Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Curriculum & Instruction

First Advisor

Dr. Laura Jewett

Second Advisor

Dr. Rene Corbeil

Third Advisor

Dr. Karin Lewis


According to the United States Department of Education, 42.4% of postbaccalaureate students participated in online distance education during Fall of 2019. These numbers increased because of the Covid-19 pandemic of March 2020. The pandemic not only created a severe social and economic disruption, but it also disrupted all levels of education. This study examines exclusively online students enrolled with traditional face-to-face students and faculty. Understanding the impact of the pandemic, faculty and administrators can gain insights into how online learning can be adapted to meet the unique needs of advanced learners. The pandemic has forced many universities to move their programs online, which has significantly impacted doctoral students. These students have had to adapt to new modes of instruction and learning. By studying their experiences, we can better understand the challenges that were online learning presents. Students feel they developed connections in their respective degree programs, and online doctoral students feel isolated and disconnected from their instructors, course content, and classmates (Adedoyin & Soykan, 2020). With online learning, building, and maintaining these connections can be challenging; this study will lend insight into how doctoral students are cultivating relationships in online learning environments.

In this qualitative exploratory case study, I explored the perceptions of online doctoral students and their descriptions of how they cultivated connections with their peers, instructors, and instructional content while participating in multiple online postgraduate programs. I drew data from two sources, social media platforms and focus group interviews. Participants described how they cultivated connections, including learner-to-learner, learner-to-instructor, and learner-to-content connections. The findings of purposeful attention, humanizing online learning, and cocurricular engagement showed how they each contributed to students developing relationships with their peers, instructors, and instructional content. The findings of this study have implications for practitioners, including creating engagement hubs for student gatherings, removing barriers through training and support, and developing standardized communication and support measures. Throughout this research, the importance of cultivating connections has been found significant. Establishing relationships is essential if participants were originally in fully online programs or involuntarily placed in online programs.


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