Date of Award

May 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Science Teaching


John Tillotson


anatomy and physiology, ANCOVA, online learning, online science course, predictors of online success, web-based teaching

Subject Categories



Online and virtual technologies have allowed higher education institutions to expand educational opportunities to a broader range of students. The number of students enrolling in online courses is rapidly accelerating, and therefore performance-based evidence of the effectiveness and equivalence of such courses to enhance student learning is necessary, especially in lab-based science courses – where research is currently lacking. This study compared conceptual learning of online and on-campus students in a two-semester anatomy and physiology course sequence. Two terms of students (N=397) completed standardized pre-test and post-test assessments designed to assess content knowledge and conceptual learning based on change scores before and after the intervention. Descriptive statistics were calculated to provide information on the background and equivalency of the groups with respect to certain learner variables, and a multiple regression model was used to assess the influence of learner variables on the knowledge-based assessment outcomes. The analysis showed that GPA significantly predicted performance on the learning assessment for the online treatment group, and GPA and the number of employment hours significantly predicted performance on the learning assessment for the on-campus control group. An Analysis of Covariance was used to examine the effect of course modality on learning. Both online and on-campus participants significantly improved their performance on the post-test, and there were no significant differences in learning gains between the groups. The results of this study suggest, and support previous research regarding online learning, that both online and on-campus instructional modalities can achieve the same conceptual learning goals in anatomy and physiology. The results of this study can be used to inform the ways in which learning in online anatomy and physiology courses parallels that of its physical on-campus counterpart, and prompt further research in this area. One of the most salient consequences of the present findings is the potential implications for higher education institutions regarding research, support, and transfer of online courses in the natural sciences, and further exploration of the potentials of such courses to attract and retain students.


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