Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Curriculum and Instruction

First Advisor's Name

M. O. Thirunarayanan

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Leonard Bliss

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Third Advisor's Name

Charmaine DeFrancesco

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Maria Fernandez

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member


online courses, online education, dropout, failure, Kember's Model, transactional distance theory, online course design

Date of Defense



Online courses have increased in enrollments over the past few decades. As the number of students taking online courses have increased, so has the number of students who have dropped or failed an online course. According to the literature, online courses may have higher drop rates than traditional, face-to-face courses. The number of students who fail an online course is, also, of concern. As online courses may continue to grow over the next few decades, studies on persistence in online courses may benefit students, administrators, instructional designers, educators, and researchers. Although previous research studies have addressed persistence in online courses, very few examine it from the perspectives of students who were unsuccessful in their courses. These students may have unique insights about the online experience that may have related to their lack of success. The purpose of this study was to understand the experiences of university students who have failed or dropped an online course through the lenses of transactional distance theory and Kember’s model of dropout in distance education. Transactional distance theory discusses the dialog, structure, and learner autonomy involved in an online course, while, Kember’s model presents categories that may relate to dropping an online course. Together, the theory and model may help in understanding the experiences of students who have dropped or failed an online course. In this study, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 20 participants from a large Southeastern university in the United States. Based on the participants’ responses, the data was sorted and ranked according to the amount of transactional distance in their courses, as well as the categories of Kember’s model. Many of the participants who experienced low or high transactional distance have, also, expressed an issue with the goal commitment category of Kember’s model. Additionally, there were important differences in the student characteristics of those who dropped or failed an online course. Furthermore, suggestions for improving online courses were given by the participants. Some of these suggestions included more student-instructor interactions, the use of more technology tools in their online course, and for orientations to the online environment to be offered.





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