Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communications Media

First Advisor

Jim Lenze, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Kurt Dudt, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Mark Piwinsky, Ph.D.


Incidental learning is an occurrence that is not generally accounted for using the traditional methods of instructional objectives and outcomes assessment. This type of learning occurs in part as a product of social interaction and active involvement in both online and onsite courses. This study examines various incidental learning outcomes and the degrees to which they occur in traditional and distance education applications through the lens of situated learning theory and learner involvement theory. This phenomenon is explored through a post test-only control group experimental design involving online and onsite course pairings where twelve undergraduate instructors concurrently taught both an online and onsite section of the same course. Sixteen incidental learning outcomes exhibited statistically significant differences where twelve occurred to higher degrees onsite and four occurred to higher degrees online. Additionally, increases in the effort students put into the academic and social aspects of university life produced greater statistically significant effects on the incidental learning experienced than increases in the time spent on the same activities in both online and on-campus students. The results of this study imply that there are un-assessed aspects of onsite and online learning which challenge the equivalency of education between the two modalities. Both onsite and online learning have distinct advantages with traditional on-campus students experiencing higher degrees of incidental learning in three times as many areas as online students. Additional research is called for to investigate the implications of these findings both conceptually and pedagogically.