Understanding students' technology appropriation and learning perceptions in online learning environments
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Distance education has the unique characteristic of using technologies as the primary means of delivery of instruction and interaction. The present study contributes to research dedicated to explaining or predicting phenomena related to distance education, and has four objectives: (1) to identify specific social and technological factors affecting online students' behavior of using technology, (2) to conceptualize a theoretical model to better represent the relationships among the salient factors, (3) to examine how the elements in the theoretical model influence students' learning perceptions and satisfaction in the distance education program, and (4) to compare the proposed model with prior work to model and explain online behavior and satisfaction. For the purpose of advancing understanding of the roles of social and technological factors in a distance learning environment, this study proposed a unified theoretical model based upon four attitude-behavior models, the Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA), the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM), the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB), and the decomposed TPB. By reviewing and identifying salient factors in each model, this study attempts to construct a measurable Unified Model of Technology Appropriation (UMTA) integrating the identified factors so as to best overcome the limitations of each model. The study investigated a distance education program providing both a physical and virtual place to support enrolled students in a Midwest state university to learn knowledge and skills by doing. Instructional materials and supports were delivered through a network-based learning system as well as other communication tools. Data collection included self-report questionnaires and computer-recorded system usage data. Among the statistically significant paths found in UMTA, subjective norm (instructor/mentor/peer influence) had the strongest relationship to students' technology appropriation behavior, while perceived behavioral control (self-efficacy and technology/resource facilitating conditions) had the strongest impact on students' satisfaction. These findings have important implications for system designers, online educators, and distance education program managers. In order to reduce students' frustration, not only online instructors but also program managers need to provide and assure the availability of external supports including mentoring and technical supports. System designers, on the other hand, have to enhance the system's ease of use through good design and by providing clear instructions. Results of the present study should help to better manage online courses by focusing attention on social influences and control factors in a distance education program..