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«The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine how communication preferences, learning preferences, and perceptions about online learning ...»

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While Chen (2001a) echoes Moore’s (1996) definition of learner autonomy as the learner’s ability to work independently of classmates and the professor, Chen’s definition also includes interdependence as a form of learner autonomy. Interdependence refers to team work or collaborative learning which is the acceptance of one’s need to collaborate with others (Boud, 1988; Schlossberg, Lynch, & Chickering, 1989). Garland (1994) supported the aforementioned definition of interdependence as autonomous when he stated how autonomous learners are able to find resources, and set goals, but they can also recognize a need for support when required.

Furthermore, Chen (2001a) also found that there were actually four different dimensions of transactional distance which go beyond Moore’s (1996) focus on teacher and learner communication. According to Chen, the four dimensions of transactional distance are as follows: (a) Learner Instructor Transactional Distance which relates to students’ perception of positive communication between the professor and learner; (b) Learner to Learner Transactional Distance which relates to how other students positively communicate and connect with each other; (c) Learner Content Transactional Distance which relates to how students comprehend course content like lectures, quizzes, and assignments; and (d) Learner Interface Transactional distance which includes the ease of use in terms of navigating platforms, taking quizzes, and conducting discussions.

Positive communication in Learner Instructor Transactional Distance is reflected in four ways: (a) learners understand concepts and theories presented by instructor; (b) learners agree with the feedback and comments posted by the instructor; (c) learners find the teacher accessible; and (d) learners perceive the overall quality of the interaction between the learner and the teacher as positive. Similarly, perceived distance in Learner to Learner Transactional Distance is also revealed in four ways: (a) learners understand perspectives and ideas presented by other learners; (b) learners agree with comments and feedback posted by other students; (c) learners find other students accessible; and (d) learners perceive overall interaction among students as one of quality.

Chen (2001a) discussed the two other indicators in perceived distance as learner content transactional distance and learner interface transactional distance. Less perceived distance occurs in learner content transactional distance when learners understand theories, concepts, and perspectives in the course. In addition, less distance is perceived when learners feel that their needs are met with materials, objectives, and overall learning. There is lower transactional distance when learners perceive delivery systems as user friendly, meaning they are able to navigate the course, upload assignments, and successfully submit assessments (Chen, 2001b).

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The purpose of this instrumental case study (Stake, 1995) is to examine how communication preferences, learning preferences, and perceptions about online learning affect nontraditional African American students in their participation in online world literature courses at a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in the southeastern United States.

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The overarching question in this study is: How do communication and learning preferences, along with perceptions about online learning, of nontraditional African American students affect their participation in online world literature courses at a southeastern HBCU? Supporting this overarching question are the following specific


1. How do nontraditional African American students attending a southeastern

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3. How do nontraditional African American students attending a southeastern HBCU describe their communication preferences?

4. How do nontraditional African American students attending a southeastern

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6. How do nontraditional African American students perceive online content like quizzes, tests, discussion boards, and assignments?

7. How do communication and learning preferences and perceptions about online learning affect nontraditional African American students’ participation in online literature courses at this southeastern HBCU?

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African American Communication: A dynamic, expressive, and intense speech pattern which usually involves frequent interaction between the speaker and active listener (Daniel & Smitherman, 1989; Foster, 2002; Holtgraves & Dulin, 1994; Rovai, Gallien, & Wighting, 2005).

Cognitive Style: Cognitive style refers to “a distinct and consistent way for an individual to encode, store, and perform” (Atkinson, 2004, p. 663). Witikin and Goodenough (1977) describe cognitive style as the way one thinks or processes information. According to Witkin, Moore, Goodenough, and Cox (1977), cognitive style can fall into one or two categories: field independent or field dependent. While field independent learners are analytical and prefer to work autonomously, field dependent learners prefer to work concretely and collaboratively.

Culture: Culture is the communication patterns, values, beliefs, and aesthetic standards passed from one generation to the next (Parillo, 2003, as cited in Rovai et al., 2005); it influences how members see the world (Adler, 2001, as cited in Rovai et al., 2005). Goodenough (1981) explains how language is key to learning: “Culture is not the material artifacts or observed traditions; rather, it is ‘what is learned,’ the things one needs to know in order to meet the standards of others” (p. 50). Goodenough (1981) also adds, “Public culture is not taken as a given simply to be described; [rather it]... takes it as phenomenon to be explained” (p. 59).

Digital Inequality: Digital inequality is unequal usage of computer technology which can be related to such factors as course content, language usage, educational background, literacy proficiency, community agency, and availability of social resources.

It is not just one’s ability to access technology. Causes of digital inequality are further complicated and often intertwined between ways of access, race, education, gender, and age (DiMaggio et al., 2001).

Face-to-Face Learning: Learning which takes place when both the instructor and student are present in the same space, at the same time, live and not virtual (McConnel, 2000).

HBCU: Historically Black Colleges and Universities are institutions of higher learning formed before 1964 in order to meet the educational needs of Black students (U.S. Department of Education, 2010).

