Date of Award:

12-2008

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Department:

School of Teacher Education and Leadership

Advisor/Chair:

Martha T Dever

Abstract

The goal of this research was to better understand the lived experiences and perceptions of nontraditional, adult college students in an asynchronous online environment. Contemporary researchers have investigated the differences between online education and the traditional, in-class learning. Most of the work has been done in quantitative methodologies, focusing on the similarities and differences in cognitive achievement. The extant literature is replete with studies and positions claiming little or no difference between the two delivery methods. However, most research is not presented in a theoretical construct; therefore, it is difficult to create a nexus between one study and the next. Investigating the different ways in which students report their experiences and perceptions in the asynchronous, online environment provides a much richer understanding of nontraditional, adult students.

This research used hermeneutic phenomenology, a qualitative methodology to explore and interpret deep human experiences. In other words, this research was conducted to better understand the lived experience of nontraditional students in an asynchronous online learning environment. This understanding was achieved through rigorous analysis of in-depth, semi-structured interviews and journal entries of four nontraditional, adult students enrolled in an online baccalaureate degree program. The purpose of the analysis was to describe the various experiences and perceptions, then group these experiences and perceptions into a logically organized description of the lived experience of adult emergency services students in the asynchronous online environment.

Results revealed that student experience fell into two overarching themes, each with related subthemes. The two identified themes and subthemes are: (a) Theme I: Flexibility, with the subthemes of convenience, self-directedness/self-discipline, and reflectivity; (b) Theme II: Conflict of Values: A Paradox of Learning, with the subthemes of communication/socialization between students, student/instructor interaction, and the students’ paradigmatic shifting and conflicted beliefs on learning. A discussion on the relationship of the study results with the constructivist learning theory is presented, as well as the relationship of the results to adult learning theories and the affective domain of learning. A discussion on the study implications regarding asynchronous online delivery and suggestions for further research conclude this work.

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