Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Nyunt, Gudrun

Degree Name

Ed.D. (Doctor of Education)

Legacy Department

Department of Counseling and Higher Education (CAHE)


Online learning is an evolving and growing aspect of higher education. Past research highlights the benefits of online learning, such as the flexibility and increased access it provides to students, as well as its drawbacks such as isolation, time management, and teacher presence. As the number of students who are pursuing their degrees online continues to increase, more research is needed to holistically understand the experiences of online learners.

The purpose of this qualitative case study was to explore what influences students’ decisions to pursue an online degree and their experiences once in the online program. Data was collected via 16 semi-structured interviews and document analysis of program marketing materials. This study found that online learners are driven by multiple influences when deciding to pursue a degree, such as fitting the program into their current realities and career advancement. Once in the program, online learners need the right balance of autonomy and engagement. The flexibility of the online program increases the need for online learners to balance competing priorities. Finally, online learners perceive legitimacy of their degree and maximization of their experience as earning a return on their investment. Implications for practice are discussed.


107 pages




Northern Illinois University

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Media Type