Online instruction, e-learning, and student satisfaction: A three year study


  • Michele T. Cole Robert Morris University
  • Daniel J. Shelley Robert Morris University
  • Louis B. Swartz Robert Morris University



E-learning, instructional design, online education, student retention, student satisfaction


This article presents the results of a three-year study of graduate and undergraduate students’ level of satisfaction with online instruction at one university. The study expands on earlier research into student satisfaction with e-learning. Researchers conducted a series of surveys over eight academic terms. Five hundred and fifty-three students participated in the study. Responses were consistent throughout, although there were some differences noted in the level of student satisfaction with their experience. There were no statistically significant differences in the level of satisfaction based on gender, age, or level of study. Overall, students rated their online instruction as moderately satisfactory, with hybrid or partially online courses rated as somewhat more satisfactory than fully online courses. “Convenience” was the most cited reason for satisfaction. “Lack of interaction” was the most cited reason for dissatisfaction. Preferences for hybrid courses surfaced in the responses to an open-ended question asking what made the experience with online or partially online courses satisfactory or unsatisfactory. This study’s findings support the literature to date and reinforce the significance of student satisfaction to student retention.

Author Biographies

Michele T. Cole, Robert Morris University

Michele T. Cole, J.D., Ph.D., Professor of Nonprofit Management at Robert Morris University, Moon Township, PA. Dr. Cole earned an A.B. in English Literature from Wheeling Jesuit University, a J.D. from Duquesne University and a Ph.D. in Public Administration with a concentration in Nonprofit Management from The University of Pittsburgh. Her research interests include enhancing online instruction and e-learning, capacity building in the nonprofit sector, legal issues in personnel management and the application of technology to learning strategies.


Daniel J. Shelley, Robert Morris University

Daniel J. Shelley, Ph.D., Professor of Education at Robert Morris University, Moon Township, PA. Dr. Shelley earned his BS in Elementary Education from Penn State University in 1971. He completed a Master’s Degree in Social Science with an emphasis in American History at Penn State in 1972. He earned his PhD in Education at the University of Pittsburgh in 1986. Dr. Shelley is also a certified Elementary Principal and a Curriculum Program Specialist. His research interests include enhancing pre-service teacher's skills and expertise in applying educational technology to their teaching along with online and blended learning.

Louis B. Swartz, Robert Morris University

Louis B. Swartz, J.D., Professor of Legal Studies at Robert Morris University, Moon Township, PA. Mr. Swartz teaches Legal Environment of Business and The Constitution and Current Legal Issues at the undergraduate level and Legal Issues of Executive Management in the M.B.A. program. He received his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin (1966) and his Juris Doctorate from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA (1969). He is the Coordinator of the Robert Morris University Pre-Law Advisory Program and a member of the Northeast Association of Pre-Law Advisers (NAPLA). His research interests include online education, legal studies and business law.



How to Cite

Cole, M. T., Shelley, D. J., & Swartz, L. B. (2014). Online instruction, e-learning, and student satisfaction: A three year study. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 15(6).



Research Articles