Qualitative Meta-Data Analysis: Perceptions and Experiences of Online Doctoral Students
Researchers reported a shift in doctoral student population demographics (Bolliger & Halupa, 2012; Offerman, 2011). Traditionally, doctoral students were male, single, studying full-time and working for a university that would subsidize their tuition as they worked toward a terminal degree (Offerman, 2011). The nontraditional student has become increasingly female, studies part-time, is a working professional, and is self-funded (Kumar, Johnson, & Hardeman, 2013; Offerman, 2011). The shift from traditional to non-traditional has expanded because of advances in technology, changes in workforce needs, and the development of a global economy (Evans & Green, 2013). Technology has enabled students to work online, pursuing an education to support a desire for professional knowledge and skills. Workforce needs have changed, and doctoral degrees are in high demand in fields such as education and health (Evans & Green, 2013). Additionally, the shift to a global based economy requires people to produce new knowledge and has precipitated the need for an increasing number of educated professionals. 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 identifies some of the advantages of doctoral online learning and obstacles faced by the 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. This meta-data analysis peruses the research findings from primary research studies on online doctoral students. A systematic search of qualitative research articles, that presented the personal perspectives of online doctoral students, was examined 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 pursue a doctoral degree. Obstacles faced by doctoral online students included balancing work, family, school, and a sense of isolation. The results of this meta-data analysis will provide higher education with insights into the online doctoral students’ perceptions and experiences.