Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Secondary Education

Major Professor

James White, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Glenn Smith, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Robert Sullins, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Stephen Thornton, Ph.D.


Distance Education, Online Learning, Implicit Curriculum, Ecology, Phenomenology, Case Study


Understanding the influential factors at work within an online learning environment is a growing area of interest. Hidden or implicit expectations, skill sets, knowledge, and social process can help or hinder student achievement, belief systems, and persistence. This qualitative study investigated how hidden curricular issues transpired in an online learning environment's institutional and organization systems using an ecological paradigm. A phenomenological approach rooted in a case study context was used to explore the experiences and perceptions of a group of students, faculty, and administrators involved with an online academic program (opticianry) at a community college. Interviews, non-participant observation, and a researcher reflective journal was employed in the data collection process to better understand: 1) how organizational and institutional systems contribute to the manifestation of hidden curricular issues, 2) how differences and similarities in perceptions between students, faculty, and administrators contribute to hidden curricular issues, and 3) how hidden curriculum issues manifest in online and distance learning environments.

Themes related to the first research question emerged as: 1) Accessibility/Flexibility Differences; 2) Disconnect in Conveying and Perceiving the Professional Culture; and 3) Disconnected from College; and 4) Differences in Website Usability. Themes related to the second research were reported according to each participant group (faculty, staff, and student) then compared for similarities and discrepancies. Themes in this area for the faculty group included: 1) Workload and Time, and 2) Lack of Support for Online/Distance Learning Processes. Emergent staff themes for this question included: 1) Lack of Resources, 2) Preference for Face-to-Face Interaction, 3) Academic Program Disconnect, and 4) Faculty Interference. Lastly, student themes for this area included: 1) Student Services, 2) Faculty Assistance, and 3) Limited Interaction. Finally, global hidden curricular issues associated with institutional and organizational systems related to this case study manifested in the forms of: 1) Support Functions, 2) Advocacy, and 3) Conveying the Profession.