The Perceptions and Experiences of Online Doctoral Students: A Meta-Data Analysis of the Literature
Doctoral students perceive advantages to online learning as flexible, convenient, and conducive to maintaining personal lives (Provident et al. 2015; Bolliger & Halupa, 2012). Research also shows a number of challenges for online doctoral students, including a sense of isolation, lack of community, technical problems, and a sense of invasiveness (Bolliger & Halupa, 2012; Koole, 2013; Kumar et al., 2013; Provident et al., 2015). Understanding the perceptions and experiences of online doctoral students can assist universities in developing educational practices that enable effective learning and insure doctoral success for non-traditional students. Many educational environments fail to address the multiple conflicts of family, work, and school faced by nontraditional doctoral students (Offerman, 2011). This meta-data analysis indicates the obstacles faced by online doctoral students and shows the advantages of doctoral online learning.
This meta-data analysis compares the research findings from primary research studies on online doctoral students. The profiles of online and traditional doctoral students contrast sharply. A traditional doctoral student lives on campus and pursues the degree in a face to face environment. The online doctoral student goes to school part time, while working full time and caring for a family. A systematic search of qualitative research literature, that presented the personal perspectives of online doctoral students, was conducted to identify common properties in isolated studies. Factors that directly impact the ability of doctoral candidates to be successful in their online doctoral degree program were identified. Positive factors included cohort groups, supportive mentors, and the ability to peruse a doctoral degree. Obstacles faced by doctoral online students included balancing work, family, school, and a sense of isolation. The information in this meta-data analysis will provide higher education with insights into the online doctoral students’ perceptions and experiences.