The Effectiveness of Web-Based Instruction: An Initial Inquiry


  • Tatana Olson
  • Robert A. Wisher



As the use of Web-based instruction increases in the educational and training domains, many people have recognized the importance of evaluating its effects on student outcomes such as learning, performance, and satisfaction. Often, these results are compared to those of conventional classroom instruction in order to determine which method is “better.” However, major differences in technology and presentation rather than instructional content can obscure the true relationship between Web-based instruction and these outcomes. Computer-based instruction (CBI), with more features similar to Web-based instruction, may be a more appropriate benchmark than conventional classroom instruction. Furthermore, there is little consensus as to what variables should be examined or what measures of learning are the most appropriate, making comparisons between studies difficult and inconclusive. In this article, we review the historical findings of CBI as an appropriate benchmark to Web-based instruction. In addition, we review 47 reports of evaluations of Web-based courses in higher education published between 1996 and 2002. A tabulation of the documented findings into eight characteristics is offered, along with our assessments of the experimental designs, effect sizes, and the degree to which the evaluations incorporated features unique to Web-based instruction.

Author Biographies

Tatana Olson

Tatana M. Olson is a doctoral student in industrial/organizational psychology at Purdue University. She received a Bachelor’s Degree in psychology from Virginia Tech and a Master’s Degree in industrial/organizational psychology from Purdue University. Her research interests include group processes, collaborative learning, and the impact of distance education technologies on military training outcomes.

Robert A. Wisher

Robert A. Wisher, Ph.D., is a senior research psychologist at the U.S. Army Research Institute. His research areas include skill retention, collaborative learning, and evaluations of distance learning programs. He also serves as a policy strategist for the US Department of Defense’s Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative. He received a Bachelor degree in mathematics from Purdue University and a Doctorate in cognitive psychology from the University of California, San Diego.




How to Cite

Olson, T., & Wisher, R. A. (2002). The Effectiveness of Web-Based Instruction: An Initial Inquiry. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 3(2).



Research Articles