The advent of the personal computer and the Internet has inevitably changed the way we live. These technologies, as well as others, have altered the method in which people work, communicate, shop, and even learn. Distance education, a form of education traditionally associated with correspondence courses, has benefited greatly from the new technological devices of the 21st century. Today, communication tools such as e-mail, satellite connections, and video conferencing software have provided educators with the tools to provide synchronous as well as asynchronous communication with their students.

At the postsecondary level, distance education has grown tremendously. Online courses, which may or may not provide teacher-student interaction, are becoming the most common form of distance education at the postsecondary level. According to a study conducted by the Sloan Consortium, approximately 90% of all public institutions offer online courses (Allen & Seaman, 2004). In many of these online courses, instructors have simply placed their traditional course information on a website, failing to consider the interaction needed to facilitate learning. Lectures in the form of transcripts or PowerPoint presentations are often used without considering the various learning styles of different students. Research has shown that students who take online courses are extremely concerned about teacher-student interaction. (Beard & Harper, 2002; Perreault, 2002). Students want to receive continuous feedback from their instructors in an online setting. They also want their instructor to be accessible when they have a problem or concern (Huang, 2002).

Because many online instructors and students face the aforementioned problems, numerous institutions are choosing the concept of web-based or hybrid courses to address the various issues surrounding distance learning. In web-based courses, many of the techniques such as placing assignments on a website and using chat rooms are incorporated as a supplement to learning. In this type of course, class attendance is still required. In hybrid courses, instruction is not totally online. Periodically, students physically attend class. These alternatives allow for face-to-face student-teacher interaction while taking advantage of technology (Theriot, 2004).

To assist in the delivery of web-based and online courses, many institutions and educators have adopted electronic-learning (e-learning) systems. E-learning systems provide educators with an easy method to manage course content and student interaction on the web. These courseware packages can be utilized in a totally online setting or as an enhancement to traditional classroom learning. While many institutions have implemented e-learning software packages such as WebCT and Blackboard, limited attention has been given to the perceptions of students concerning these systems. Although research has shown that students are receptive to the idea of online learning, few studies have been conducted concerning whether students embrace the concept of using e-learning systems within a classroom setting.

In addition to the concern of student acceptance of e-learning systems, technological access and computer use seem to be a major hurdle for educators to overcome (Glenn, 2005). Many students who would like to take advantage of the many benefits of e-learning are unable to do so or find it difficult because of limited technological resources. In many instances, the underlying reason for this problem involves the socioeconomic status of an individual, resulting in the digital divide.

The digital divide is the gap between those who have access to computers and the Internet and those who do not (Vail, 2003). According to a University of California-Los Angeles study, while 80.1% of freshman at predominantly White private institutions use e-mail, only 48% of students at private historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) and 41.1% at public HBCU report using e-mail (Roach, 2000). Moreover, a study by the United Negro College Fund found that only one out of six students at HBCU had access to or owned a personal computer, compared to one out of every two White students at White institutions (Chappell, 2001). When comparing Internet use in 2003, 65.1% of White Americans used the Internet in comparison to 45.6% of Black Americans and 37.2% of Hispanics in the U.S. (NTIA, 2004).

Students who have unlimited access to technology at school and/or at home tend to be more knowledgeable and have more computer experience than those that do not (Zeliff, 2004). In an underprivileged environment, be it school or home, the hardware and software needed to increase computer use is often nonexistent. If students have limited access to computers, it may have an impact on their frequency of computer use. In turn, the frequency of computer use may impact whether a student accepts or uses a computerrelated technology such as an e-learning system.

Statement of the Problem

The use of web-based learning to supplement post-secondary classroom instruction has increased since the introduction of the PC and the Internet. Institutions have adopted e-learning systems to assist in content delivery within these courses. While many empirical studies have been conducted concerning faculty adoption of these technologies in their classrooms, a limited number have addressed the extent to which college students accept these tools. The majority of these studies failed to consider computer access as a factor regarding computer technology acceptance.

Purpose of the Study

In addition to the concern of student acceptance of e-learning systems, technological access and computer use seem to be major hurdles for educators to overcome. Many students who would like to take advantage of the benefits of e-learning are unable to do so or find it difficult because of limited technological resources. In many instances, the underlying reason for this problem involves the socioeconomic status (SES) of an individual resulting in the digital divide (Glenn, 2005). Considering that there is a disparity among those who do and do not have access to computers, it warrants an investigation to determine whether computer access has an impact on the acceptance of an e-learning technology. The research questions used to guide this study were as follows:

1. To what extent is e-learning technology acceptance explained by computer access after controlling for the effects of race and socioeconomic status (SES)?

2. To what extent is e-learning technology acceptance explained by Internet access after controlling for the effects of race and SES?

Assumptions and Delimitations

This study was bounded and delimited by a number of assumptions or parameters. The study targeted a subset of college students for whom the acceptance of technological innovations appears to be important and useful. Business majors were chosen because they tend to use computers extensively (Groneman, 2004). Only business students who were enrolled in an introductory business course or a business communication course were selected to participate. Through this restriction, students with different majors and those who were not in the specified courses were eliminated. Other findings may have resulted if different majors or courses had been chosen.

This study was confined to only two institutions in North Carolina that are accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), an international association. Non-accredited institutions may have different academic goals or missions that do not include e-learning.

An additional limitation was the data gathering method. The study was limited to information gathered from self-reported data. In quantitative studies, a questionnaire is often used in research to elicit perceptions and attitudes. Survey research is a method that requires the researcher to derive descriptive, behavioral, and preferential data so that the “differential complexities of the population from which a sample has been drawn” can be obtained (Rea & Parker, 1997, p. 4). Because of the data collection method, this study was also limited to students of instructors who were willing to relinquish class time for data gathering. Only students from the classes of those participating instructors were included. Thus, the results of this study can only be generalized to business students from the two participating universities.

Significance of the Study

Using e-learning to enhance education or as a form of alternate education is a valuable teaching technique that is being utilized throughout the world. Its popularity has resulted in e-learning initiatives at the local and the federal government levels. This study focused on the different variables that affect the acceptance of e-learning technology by college students. Its significance lies in the ability to provide pertinent information concerning the issues that contribute to a student’s acceptance and use of an e-learning tool. Additionally, this study examines the issue of computer and Internet access and determines whether these variables impact students’ acceptance of e-learning technology. This key finding could give administrators and educators insight on whether supplying students with additional access to computers and/or the Internet will increase students’ willingness to engage in e-learning tools. If so, the magnitude of computer/Internet access by students may be a factor to consider when promoting e-learning courses.

Findings from this study may cause business educators to make program changes and modifications to their current curricula to address the issue of technology use by students. The findings may also determine whether additional research is needed to address the technological needs of students in efforts to close the technological gap that potentially exists between students from various socioeconomic backgrounds at the postsecondary level.

Definitions of Terms

Terms defined here are used throughout the text with the specific meaning stated below.

Chat or threaded discussion: form of online communication that allows students to post and view classroom questions and responses.

Course management software: web-based system that enables students and educators to engage in e-learning.

E-learning: term is used to help describe the various uses of technology for learning, teaching, training, and wider knowledge management (Rowlands, 2003).

E-learning system: web-based delivery applications that are used to assist in the management and facilitation of teaching and learning in a course.

Hybrid course or web enhanced course: face-to-face course that incorporates online technology into the traditional classroom instruction (Theriot, 2004).

Organization of the Study

This dissertation is divided into five chapters. The first chapter includes an introduction, statement of the problem, purpose of the study, assumptions and limitations of the study, significance of the study, definitions used in the study and the organization of the study. The review of literature and theoretical framework are presented in the second chapter. Chapter 3 includes the research methodology. In Chapter 4, the survey results are presented. The final chapter presents a discussion of the findings, conclusions, and recommendations for practice and further research.

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