Learning environment of a distance and partly-distance postgraduate coursework programs

Keith F. Joiner, Leanne Rees, Britt Levett, Elena Sitnikova, Dijana Townsend

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


To provide ongoing learning for busy professionals, universities are increasingly offering postgraduate opportunities by distance and online. This research examined the learning environments of five such subjects. A total of 377 students took part in a wider study into the efficacy of students formally critiquing each other’s work. This article reports students’ preferences for their learning environment, whether the pedagogy met their preferences, differences in preferences by age, gender, previous academic achievement level, distance learning experience, and prior experience in peer critiquing. Research methods involved using direct survey questions on learning preferences, the College and Classroom University Environment Inventory (CUCEI) and qualitative interviews. CUCEI versions were used to measure students’ preferred and then actual perceived learning environment, thereby enabling assessment of environmental fit. We found significant differences in the environment across most demographics. For example, older students preferred more Involvement and Student Cohesiveness and perceived more actual Involvement, Satisfaction and Task Orientation than younger students. Also, students of lower or average prior academic achievement showed significantly better environmental fit compared with students of higher prior achievement. The CUCEI remains a suitable instrument for characterising university pedagogical and demographic differences, even for subjects taught by distance. Encouraged by the incisiveness of the standardised environmental instruments, future work is proposed to benchmark the overall university’s postgraduate distance program using an environment inventory specific to tertiary distance learning and another to online constructivist pedagogy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)423-449
Number of pages27
JournalLearning Environments Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • College and University Classroom Environment Inventory (CUCEI)
  • Demographic differences
  • Distance learning
  • Learning environments
  • Online forums structured peer critiquing
  • Tertiary education


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