Postgraduate Students’ Experiences of Distance Learning

  • Jacqueline Cummings

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Distance learning is rapidly progressing in academia as a means to improve teaching and learning, help universities compete in worldwide recruitment and to meet the escalating demand for higher education. While contemporary students have the digital skills to participate socially online, this knowledge does not always transfer to the skills required to learn in an online environment. Therefore, educators and developers need to consider the challenges faced by distance learning students, to understand the factors that influence their acceptance and use of online learning and enable them to create the supportive environment required to succeed. Previous distance and e-learning research has mainly focused on undergraduate students, used the quantitative approach and been largely USA based. To address these gaps, this study investigated a postgraduate student cohort from two UK universities based in Northern Ireland and who voluntarily chose the distance learning route. The purpose of this study was to investigate student perceptions, experience and use of distance learning with the objective to determine which factors might ultimately enhance the student experience. It used an explanatory sequential mixed methods approach and data were collected by online questionnaire in the quantitative phase and by interview in the qualitative phase; 115 students took part in the quantitative phase and nine in the qualitative phase. Analysis was conducted using IBM SPSS and content analysis. The results indicate that perceived enjoyment and usefulness were found to have positive and statistically significant correlations with students’ perception and use of distance learning. Furthermore, perceived usefulness and enjoyment were the only two variables that uniquely contributed to the prediction of intention to use distance learning. The aspects of distance learning that students found most beneficial in the qualitative phase, included people engagement with both students and academics, interactive engaging content and plenty of practice backed up by timely quality feedback. These aspects could also be mapped to enjoyment and usefulness. The findings from this study have the potential to aid future course design and delivery, enrich the student experience and enable them to effectively participate in their online courses while removing barriers to its success.
Date of AwardJul 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorKatrina Lloyd (Supervisor) & Ibrar Bhatt (Supervisor)


  • Distance Learning
  • Postgraduate
  • E-learning
  • students

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