A descriptive case study analysis of implications of online learning to the fulfillment of the institutional mission at a faith-based institution

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2015-05

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Abstract

Online learning has become an emerging trend that demands response, attention, and focus as to how best to operate it in light of higher education institutional priorities and missions. As a catalyst for change to the fulfillment of a higher education institutional mission, online learning elicits debate among institutional constituents about its implications on the strategic change to institutional purposes and educational approaches. While online education has an increasing presence in higher education, faculty members and administration at colleges and universities do not necessarily share similar views about the implications of online learning on the fulfillment of an institutional mission. Understanding the implications of online learning on the fulfillment of an institutional mission is important to the practice of higher education because its strategic implementation affects organizational structures and constituencies that support the fulfillment of the mission.

The purpose of this qualitative descriptive case study, conducted through the lens of the constructivist paradigm, was to explore the perceptions and experiences of higher education faculty and administration regarding the implications of online learning to a higher education institution mission. Of specific interest was how a strategic transition to offer online learning affects organizational change in the fulfillment of an institution’s mission.

Data collection for the study consisted of the lens of the researcher, semi-structured interviews, documents from the study institution, observations, and field notes. Semi-structured interviews were conducted using four faculty members and four administrators from a small, private faith-based institution located in the Southwestern region of the U.S., in the East region of Texas. Data analysis consisted of a constant comparative method using open and axial coding, while trustworthiness was ensured through triangulation of the data, member checking, reflexive journaling, and the reporting of the study’s findings through rich, thick description.

The findings of the study support that the participants perceived an effect on the fulfillment of the institution’s mission stemming from the strategic transition toward online learning which resulted in technological implications of educational endeavors, faculty members as innovators, and financial implications. The participants also perceived an effect on the institutional purposes demonstrated by the institution’s mission stemming from the strategic goal to transition toward online learning which resulted in a commitment to educational purpose, changes in the relational dimension of the educational experience, and the expansion of educational opportunities. The participants perceived an effect on the ability of the institution to carry out its mission arising from the strategic move to incorporate online learning in an institution’s mission which resulted in an evolution of mission change, and the coexistence of online and residential education.

The results of this study suggest several implications and recommendations for higher education practice. A strategic incorporation of online learning affects the ability of the institution to fulfill its mission. The strategic move to incorporate online learning as a component of a higher education institution’s mission appears to be the occasion for evaluating institutional commitments to pedagogical approaches in learning. A strategic transition toward online learning provides an opportunity for higher education administrators and faculty members to reaffirm the educational priorities demonstrated in the higher education institution mission.

The findings of this study lead to additional needs for future research. These include an examination of multiple types of higher education institutions that provide online learning, an exploration of student perceptions and experiences of the effect of online learning upon the fulfillment of the mission, an examination of the perceptions and experiences of higher education institution presidents of the interdependence of organizational priorities with online learning as a practice.

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Keywords

Online learning, Mission, Higher education

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