You are here:

A comparison of learning outcomes, processes, online readiness, participation and subjective experiences in online and classroom-based cultural competence courses

, University of Toronto , Canada

University of Toronto . Awarded


Although many schools of social work have begun to incorporate new instructional technologies as complements to classroom courses or as distance education offerings, there is still a paucity of research demonstrating the efficacy of this approach, particularly with respect to clinically-focused content areas. In addition, there is a gap in the social work literature between constructivist theory and its application in online environments. This study begins to bridge this gap by examining the learning outcomes, learning processes, readiness for online learning, participation and subjective experiences with a sample of 113 clinical practitioners who participated in either an online or a classroom-based cultural competence course.

The study used a mixed-method approach, where the primarily quantitative design was complemented by a small number of semi-structured, qualitative interviews. Qualitative feedback on learning outcome using the Multicultural Competence Inventory (MCI, Sodowsky et al., 1994) suggests that this instrument may have questionable validity for use with diverse ethno-cultural populations, however, further research is needed. Although participants in both conditions rated the course positively overall, significant differences between the online and classroom groups were found on the course evaluation indices (measures of learning processes, Hiltz, 1990). The online context was not as satisfactory to students, instructors were rated significantly less positively by the online students, and online students scored significantly lower on interest in the subject and synthesis of knowledge than their classroom-based peers. In addition, the online context was experienced as a less collaborative environment than the classroom format. The Online Learning Readiness Scale (Mock and Pavlechko, 2000) was not conclusively associated with learning outcome; however, online participants had significantly higher scores than their classroom peers.

Participation in the online course was low for both students and instructors. Important qualitative themes for online students included feelings of isolation and frustration with the technology, with participants emphasizing the importance of subjective experiences and connectedness. Overall, the qualitative findings suggested that constructivist pedagogy fits well with clinically-oriented online social work courses, and that including a variety of instructional strategies to enhance participation is important.


Herie, M.A. A comparison of learning outcomes, processes, online readiness, participation and subjective experiences in online and classroom-based cultural competence courses. Ph.D. thesis, University of Toronto. Retrieved August 3, 2021 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 23, 2013. [Original Record]

Citation reproduced with permission of ProQuest LLC.

For copies of dissertations and theses: (800) 521-0600/(734) 761-4700 or