Learning Preferences: According to Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, there are many ways in which individuals may learn. Gardner cites visual, auditory, and kinesthetic as a few examples of the many intelligences in which learners may prefer to utilize to gain knowledge (Gardner, Howard, & Moran, 2006). While visual learners must see to learn, auditory learners must hear; kinesthetic learners must physically manipulate objects to learn.

Nontraditional Students: The definition of a nontraditional student varies and can include any one of the below listed characteristics: (NCES, 2002, as cited in AARCO, 2009).

1. Did not enter college during the same year of high school graduation.

2. Works full time while attending college part or full-time.

3. Is financially independent from a legal guardian.

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Perceptions of Online Learning: In this study, the term refers to how nontraditional students view their past, present, and/or future experiences with online learning. Further, perceptions are meanings one gives to his/her experiences.

For this study, nontraditional students were placed into two categories: Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants as defined by Prensky (2001). According to Prensky, digital natives were born into the digital world, but technology entered the lives of digital immigrants later in life. Because personal computers became popular in the early eighties, any student born in the early 1980s will be considered a digital native; any student born earlier than the 1980s will be considered a digital immigrant.

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According to Stake (1995), an instrumental case study is to identify factors that function to influence the central phenomenon of the study. The purpose of this study was to identify factors that affected nontraditional African American students’ participation in online world literature classes at a southeastern HBCU. This study has several limitations. A major limitation is that it focuses on a single southeastern HBCU. As such, findings from the study may not be applicable to all universities. In addition, all participants in the study were instructed by a single instructor within two sections of the world literature class at this HBCU. One of the sections was completely online with the other section being a blended course—one that combines both face-to-face and online instructional modes of delivery. Therefore, findings do not represent the experiences of all online students at this particular southeastern HBCU. Finally, as Creswell (2003) advises, “the findings could be subject to other interpretations” (p. 149). Thus, the interpretations of the findings of this study will be left to the individual reader.

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This study has the potential to impact administrators, researchers, instructors, and students. First of all, this study has the potential to aid administrators because knowledge gained about the student populations’ preferences in online learning could increase African American participation in online courses which is imperative to the future growth of this southeastern HBCU as well as to all institutions of higher education. In fact, African Americans comprise 82 percent of the population of this southeastern minorityserving institution, and at the time of the study the university offered four online degrees.

Because distance education administrators are aiming to increase the number of online courses, discovering factors that may improve African American participation in online courses is imperative to the future success and growth of the institution.

Furthermore, researchers would also benefit from this study because it would expand knowledge about transactional distance. To date, neither Moore’s Theory of Transactional Distance (1996) nor Chen’s (2001) has ever been examined through an African American cultural lens. Applying both transactional distance theories to African American students who attend an HBCU could shed valuable light on beneficial teacherto-student, student-to-student, student- to-content, and student-to-interface relationships in online environments.

In addition, online instructors at the location of the study will benefit from hearing the voices of African American student attendees. Knowing about communication and learning preferences along with perceptions of online learning of nontraditional African American students at this southeastern HBCU will help instructors create courses which meet students’ communication and learning preferences. Designing online courses that students prefer could optimize learning and foster positive learning experiences for both online instructors and students.

Finally, African American students attending this southeastern HBCU would benefit from this study. If instructors incorporated communication, learning preferences, and preferable online curriculums in the content of their courses and in their program areas, it could increase nontraditional African American student participation.

Additionally, nontraditional African American students attending this southeastern HBCU could also benefit from the study as well. Engaging students in online learning could potentially assist them in becoming more competitive in a global economy. This study has the capability of identifying key factors needed to encourage enrollment of nontraditional African American students from diverse backgrounds in online courses, thereby allowing students to remain competitive at a time where more emphasis is being placed on technology.

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This chapter provided an introduction to the research study. The introduction covered information about the growing boom of online learning, its advantages and disadvantages, and the digital inequality which may be experienced by students in institutions of higher education. I also shared my rationale for completing the study. In addition, this chapter also discussed the theoretical framework, the purpose of the study, and the research questions explored. Definitions of key terms are provided as well as limitations and the significance of the study are explained.

Chapter II presents reviews related literature on adult learning theory, ways in which African Americans learn, influences on digital inequality, as well as other related studies about culture and online learning.

Chapter III describes the research methodology and includes data collection procedures, analysis, role of researcher, and trustworthiness.

Chapter IV discusses the findings from the analysis of the data. Chapter V provides further discussion of the implications for policy and practice.

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The purpose of this chapter is to review the literature as it relates to the research topic and overarching research question. This chapter is organized into four sections.

The first section discusses adult learning theory including instructional practices best

suited for adult learners. The second section is divided into the following subsections:

influence of culture on communication and learning; African American speech and dialogue; and African American learning styles. The third section of this chapter focuses on digital inequality as related to race, ways of access, time of use, locations of exposure, historically Black colleges and universities, and age. The final section reviews research studies related to culture and online learning

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As a whole, andragogy is an adult learning theory that supports the premise that adults must be educated differently than children (Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 1998).

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