Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy





First Advisor

Denise Crawford


Learning communities are well-established on-campus practices with evidence supporting their effectiveness in increasing student learning outcomes, student retention efforts, and student satisfaction. Students who enroll in online and hybrid programs have limited access to their classmates and institutional resources, which can cause feelings of isolation and frustration (Shelton & Saltsman, 2005); therefore, institutions are looking for ways to reduce this isolation and frustration by attempting to create community within online courses and programs. It has been demonstrated that establishing a robust online community allows students to interact with each other, builds a support network of fellow students, improves persistence and retention; increases perceived satisfaction with the program; increases students sense of belonging, and increases their level of access to institutional resources (e.g. Lee, 2010; Rovai, Ponton & Baker, 2008; Scott, Sorotki, & Merrell, 2016; Shelton & Saltsman, 2005).

Learning communities provide opportunities for sharing of resources by providing students an environment to share and interact with each other (Shapiro & Levine, 1999). Finding ways to support learners in hybrid and online programs with limited access to the institution will continue to be important as these programs grow. Having research based on student experiences within hybrid and online programs can help institutions design online courses and programs which can increase the perceived experience and value of the education received by the learner. The purpose of this study was to research virtual learning communities and whether or not their availability and use improves students’ perceived experiences in an online/hybrid program.


Copyright Owner

Amy J. Pilcher



File Format


File Size

143 pages