The research focused on the experiences of students in three different delivery modes of a postgraduate diploma in management at a South African business school. The research consisted of both a literature and an empirical study, which aimed firstly to determine the nature of the different delivery modes, and secondly, to use both quantitative and qualitative approaches to measure the students’ experiences in the three delivery modes.
From the literature, it is evident that universities use different terms when they refer to their programmes’ delivery modes. However, three overarching delivery modes, which are arranged in accordance with the nature of programmes, are universally used to deliver programmes. These include traditional, mixed and online delivery modes, which, according to the nature thereof, can be synchronous and/or asynchronous.
The case study in this research is being delivered by means of all three delivery modes. The traditional delivery mode entails face-to-face teaching and learning, with weekly campus-based contact sessions. Throughout the learning process, students are in constant face-to-face contact with lecturers. The mixed delivery mode combines campus-based contact sessions with asynchronous online learning. Students are, therefore, expected to master some of the learning outcomes asynchronously in an online environment, without face-to-face lecturer facilitation. In the asynchronous online delivery mode, students need to master all learning outcomes without any face-to-face contact with lecturers. These three delivery modes have developed and been implemented over time, to adhere to students’ learning needs and accommodate their personal circumstances.
Since the quality of the overall programme needs to be upheld, regardless of the delivery mode, the following research question emerged: Which aspects, in differentiated delivery modes in the same programme, need to be managed for quality purposes, based on comparative student experiences?
The decision to differentiate the delivery of a programme into more than one mode often has advantages as well as disadvantages. Differentiated delivery modes make it possible for business schools to tap into uncharted markets when they can cater for the learning needs and circumstances of different students. Consequently, differentiated delivery modes are often used as a market growth strategy to ensure a programme’s sustainability, growth and competitiveness. Although it is not plausible to expect that students in different delivery modes of the same programme should have the same experiences, it is necessary to ensure that students in one delivery mode are not deprived of certain knowledge or skills, which might be apparent in another delivery mode. Different student experiences between delivery modes often occur when the need for financial sustainability and market growth overshadows the needs of the students and the quality of the programme’s delivery. It is, therefore, important to investigate students’ experiences in different delivery modes of the same programme to determine those aspects that need to be managed to ensure the quality of programme delivery.
Previous studies showed that various aspects influence students’ experiences in differentiated delivery modes. For the purpose of this research, these aspects were grouped into three categories, namely the students’ experiences of logistical support, learning support and the teaching they were exposed to.
The research followed an explanatory sequential mixed-method approach, whereby the collection and analysis of the quantitative data were followed by the collection and analysis of the qualitative data. This enabled the researchers to explain the initial quantitative results in more depth. No sampling was done, since the entire population in this case study was approached for quantitative data collection (n=217), that is a census. From the entire population, a 51,6% feedback response (n=112) was achieved.
The self-administered quantitative measuring instrument was developed by combining the context of the case study with the literature-based aspects, which influence students’ experiences in different delivery modes. Initially, the measuring instrument consisted of 21 items to measure the students’ experiences in the three delivery modes. These items were subsequently analysed, evaluated and combined, which led to the reduction of the 21 items to 10 items. With this reduction the number of items adhered to the ratio of 1:10 (items: respondents), which enhanced the psychometric properties of the measuring instrument. The psychometric properties of the quantitative measuring instrument were statistically analysed by means of an exploratory factor analysis (EFA), as well as the calculation of the Cronbach alpha coefficient. In addition, the data from the respondents in the different delivery modes were compared to determine whether any statistically or practically significant differences existed in their experiences. Although no statistically or practically significant differences were measured between the respondents’ experiences of logistics or learning support, statistically and practically significant differences did exist between the teaching experiences of the respondents in the asynchronous online and mixed delivery modes. These results led to the qualitative investigation, where participants from both delivery modes were selected to provide in-depth information about their experiences relating to four themes, which focused on their experience of the teaching they were exposed to. The qualitative data were analysed with the Atlas.ti.8 program, which made it possible to identify links between codes and draw conclusions based on these links. Overall, the qualitative results revealed that the differences in the participants’ experiences of teaching in the asynchronous online and mixed delivery modes revolved mainly around the way in which lecturers supported them to master the learning outcomes, as well as the teaching methods they were exposed to.
Although some differences in the experiences of students in different delivery modes in the same programme were apparent from this research, their overall experiences of the logistical support, learning support and teaching were very positive. This research concluded that each delivery mode is unique and teaching methods, which could contribute to learning in one delivery mode, would not necessarily have the same value in another delivery mode. Therefore, to ensure quality across different delivery modes in the same programme, programme managers and lecturers should manage lecturer-student communication, lecturer-student interactions, lecturer availability, standardisation of learning management systems and teaching styles.
Keywords: delivery modes; business school; student experiences