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A grounded theory of high-quality distance education programs: Student perspectives

, The University of Wisconsin - Madison, United States

The University of Wisconsin - Madison . Awarded


Corresponding with the rapid growth in the number and popularity of distance education programs, it is expected that colleges and universities deliver their programs with a high standard of quality. As distance education programs continue to increase in the United States, it is imperative that their quality not only justify the enormous investment necessary to develop them but that they also meet the needs of the diverse stakeholders they serve.

The purpose of this study was to identify the major attributes of high-quality distance education programs as a foundation that can help to guide those seeking to develop and sustain high quality distance education programs.

The author used a grounded theory approach and designed a multi-case study to allow for ample representation. He identified high-quality programs that had been recognized by national or international distance education organizations. The author interviewed students in three distinct graduate degree granting distance education programs, and used documentary evidence and member checks. The data was analyzed using the constant comparative method.

The study identified 21 attributes of quality in distance education programs organized in five distinct clusters: Diverse and engaged participants, experienced and committed practitioners, supportive and flexible program design and structure, program content that is connected to the real-world and state-of-the-art technology and tech support.

The resulting theory is grounded in the findings that in seeking to identify characteristics of high-quality distance education programs, the interaction between learner and instructor are critical determinants in the quality of the programs and that increased dialog between instructor and learner lead to improved results. Consonant with Dough Shale (1990) and Melody Thompson (1998) among others, this study also showed that most attributes present in high-quality distance education programs strongly parallel attributes found in traditional high quality programs, such as committed and diverse students and practitioners, supportive and integrated services, supportive faculty mentoring and interaction, program content connected to the real-world, and trained and experienced practitioners.


Carranza, S.L. A grounded theory of high-quality distance education programs: Student perspectives. Ph.D. thesis, The University of Wisconsin - Madison. Retrieved April 25, 2019 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 23, 2013. [Original Record]

Citation reproduced with permission of ProQuest LLC.

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