Distance learning: Faculty and student interactions in 18 to 24 year old university students

Date of Completion

January 2002


Education, Technology of|Education, Higher




Distance learning has become a widely accepted delivery system of higher education. Professors who offer distance learning courses online must adjust their teaching methods to accommodate the computer-mediated environment. The concern that faculty and student relationships will suffer in a less personal online environment has prompted distance educators to develop a literature of best practices which humanizes courses, encourages participation, develops more engaging message style and emphasizes the importance of feedback. ^ As more traditional-aged students between the ages of 18 and 24 years old enroll in online courses, research is needed to examine whether academic and social requirements of this age group are being addressed. This study examines the lived experiences of distance learning students. Distance learning courses are examined to determine whether Chickering's vectors of student development are accounted for, if professors are utilizing best practices in their interactions with students, and how personal characteristics such as gender, personality type and learning style impact learning in online courses. ^ Students (N = 10) who were enrolled in computer-mediated distance learning courses at state and private four-year universities in the state of Connecticut participated in the study. The students were followed through a semester course, utilizing documentation from their courses, email interactions with professors and researcher and interviews with the researcher. The data were analyzed by coding interactions according to Chickering's student development vectors and best practices in distance learning. Differences in personal characteristics were also examined. ^ Results of the study suggest that distance learning encourages autonomy and integrity and does not address the remaining five vectors. Some professors did not follow the best practices in distance learning. Only one course succeeded in creating a learning community. The quality of feedback given by the professors had a strong impact on students' satisfaction with the course and their perception of having a relationship with the professor. Convenience and flexibility were also important to students. ^ The study suggests that women were more satisfied with distance learning than men. Students who were optimistic were more positive about their course than pessimists. The relationship with the professor was an important factor in student satisfaction. ^