cohorts) taking a quantitative methods course in a public administration program. One cohort of students was taught online, while two student cohorts were taught face-to-face in a traditional classroom setting. Most of the online students resided in the same geographic location as the “brick-and-mortar’ students. While student backgrounds and demographics were comparable, there were notable differences in their levels of self-directed learning readiness and persistence.

These differences illustrate both course design and modality features for a comparison between online and traditional brick-and-mortar learning environments. We find that predictors of student performance in an online environment are rather well described by the Self-Directed Learning Theory (SDL) and Self-Regulated Learning Theory (SRL). A statistically significant difference was found in the pretest-posttest mean scores, which indicates that students learned the course content for quantitative methods in the online section differently from those in the brick-and-mortar section. Overall, students enrolled in the online section (cohort) performed better on the posttest than did students enrolled in traditional “brick-and-mortar” classes. An age variable shows that older students performed much better than younger students on the posttest. Other differences in learning outcomes between the online and brick-and-mortar sections are analyzed in the study. Stakeholders in online education should be interested in these outcomes.


This work is a post-print version. The published version (Sage) is available at: