Methods: The study applied Arksey and O’Malley’s (2005) scoping review framework to develop a stepped strategy. Investigators applied their search strategy across electronic databases (i.e., ERIC, CINAHL, PubMed/Medline, PsycNET/PsycINFO) specifically chosen for their indices focus on social work, psychology, nursing, medicine and education. Results were filtered for US studies, which were peer-reviewed, written in English and published after 2008. Investigators screened over one thousand unique abstracts and subsequently assessed the full text of over two hundred articles based on inclusion/exclusion criteria. Investigators also conducted hand-searches of articles that were included, scanning their reference lists, and utilizing an electronic database’s citation index for additional articles.
Results: The review process led to the inclusion of 34 articles; 5 from social work, 14 from nursing, and 15 from medicine. Articles typically did not apply a theoretical or pedagogical framework. Those that did commonly framed their research with Knowles’s Adult Learner Model or Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological theory. Most studies had small sample sizes and used quasi-experimental or pre-experimental designs (i.e., surveys, qualitative studies). The majority of studies, across disciplines, revealed no differences in educational outcomes by course type. A few studies suggest traditional face-to-face courses outperform online courses, and a few suggest online courses outperform face-to-face courses. These mixed results illustrate that more research is needed. Results also suggests high levels of student satisfaction regarding online courses. Most studies suggest areas for future research, such as a need for larger samples and stronger research designs, coupled with the development of unified measures to compare outcomes across studies.
Conclusions and Implications: Social work has developed an initial research base on education outcomes (i.e., knowledge); yet, in the current environment social work research needs to focus on developing rigorous research related to online education outcomes, the development of pedagogical frameworks, and an overall establishment of quality in various online social work courses. The time is now for the social work profession to draw upon results from these early studies to develop training programs for online teaching, develop education collaboratives within and across institutions, and develop new knowledge to prepare the next generation of professional social workers to create social change.