A Grounded Theory Study on Student Perceptions of Online Distance Learning
Mathurin, Martha Esther
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The student population in higher educational institutions in North American Societies of the 21st century is rapidly changing (Allen & Seaman, 2011). The findings in a recent study conducted by Allen and Seaman of universities in the United States indicates that approximately 6.1 million students were enrolled in at least one online course during their academic program. Allen and Seaman further state the increased offerings of an online learning option are also forms an integral part of the long term strategy of educational institutions to increase student enrollment. With the upsurge of sophisticated technologies, students have become more informed of the choices for educational advancement and have higher expectations for their learning experiences (Gerda, 2005). Additionally, the increase in globalization and the intense competition amongst higher education institutions worldwide has resulted in the shift to online education as part of the organizational strategy to alleviate the financial challenges that have ensued from the current global economic crisis (Dykman & Davis, 2008). Higher education institutions are not only forced to strategically realign their focus but at the same time are required to ensure students are provided with a high standard curriculum that is easily accessible online and is also delivered in a cost effective manner (Dykman & Davis). Dykman and Davis (2008) further explain that although online learning has created new learning opportunities for some students, some faculty members question the quality of this type of learning experience. Jones, Chew, Jones, and Lau (2009) describe the introduction of online learning into higher education curriculum as “uncertain times” due to the relative newness of this area of learning and teaching. The literature reviewed indicated the thrust towards online learning has created an excellent research opportunity to better understand the current issues as well as develop possible avenues for improvement for this new approach to learning. My research has explored the students’ perceptions of online distance learning and its impact on the participants’ learning experiences at the University of Regina. Additionally, the students’ perceived benefits and drawbacks of online learning were examined. This is a qualitative study in which I have adopted the social constructivist grounded theory principles developed by Kathy Charmaz (2006). A grounded theory approach to research also allows future readers to engage and connect with the research participants and gain more insight into their experiences with online learning (Guba & Lincoln, 2005). Twelve (12) participants consisting of eight females and four males from the graduate and undergraduate levels were selected to participate in semi-structured interviews of approximately 30-60 minutes. The participants were enrolled in degree programs in the following areas: International Studies, Economics, Education, Business Administration, and Human Resource Development. The conclusions of the research indicate that although the intention was to explore the students’ experiences and perceptions of online learning, the findings revealed students’ concerns were more related to the pedagogical practices used in the online environment.