Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Curriculum and Instruction

Major Professor

Yiping Lou, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jennifer Wolgemuth, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Liliana Rodriguez Campos, Ph.D.

Committee Member

James Hatten, Ph.D.


Pedagogy, Media, Course Design, Asynchronous, Synchronous


This study explored the design of learner-learner activities including types of pedagogy and media in online courses and graduate students’ perceptions of social interaction, cognitive learning and overall satisfaction. Data collection and analysis involved both quantitative and qualitative methods following a Sequential Explanatory Model. Data instruments include a modified version of the Community of Inquiry (CoI) Survey version 14b (Swan, Shea, Richardson, Ice, Garrison, Cleveland-Innes, & Arbaugh, 2008), a Rubric for Assessing Interactive Qualities of Distance Learning Courses (Roblyer, 2004), and a semi-structured interview protocol.

A total of 106 graduate students participated in the survey. Twelve of the participants were also interviewed. Six online courses were reviewed and the six instructors who taught them as well as the 12 interviewees who took the courses were asked to complete the Roblyer’s (2004) Rubric. Data was collected and analyzed across 4 phases. Quantitative data were analyzed using SPSS software to compute descriptive statistics to include frequencies Pearson Correlation and Regression analysis. Qualitative data was analyzed through a process of open then thematic coding. Some qualitative data were quantitized. Results from each data set were triangulated in the final phase of data analysis.

Frequency results from the survey indicated that less than half of the participants experienced Group Work and Synchronous Class Seminars in online courses and that asynchronous interactions through discussion were more common when compared to synchronous interactions. Graduate students who experienced opportunities for learner-learner interaction found them to be useful and of value in providing them with a broader perspective on the issues covered. Online courses include a variety of activity types that support learner-learner activities and these activities were spread across programs and courses.

Results of Pearson correlation showed positive associations between cognitive (r=.687), social (r=.602) and teaching (r=.562) presence and satisfaction. Regression analysis indicated that facilitation (teaching presence), affective expression and group cohesion (social presence) and resolution (cognitive presence) were strong predictors of satisfaction. Overall, cognitive presence (R2.537) explained the most variance and was the strongest predictor of satisfaction.

Qualitative data results reflect an appreciation for learner-learner interaction. Graduate students reported value gained from having the opportunity to view or listen to the perspectives and experiences of their peers and being able to feel a part of the learning community. A few students however, found learner-learner interaction was not helpful, useful or meaningful. Fifty percent of participants in this study reported taking online classes as a matter of necessity and not preference, and almost half the participants (48%) preferred to work alone. Interestingly however, only less than 15% of participants expressed dislike for learner-learner interaction. Challenges with group work were the most pronounced of those reported. Students had positive perceptions of the course design, reporting coherent and structured courses. Instructor role also received positive reviews with students highlighting the quality and level of feedback received.

The results of this study have important implications for online teaching and learning research, online course design, and theory development. The study shows that graduate students benefit from learner-learner interactions and that more importantly they are aware of the relationship between course design, learner-learner interaction and online learning. The results of this study also have implications for the design and delivery of online courses that seek to ensure collaborative learning through learner-learner interaction with the intent of strengthening both social and cognitive presence through the incorporation of social and instructional interaction opportunities.

This study provides a rich quantitative and qualitative exploration of firsthand information on graduate students’ experience and perception of the design for a variety of learner-learner activities and their value in contributing to their learning in online courses. These perceptions provide support for improvements to the way opportunities for learner-learner interaction are developed and managed in the online environment.